Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech today centred on a ‘green jobs revolution’ to transform Britain. It’s an issue that will touch a nerve with the public and be well received by sustainably-minded voters who are increasingly aware our impact on the environment. But what should the Treasury be doing to tackle the world’s looming ecological crises? At a fringe we attended on Tuesday hosted by the WWF and chaired by Greener UK, Clive Lewis, Shadow Exchequer Secretary stated that the different environmental issues we face can’t be tackled in silo. They are all connected with our entire economic model and the solutions need to be integrated into every area of government.
Also on the panel was Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, with the shadow environment team notable by their absence (welcomed by those in the room as proof that environmental issues which have previously been seen as the ‘price of progress’ are now being seen as economic issues).
Tony Jupiter from WWF said that embedding sustainability into our economics is the defining challenge of our age. Here are the main takeaways from the discussion:
- Putting sustainability at the heart of the economy
Clive Lewis quipped that while the UK has had ‘green’ Prime Ministers in the past (think David Cameron’s hug-a-husky moment) there has never been a green Treasury. But this would be set to change under Labour according to Lewis. He was critical of how the treasury has traditionally focused on short-sighted five-year cycles of revenue generation and he argued that it has increasingly been the block on what needs to happen to deliver a more sustainable economy.
- Short-term targets and a new model for measurement
Lewis also said there is a realisation that we need much shorter targets and timeframes for environmental goals – 2030 or 2050 is simply too far away. Instead he made the case for setting 7-10year carbon reduction and renewable energy use targets. He argued that economic growth for growth’s sake isn’t what is needed. All panellists highlighted the inadequacy of GDP to measure economic performance with Lewis adding ironically that if all conference delegates had thrown their coffee cups into the canal, that would have in fact boosted GDP through the job of cleaning up our mess…
- Changing consumer behaviour
Another important theme was excessive consumer consumption and the role of taxation to change that behaviour – following the success of the carrier bag charge to change behaviour and the prospect of a latte levy on coffee cups in this year’s Budget. Coming back to Labour’s big theme of the conference, to reverse inequalities in wealth and economic power, Lewis talked up the importance of equity. He argued that the biggest polluters are the wealthiest and that the top 10% who emit the most carbon need to reduce it, as inequality is reduced in the developing world where carbon use is likely to rise with the pace of development.
Interestingly Lewis put forward a future solution (not yet Party policy) to look at progressive passenger duties on flights to make people pay for their pollution the more flights they take. Food for thought, when 40% of flights from the UK are taken by 5% population, yet one in five will never go on a plane.
Read more about Labour’s Green Transformation proposals here.