Labour and a just transition: “This is our opportunity to lead from the front”

Over the summer, some quarters of the Labour Party were embroiled in arguments over Mayor Khan’s expansion of Greater London’s ULEZ. But taking a step back from this brave initiative shows how green policies can become symptomatic of the problems we face in achieving a just transition. But there’s no reason to volte face. This is our opportunity to lead from the front. Environmental policies can, and must, be framed around boosting jobs, improving people’s health, reducing energy bills and, of course, protecting the people, nature, and places we love.

Labour must refocus on tackling the existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss—if, and only if—we want to convince voters that a Labour Government can deliver a fairer, greener future.

Keir Starmer has talked about how a Labour Government would throw everything behind a just transition to turn the UK into a clean energy superpower—pledging to put action to tackle the climate emergency at the centre of everything Labour would do in power. He’s right to say that climate action can drive jobs, tackle the cost of living, and protect our home for future generations—but we must build on this.

These commitments, alongside those from Ed Miliband and Alex Sobel, are very welcome. Though some may be advising our Frontbench to be less vocal following the Uxbridge by-election, now is not the time to backpedal.

Quite the opposite in fact. 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record due to an extreme summer. Global warming is over, and global boiling is here—according to António Guterres—and he’s not wrong. Just look at the footage of British tourists escaping the wildfires raging across the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Echoing Ed Miliband’s call for “maximum ambition”, the UN Secretary-General hit the nail on the head when he called on governments to “turn a year of burning heat into a year of burning ambition.” Here in the UK, we must accelerate climate and nature action now, given how atrociously poor the Tory Government has been in delivering the environmental policies and ambition we need to lock in law.

Given Ministers’ failure to meet their (already unambitious) climate and nature targets, now is the time for Labour to commit to bold, new environmental legislation. We’ve done this before with the Climate Change Act 2008—and we must do so again.

The good news? There’s an oven-ready legislative proposal ready to go—the Climate & Ecology Bill.

Introduced in the Commons by Olivia Blake on 10 May, the Climate & Ecology (CE) Bill would put our country on the path to a zero carbon, nature positive future, with legally-binding targets—and a plan to meaningfully involve the public—through a green policy drive that ensures that no one’s left behind.

Currently making its way through Parliament, the CE Bill is exactly the sort of legislation our movement should be pushing for as it sets a very strong base for a future Labour Government to expedite the environmental shift Britain needs. The CE Bill has close to 200 MPs and Peers supporting it—alongside Mayor Khan, top scientists, unions, major businesses and NGOS—and Labour members across the nations are helping feed the CE Bill into Labour policy (from NPF submissions to CLP motions, including at Holborn & St Pancras).

Being a Labour and Co-operative councillor in Southend-On-Sea, I’ve seen strong commitments from local authorities working to set targets for net zero and nature restoration, with Southend (as well as 234 other councils) supporting the CE Bill. Councils are key to success, but national reform must come from the top. In the context of July being the Earth’s hottest month in 120,000 years, and after a decade of miserable environmental failure from the Tory Government, now is time for the Labour movement to set the scene for a positive, bold and people-powered green transition.

Labour wouldn’t be alone in calling for the CE Bill. It was amazing to hear that the organisations as diverse as the Greener Jobs Alliance, Natura & Co and Suez UK have recently joined the CE Bill campaign, demonstrating an important shift in how unions, workers and businesses are joining their voices in calling for a just transition that has justice at its heart.

As we’ve seen throughout history, we are the agents of progressive change—and we must ensure that we continue this drive at every opportunity. Through the common strength of our endeavour, with unions and the Party working hand in hand, we can achieve real change—and in this spirit—I urge Labour grassroots to support motions backing the CE Bill ahead of annual conference.

We are in a unique position where we may be fortunate to form the next UK Government. Whilst we must not be complacent, we must also set out a truly transformative agenda (not least to answer the public’s call for a serious environmental plan). I see supporting the Climate and Ecology Bill—which already has widespread support across the nations, across both Houses of Parliament, and across our movement—as a golden opportunity to deliver a truly transformative Labour Government.

Gabriel Leroy is a Labour/Co-op Councillor for Kursaal Ward, Southend City Council. This is a guest blog, and the author’s views do not necessarily reflect that of Zero Hour.

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