In the week that Labour passed the world’s first Parliamentary emergency climate change and environment motion, Hastings Borough Council created a new portfolio position for climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development and appointed me to that Cabinet position.
Earlier this year, the majority Labour Council of Hastings passed an emergency climate change motion pledging to go carbon neutral by the year 2030, a motion proposed by the leader of the council, Peter Chowney, and seconded by myself. The motion was broad-ranging with aims which included becoming energy self-sufficient through local sustainable energy generations, to all new buildings meeting energy efficiency standards. We also want to develop a procurement policy that reduces our carbon emissions, and, my favourites, to phase out single use plastics and grab all available Section 106 money to expand cycling and walking paths.
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on May 1st - International workers day - during the parliamentary debate on climate change was music to my ears. The Green Industrial Revolution is about rectifying injustices and inequality by providing green jobs to the economically marginalized within our society, while halting runaway climate change. Communities which have been struggling since the stripping of their industrial jobs in the 1980s will be put to work with well-paid skilled green tech jobs - building electric powered vehicles like trains, trams and buses, constructing solar panels and wind turbines, making and fitting insulation to go into homes for energy sufficiency. There’s so much to do and given that we must do all of these things in an extremely short window of time, we need to move with the same urgency we saw during the second world war.
The parliamentary debate also talked about the importance of re-foresting the country. Apparently, we have the lowest forest cover of any European country. Hundreds of years of stripping nature in order to fuel capitalism has left the world close to bare: 75% of the world’s land area is already degraded or converted. Biodiversity, essential for human survival, is in crisis. Land needs to be re-forested, food grown sustainably, wild plants reintroduced and wetlands restored.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to halting climate change catastrophe, for this country, is the Conservative Government who, in the main, were absent from the debate and passage of the motion. The October report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), stating that we have just 12 years to dramatically change our habits, has been ignored by the Tory camp. It seems almost suicidal for central Government to continue on its current track of subsidising fossil fuel corporations and giving fracking the green light. Yet they also make it near impossible to generate on-shore wind energy, or for the regular British citizen to benefit from domestic production of solar energy.
From a local authority point of view, it’s going to be extremely difficult to enact the essential overnight changes we need to make. Austerity is still very much crippling Hastings, the 13th most deprived town in the country with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the South - last year our local food bank distributed 87,453 meals. We are a prime town for the Green Industrial Revolution, however the funding and support from central Government simply doesn’t exist. This year the council had to grapple with a budget which left us with a £1 million deficit. Projections for the next will see that figure double as we struggle to provide even basic services.
So how does a local authority enact revolutionary changes on a shoe string? We’re all praying for a Labour Government, but it’s probably sensible to have a contingency plan, which, with our current powers and purse, will mean small and gradual changes which will likely fall very short of the 12-year IPCC deadline.
Previously, voting Labour was mainly about supporting workers’ rights and a socialist agenda. Today voting Labour is literally about survival. The Labour Party is leading the way globally. It is serious about protecting the natural environment, which of course is a prerequisite for sustainable and secure livelihoods that workers need. And this is being mirrored by our socialist counterparts in the USA who have launched the Green New Deal, headed up by firebrand Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez. Socialism and the Labour Party is now equally about workers’ rights and safeguarding environmental justice. The Green Industrial Revolution means the two are now inextricably linked.
is an activist in Hastings CLP who has visited Afghanistan several times