Business as usual is causing environmental destruction and spiralling inequality. Our bill is a radical plan to address both, says Caroline Lucas writing about the Green New Deal bill in the Guardian
Faced with unprecedented challenges, politicians appear more divided than ever – that’s why Labour’s Clive Lewis and I are doing something bold. We are jointly tabling a bill in parliament designed to address two of the greatest threats we face – climate breakdown and spiralling inequality. 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 liveable planet.
It’s an idea congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recently reinvigorated in the US. And it could scarcely be more urgent. The UN’s top scientists have warned we have just 11 years to halve global emissions and avoid climate catastrophe. Global wildlife populations have collapsed by nearly 60% in our lifetimes. This has led 1.4 million young people to join the inspiring global school strikes movement to demand change. The response from ministers? To continue to force fracking on local communities, and to hand millions in tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry. Last week, unbelievably, a new coal mine was given a green-light on their watch.
The UK is also host to grotesque levels of inequality. More than 4 million children are living in poverty. Two-thirds of the country’s highest earners live in London and the south-east, while northern areas have been hit hardest by austerity and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says incomes of the poorest 20% fell in 2018. The prime minister’s announcement that austerity is coming to an end was a lie. Benefits for the poorest remain frozen, millions are still struggling to get by on universal credit, and headteachers are still having to cut crucial staff to keep the lights on in our schools.
The response to these crises must be nothing short of a transformation of our economy, our environment and our constituents’ lives.
The green new deal would launch an unprecedented programme of investment in clean energy, warm homes, affordable public transport, sustainable farming, and restored natural habitats – delivering a decent, well-paid job to everyone who wants one. It would force the government to finally start paying attention to once proud communities that have been hollowed out through de-industrialisation and austerity – and empower them to take up the opportunities of new zero-carbon industries. This once-in-a-lifetime government intervention would involve a 10-year strategy to completely and rapidly decarbonise our economy – as well as massively reduce economic inequality.
It is not good enough to tinker with the status quo – we must reprogramme our economy so that it works for everyone. It’s about sharing our country’s wealth fairly and acknowledging that our planet’s finite resources cannot magically regenerate in an instant. 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. It is the poorest who will bear the brunt of the fires, the floods, the storms and the droughts that come with climate breakdown, and it is the forests and wildlife of the global south that are being devastated to generate profits for the global north. And it is the young who will pay the highest price for our generation’s throwaway economy.
Greater market regulation will be key to tackling the terrifying threat of planetary collapse. We have always known that markets can only thrive if they are managed and accountable to the societies in which they operate. Once monetary and financial systems regain their role as servants – not masters – to the real economy, then it will be possible to mobilise the financial resources to support the most urgent of challenges: the transformation of the economy away from its dependence on carbon, creating hundreds of thousands of good-quality jobs in the process.
We know it can be done, because it has been done before, when singlehandedly, and almost overnight on the day of his inauguration, President Roosevelt dismantled the globalised financial system known as the gold standard. This freed his administration from the shackles of Wall Street and enabled him to tackle the ecological crisis that was the dust bowl, as well as America’s crisis of unemployment.
In this moment of crisis, political idleness is unforgivable. When it comes to climate breakdown and spiralling inequality, doing nothing has consequences. By choosing to incentivise business as usual, to withhold investment from our communities, our government is robbing our young people of a future. Instead MPs from all parties must choose action – not to score political points or to make the other side look bad – but to deliver the hope people need. Parliament must get behind our bill to deliver a green new deal.