As wildfire smoke engulfs much of the east coast of the US and average global temperatures continue to rise, with the world imminently facing some of the hottest years on record, it would be an error of judgment for the Labour party to delay its green investment pledge. Doing so would not only be a mistake for our economy and the climate, but also threaten Labour’s electoral prospects, given strong public demand for bold action on this issue.
Together with its world-leading promise to end all new domestic oil and gas developments, the Labour party’s £28bn-a-year investment pledge to green industries marks the scale of climate ambition we need to see from a future British government. These commitments mark Labour out as a potential major climate leader and, like Joe Biden’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the investment pledge clearly demonstrates that the party is in tune with the economic realities of today’s world.
So it was concerning to hear of Labour’s plans to delay the full rolling out of its green investment programme in the news on Friday morning. The party would do well to consider three important factors that show it would be nonsensical to dither on allocating the full £28bn-a-year investment in green infrastructure as soon as possible.
First, investing in the clean, green economy has huge public support and will be a vote-winner at next year’s election. Polling shows that Labour’s £28bn-a-year pledge is widely popular. Further polls show that 71% of Britons support greater investment in renewable energy, while, across all voter groups, people want the government to do more on the climate crisis.
Voters understand that, given the trajectory of the climate crisis, global economics and technology, the way to grow the economy and create quality secure jobs of the future is through green investment.
Second, large-scale green infrastructure investment is an enormous economic opportunity that should be seized right now. The global race to dominate green tech industries is well under way, with the US, China and the EU leading the pack. But a lack of vision, ambition, policies and investment from the current government means the UK isn’t even off the starting blocks. Without the necessary immediate investment we won’t catch up, and risk throwing in the towel on the prospect of creating thousands of jobs needed as we inevitably phase out fossil fuels.
While concerns around fiscal discipline are completely understandable, Labour also needs to remember that green infrastructure spending is now one of the best economic growth generators and therefore borrowing to fund such investment will pay for itself. In addition, there needs to be a greater appreciation of the fact that climate breakdown itself is a threat to fiscal stability – the Bank of England has outlined the risks posed to the financial stability of our country if dangers associated with the climate crisis are not incorporated into fiscal policymaking. Simply put, it would be bad economics to say that we can’t afford this now.
Finally, there are many other ways to generate additional revenue to fund the scale of green investment needed now. Introducing taxes on big polluters – such as an incineration tax, a frequent flyer levy and a loophole-free oil and gas windfall tax – could be used to help shift behaviour and make companies pay for the damage they’re causing, both here in the UK and overseas. Redirecting fossil fuel subsidies, and investment from dirty infrastructure such as new road building, could free up billions of pounds. And introducing a new green wealth tax, since the wealthiest 1% of humanity are responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50%, could also help tackle inequality, while generating yet more revenue for green and other vital public services investment.
The Labour party must stand by its £28bn-a-year green investment pledge without delay, and put forward a roadmap for how the money will be spent in the runup to the next election – so voters can be sure the party really means what it says.
This, alongside a clear and detailed plan for how the party will support all workers to access the secure, quality green jobs of the future that this investment will create, will help to build the party’s credibility as a climate and economic leader and garner the support of the electorate ahead of next year’s general election. Labour mustn’t let this go.
Rebecca Newsom is head of politics at Greenpeace