U.K. makes progress on a Green New Deal amid the chaos of Brexit

Understandably, the Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom are preoccupied with the chaos of the Brexit crisis – which in itself, has huge implications for environmental policy in the country.  “How Brexit will impact the UK’s environmental policy”  provides a good summary of the specifics, and an active website publishes analysis by “a network of impartial academic experts analysing the implications of Brexit for UK and EU environmental policy and governance” . Greener UK, a network of 14 environmental NGOs, is also focused on Brexit “in the belief that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK’s environment. ”

Lucas UK screenshot gnd billProgress on a Green New Deal  amidst the chaos:  But while Brexit rages, and  the country awaits the May 2 publication of recommendations on long term net zero emission targets by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC),  the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill  was tabled in the House of Commons by two members of Parliament – Green Party member Caroline Lucas  and Labour Party member Clive Lewis .  Although the bill doesn’t use the term “Green New Deal”,  Caroline Lucas  does in her Opinion piece in The Guardian, “The answer to climate breakdown and austerity? A green new deal” (March 27).  She states: “Our bill would introduce a “green new deal” – an unprecedented mobilisation of resources invested to prevent climate breakdown, reverse inequality, and heal our communities. It demands major structural changes in our approach to the ecosystem, coupled with a radical transformation of the finance sector and the economy, to deliver both social justice and a livable planet… This is purposely radical territory. We must push the boundaries of what is seen as politically possible. Because climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.”  The official summary  of the Bill appears on page 7 of the parliamentary Order Paper for March 26 including a 10-year time line with reporting requirements, and a stated goal for  community and employee-led transition from high-carbon to low and zero-carbon industry, and the eradication of inequality.

UK Green New Deal coverGreen Party MP Caroline Lucas has a long history with the concept of “green new deal”, as part of the Green New Deal Group which was founded in the U.K. in 2007  and published its first policy statement :  A Green New Deal Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices  in 2008.

The Labour Party has also been in the news recently for its new grassroots initiative, the Labour Green New Deal.  For example,  “Labour scrambles to develop a Green New Deal” in Climate Change News (Feb. 14);  “Labour members launch Green New Deal inspired by US activists” in The Guardian (March 22) ; and “Our new movement aims to propel Labour into a radical Green New Deal”  (March 22) in The Guardian,  an Opinion piece by  Angus Satow, co-founder of the coalition, who states that the party’s  Green Transformation Environmental policy statement, is a starting point, but “ a GND means a new settlement for Britain. It would give local communities the funding and power to control their future, while democratising industry and the economy. Communities with control of utilities will have great power over their lives, while tackling fuel poverty, as the profits go to ordinary people, not shareholders.” “Labour for a Green New Deal – because climate change is a class issue” by Chris Saltmarsh at Labourlist(March 22) lays out the role of unions in the initiative, with specific and detailed plans: “A Green New Deal in the UK is therefore nothing without participation and leadership from our unions. Rank-and-file trade unionists across the country are ready to organise for this from below. We’ll work with them to build support, host events, pass motions from branches to policy conferences, and develop regional plans for a Green New Deal that put workers first.”

Controversial motion on Just Transition passed at 2018 TUC Congress

Delegates gathered in Manchester U.K. for the 2018 Congress  of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s central labour body, in early September, marking its 150th anniversary by returning to the city in which it was founded.  Speeches and debates covered a broad range of issues, notably Brexit , and diversity and equality among union members .

Greener Jobs Alliance briefing coverThe Greener Jobs Alliance Congress Briefing  lists and summarizes the six motions which relate to climate change, energy, and Just Transition, including one which has proven controversial.  Motion 07,   Just transition and energy workers’ voice  was presented by GMB  (which includes workers at the Hinkley Point nuclear facility amongst its members); the motion was adopted with minor amendments.  It states that “Congress notes that ‘just transition’ is a much-used but often ambiguous term and there is no shortage of voices who believe they are qualified to say what energy workers and communities want and need”,  the motion continues with …   “Congress believes that the views of the workers affected, as expressed through these trade unions, should be paramount and central to development of all TUC policies on energy, industrial strategy and climate change, and that the TUC should develop a political and lobbying strategy led by the voices and experiences of energy unions and their members.”  “These unions” referred to in the motion are GMB,  Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

But the Greener Jobs Alliance Briefing calls for a “full spectrum” of unions in the Just Transition debates, stating: “we have a duty to express our concern that this motion limits input on TUC policy from other unions, making ‘energy unions’ views ‘paramount’. Although the proposed conference on Just Transition is long overdue, when it comes to fighting climate change, every union should have a voice: in the fire and rescue services, food manufacturer, rail transport, public services, the NHS. No less than nine unions have motions or amendments on climate change and a just transition at TUC 2018.”  The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group expressed similar “deep concern” in its blog, saying that the motion “carries the risk of moving backwards from last year’s progress on climate policy (2017 climate motion).”  Finally,  the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) labelled the motion as “divisive”, according to a  UK DeSmog blog  (Sept. 27) .  That same blog notes that the U.K. Labour Party has picked up on the TUC’s motion in its Environmental Policy statement,  Green Transformation , which states that the Labour Party will “work closely with energy unions to support energy workers and communities” through the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Brexit is seen as a turning point for UK Climate Change Policy

On February 22, the new  Greener UK coalition released  a manifesto, calling on the UK government to use the Brexit process as an opportunity to restore and enhance environmental protections in the UK. The Manifesto for a Greener UK follows the release on February 14 of a  House of Lords report, Brexit: Environment and climate change.  For a discussion of the basic issues of concern, read “Brexit will be a pivotal moment for the UK’s environment” (December 2016), and read also Greener UK’s Pledge for the Environment, which has been signed by over 145 Members of Parliament  from all parties. Greener UK has also prepared a Briefing Note for Members of Parliament: The repeal bill and a greener UK: Maintaining a greener UK as the UK exits the EU.  Follow developments on the Inside Track blog, published by Green Alliance.

One of the key proposals of the February  Manifesto is that Britain should continue to show climate leadership, to co-operate with the EU on energy and climate change, and to affirm ongoing investment and deployment of clean energy infrastructure. It also calls for a new  Environment Act for England, “building on the upcoming 25 year plan with measurable milestones for environmental restoration and high standards for pollution and resource efficiency”.  Greener UK  has published policy documents supporting  each of the four  priorities of the Manifesto: Food and Farming Fisheries and Marine   ; Climate and Energy  ; and Environment and Wildlife Laws  .

Greener UK  was launched in December 2016, coordinated by Green Alliance . Greener UK consists of 13 major environmental organizations with a  combined membership of 7.9 million, and includes:  Campaign for Better Transport, ClientEarth, Campaign to Protect Rural England, E3G, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, National Trust, RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF.

What does Brexit mean for Climate goals?

union jackWith Europe reeling from the results of the British referendum vote to leave the European Union on June 23 2016,  most reports focus on the considerable political  and economic  upheaval to come.   A sampling of  insight into potential impacts on climate and energy policy: from From Phil McKenna at Inside Climate News (June 24) , “Brexit Sparks Worry About Fate of Global Climate Action”    – with a subtitle, “many fear the wave of nationalism will harm international efforts to halt global warming” ; from The Guardian on June 27, “EU Out Votes Puts UK Commitment to Paris in Doubt” ; also,    “UK votes to Leave EU: Fears grow for Climate Ambition” , and “5 Ways Brexit will transform Energy and Climate” from Politico Europe .    For European energy policy,  from Climate Change News,   the  “impact on the EU’s faltering carbon price would be ‘calamitous’”, and a considerable voice for low-carbon policies will be lost at the EU.  Domestically,  there are also fears  that the government’s new Energy Policy, scheduled for Fall 2016, will  be modelled on  the energy manifesto of the “Fresh Start” conservative coalition,  which includes eliminating the 2020 targets for renewables and investing in shale gas and new nuclear.