Three things stand out from the recent youth climate strikes, the visit of Greta Thunberg and the peaceful protests of Extinction Rebellion.
The first is the call for truth. The campaigners have all been united in their call for politicians and policymakers to tell the truth about climate change – its impacts and the scale of the response required. The second has been the demand to treat the climate crisis as an emergency and the recognition that “business as usual” is now in effect a form of “climate appeasement”. The third has been the sense of hope. An increasing number of people, young and old, see that the way we run our economy is damaging our climate, our environment and our society, but that, crucially, it is within our power to change it for the better. And change it we must.
This means committing to a transformational plan for a Green New Deal, an unprecedented mobilisation and deployment of resources to tackle the accelerating climate crisis and transform our economy and society for all.
Ours is a country where people are asking how we can revive communities that have been left out of prosperity, with levels of inequality that should shame us all. People want to know that the great companies and industries of the future will thrive within planetary limits. And people are asking not just about whether they and their children will be able to get work, but what the quality of that work will be and what skills we will all need.
Yet too often the issue of climate change seems marginal to the public’s concerns, when it is in fact central. The case for tackling climate change cannot simply be situated within technocratic arguments about technology and targets. These matter a lot, but in making the case in this way it can seem irrelevant to more pressing concerns. Unless we rightly situate climate change within the everyday concerns that people have about their jobs, the fairness of society and the future for their kids and grandkids, we will fail.
And failure is not an option. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of the serious consequences if global average temperatures rise by more than 1.5C. We now have only 11 years to get our societies most of the way off fossil fuels. We already see 1C of warming and accompanying extreme weather events, including heatwaves and droughts, while sea levels rise. Later this week, the Committee on Climate Change will publish its advice on when we need to meet net-zero emissions. It is imperative to meet our international responsibilities for implementing the Paris agreement on climate change and pursue an accelerated path to limit warming to no more than 1.5C.
Doing so will require a commitment, and a plan. We need to mobilise a carbon army of workers to retrofit and insulate homes, cutting bills, reducing emissions and making people’s lives better. We need to move to sustainable forms of transport and zero-carbon vehicles as quickly as possible, saving thousands of lives from air pollution. We need to end the opposition to onshore wind power and position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for renewable manufacturing. And we need to protect and restore threatened habitats, and to secure major transitions in agriculture and diets that are essential if we are to meet our obligations. Just in these areas of policy we already see an answer to the immediate economic concerns people have: jobs and hope. Green jobs must be secure and decently paid, with a central role for trade unions in a just transition for all workers and communities affected.
No doubt some people will say that the UK should not act on these issues alone. We disagree. We believe there is economic and societal advantage, not detriment, in doing so. We also believe our leadership can make a difference. It was the moral authority from the world-leading cross-party Climate Change Act of 2008 that has allowed successive governments to have international influence, including on the groundbreaking Paris agreement. If the government aspires to host the next UN COP climate change summit in 2020, the meeting that will determine the world’s climate change commitments, then we will need to increase our ambition here at home, set out a clear plan and start making some challenging decisions now.
It is time for the UK to lead again and the commission will aim to help shape that leadership. And when people ask how we can bring the country together, we believe this issue has the potential to do so. For some, it will be the climate issue that motivates them, for others the economic and social justice gains that can be achieved in the war against climate change. For many it will be all of these. We owe it to our country and its future to make this happen.
Ed Miliband is Labour MP for Doncaster North and a former leader of the Labour party; Caroline Lucas is Green MP for Brighton Pavilion; and Laura Sandys is a former Conservative MP for South Thanet
Climate experts to New York: Go green or go home
In a letter sent to Cuomo and state Senate leaders on Monday, these experts laid out how and why New York state is uniquely positioned to achieve this goal and serve as a model for other state, national, and international policies.
The thinking behind the letter: New York finally has the support it needs to pass strong climate legislation, so lawmakers should strike while the iron is hot.
“Now that the Senate has flipped to Democratic control and is led by advocates of climate action as well, this seems a perfect time to enact a new law,” said Michael Gerrard, a signee and professor at Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
Cuomo has a track record of talking big, and sometimes acting big, on climate. He famously banned fracking in New York state, and was one of President Trump’s most fiery critics over the plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. But Cuomo’s critics point out that he has been slow to condemn the Williams pipeline, which would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania into the state.
With the exception of the pipeline, things are already looking greener in New York. The state Senate just passed a landmark package of bills on Tuesday, amending the state constitution to guarantee a right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment for all. They’re also in the process of considering the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), a progressive measure that would mandate a totally carbon-neutral economy by 2050 and institute a handful of equity provisions. Plus, New York City just passed its own Green New Deal, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to take the New York real estate industry to task over its emissions.
The letter proposes a two-pronged approach to reaching zero net emissions by 2040: Decarbonizing the energy sector first, and only then buying offsets for some of the most challenging sources of emissions to eliminate, such as those from agriculture, flying, and cement production.
“Achieving zero net emissions, rather than zero direct emissions (which means not emitting any CO2 at all), is ambitious, consistent with the scientific recommendations of the IPCC, and provides greater flexibility to meet climate goals at lower cost,” the letter reads.
The experts say decarbonizing electricity is the “linchpin” to achieving zero emissions, not only because energy is one of the biggest emissions culprits, but also because carbon-neutral energy is essential for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial, heating, and transportation sectors. They advocate for using all possible forms of carbon-free energy. “The legislation should focus on achieving key ends (carbon-free electricity) rather than specifying a limited set of means (specific technologies),” they write.
Michael Davidson, a signee and research fellow at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, said he is excited to see what New York state passes. The resulting legislation be a guide for other states looking to uphold the Paris Agreement, and it could inform the national discussion about how to decarbonize the economy, he said.
“We hope that the leaders in Albany will now sit down and hammer out a deal that works for everyone,” said Gerrard. “The differences seem quite bridgeable.”