Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey says economic and social regeneration must be part of transition to low-carbon future.
A future Labour government would oversee an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonise the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary who is driving the party’s climate agenda, said the UK’s “entire society and entire economy” needed to be refocused to meet the looming challenge of ecological breakdown.
“It could not be made clearer to us and people are starting to realise how incredibly dangerous this situation is,” said Long-Bailey, a close ally of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell. “There is no option but to radically transform our economy.”
But in an interview with the Guardian she said the crisis was also an opportunity to bring well-paid, highly skilled jobs and economic regeneration to some of the most marginalised communities in the country.
“We have to tackle climate change in a really radical way, the evidence is crystal clear,” said Long-Bailey. “But this is also a wonderful opportunity to invest in those towns and cities that have felt neglected for a very long time … this has to be – and will be – a genuine transformation of the economy.”
Labour’s plan has echoes the Green New Deal being advocated by leftwing Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders in the US.
And Long-Bailey said the experience of the French president Emmanuel Macron – who has faced widespread protests in part over new environmental taxes – showed that action on the environment must be part of a wider programme of social and economic regeneration.
“If you knocked on a door in Salford, where I am from, although most people care about climate change it is not going to be top of their list of priorities. Most people just want to know how their life is going to be improved.
“So it is important for us to position ourselves as a party that is going to tackle climate change but turn that into an economic opportunity for the vast areas of this country that have seen decades of underinvestment and provide jobs for the future and provide that revitalisation that communities want to see.”
Corbyn put a radical green agenda at the forefront of his conference speech this year and a senior source in the leaders office said both he and McDonnell were “100% committed” to implementing the transformative agenda laid out by Long-Bailey as soon as Labour were in office.
The party’s current target is to get 60% of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century.
But Long-Bailey said they needed to be “even more ambitious” and set targets for areas of the economy beyond energy, from heavy industries like iron, steel and chemicals to agriculture and land use.
“[Tackling climate breakdown] is one of the central pillars of our industrial strategy … it will take a huge amount of work and we know it is ambitious – but we also know it is not ambitious enough in light of what we heard from the IPCC report – so we know we have got to move very, very quickly on this.”
Labour has brought together a team of experts including leading industry figures, engineers, scientists, consultants and academics, who will report back with a comprehensive plan in the new year, outlining what a sustainable energy mix would look like, how to achieve it – and what benefits in terms of jobs and investment it would bring.
Initial findings from the group suggest that to meet its current targets, Labour would by 2030 need to:
increase the UK’s installed offshore wind capacity sevenfold
bring all 24m homes in the UK up to the highest efficiency standard
triple the UK’s installed solar capacity
But Long-Bailey said this was just the start, with next year’s report likely to add a raft of new radical policy proposals.
“They are working on a very detailed report at the moment about what our future energy mix needs to look like to hit these targets – we are talking about offshore and onshore wind and solar – but it is obviously going to go much further than that.
“This is about so much more than just the energy supply, it is about developing the supply chains and the manufacturing base so we can export our expertise around the world.”
Long-Bailey, seen as a rising star in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, said the influx of new, often younger members, had energised the party’s environmentalism and said it could no longer be viewed as “luxury item”, to be dealt with as a separate policy issue.
Instead it was “now embedded into the DNA of every of every single department and every single economic decision we make”.
“It can no longer be a message that if you want to help the climate it is enough to buy sustainable products or source your energy from renewable providers – we have gone beyond that.
“It is critical that our entire society and our entire economy is centred around this mission to tackle climate change … and the really exciting thing is if we do it right we can also improve the long-term prospects of people in this country.”
Part of the challenge, Long-Bailey said, is to paint a picture of the positive future that is possible if society successfully meets the challenge of climate breakdown, as well as being honest about the potentially disastrous consequences of failure.
“When I was little I used to get this magazine called Quest,” she said. “It had science and glimpses into what the future might be like and I used to get excited and think … “Wow, I could be a scientist or an explorer.”
She said it was time to create that excitement and optimism about the future again.
“So in Salford we need to be telling people that by tackling climate change we can have a factory that is going to create wind turbines, is going to manufacture parts for offshore wind and show them that their child in the local school can become an engineer, that they will get proper pay and be in a job that is secure, well valued, with trade unions involved so they have that security and a collective voice,” she said.
“Ultimately people need to know that their kids can have a really good, full and interesting life if we get this right.”
Lesley Woutersen, one of the co-founders of the EconomicInform gives away all of his free time to the project. He is interested in stock exchange and digital assets. Lesley can be reached by [email protected]