On Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn announced his environment and energy policy. This well-received unveiling was held in Nottingham, chosen specifically for its municipally-run energy corporation, Robin Hood Energy, and in a library, chosen for its local energy strategy co-op.
A sustainable future
At the core of plans to tackle climate change and secure a sustainable future – which includes planting 64 million trees in the UK and creating 300,000 renewable energy jobs – is a commitment to social justice and fairness. Or, as Corbyn put it:
“An energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big Six energy companies”.
In his statement, Corbyn dismantled the idea that protecting the planet was diametrically opposed to the needs of ordinary people:
“We don’t believe the scale of the challenge is too hard. We will tackle the other social ills we face hand in hand with repairing the damage that has been done to our environment. Environmental justice must and will be in lockstep with social justice at the same time. A Labour government will meet our legal and moral obligations with measures that will transform Britain for the better.”
To warm applause, the Labour leader laid out his plans to “repower Britain” with a zero-carbon electricity system by 2030, and garnering 65% of our energy from renewable sources, in line with advice from the Committee on Climate Change (the body established by the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the government).
Corbyn also stated he would launch a National Home Insulation programme, aiming to get at least four million homes insulated; build one million new homes – including half a million council houses – to energy-plus standards, and put minimum energy efficiency standards on all rented housing to “end the misery of cold rented accommodation.”
This was not, he claimed, to be at the expense of sound economics:
“We will restore business confidence through coherent, consistent policy that champions the innovators and puts Britain, our cities, our devolved governments, and communities at the forefront of this new industrial revolution.”
As part of putting communities at the forefront, he committed to supporting the development of 1,000 community energy co-operatives with a right to sell energy directly to their localities; a “right to supply.”
He also stated he would allow local authorities to set annual renewables deployment targets.
Corbyn explained how he had been travelling the country, listening to local people and communities and how they had gone about solving problems in their area such as fuel poverty, poorly insulated rental accommodation and pollution. He heralded a new area of policy making from the bottom-up and argued that only a combination of local, regional, national and global initiatives could resolve the world’s environmental and economic problems in a sustainable and fair way.
Ranging from the local to the global, Corbyn’s statement also contained plans to set a target date to end fossil fuel extraction, honouring the Paris Climate Agreement – including getting the UK back on track to meeting our Climate Change Act commitments. He also announced a ban on fracking, to “mobilise schools and communities” to plant and care for 64 million native broadleaf trees in 10 years, and to reinstate the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC – recently axed by Theresa May) within the first month of a Corbyn-led government.
When asked whether the environment was really on the popular agenda and was it what people wanted to talk about, Corbyn was ready with an answer; he stated that too often climate change is placed in the box labeled “too difficult to solve” and the media, in his view, moved rapidly on to the next story. He also identified politicians as often being equally short-termist.
A global outlook
Corbyn was further asked if ordinary people could focus on the Climate, when they were struggling to put food on the table. Corbyn was clear, that reduced fuel bills and warmer homes would go along way to help.
I myself asked a question on behalf of Scisco Media readers about overpopulation, noting that to focus on the recent African burst in population growth ignores the question of space per capita and asking what a Labour government would do to ensure population growth is sustainable.
“Population growth usually occurs in poorer countries and the poorer places, with people with the least levels of security. If you look at the levels of population growth over a hundred year period, in every continent in the world, you will see rapid population growth in Europe and as the welfare systems began to be developed, living standards improved and people had greater security, population growth reduced.”
Corbyn cited periods of population decline in Russia, Italy, Germany and Japan. He further explained that African countries that had rapid population growth had actually seen it reduce as they managed to develop services and improved levels of security.
“I don’t think we should look at it as a threat: we should look at it as a challenge and a challenge that has to be dealt with on the basis that we want everyone to live a decent and reasonable life.”
On this note, the Environment and Energy Policy Launch concluded.
A climate policy for all
Corbyn’s climate policy has been developed in consultation with Alan Simpson, sustainability advisor to the Shadow Chancellor. This detailed blueprint for a greener future appears to be ambitious, long-term, and has social justice and sustainability as its guiding narrative. It aims, says Simpson, to protect the future of our planet with radical, cost-effective and common-sense measures, and at the same time covers the human aspect of climate change and environmental policy with a firm commitment to upholding living standards, lowering prices, and making our towns, cities, and country a cleaner, healthier place to live.
There will be questions about whether a Labour government can deliver this; whether communities will all want to come on board; whether other countries will play ball. But it would appear that, for once, a passionate political leader, with a strong environmental narrative, has armed himself with research, policy planning and a popular appeal to those in need of relief from fuel poverty and austerity. It will, he claims, bridge the gap between the needs of the environment and the needs of the many with the need to be effective and affordable.
In the words of Joseph Chamberlain, another believer in the power of the local and municipal, many years before:
“We have not the slightest intention of making profit […] We shall get our profit indirectly in the comfort of the town and in the health of the inhabitants.”
An idea whose time may yet prove to have come again.