Tackling climate change requires a just transition to a low carbon economy

When he was environment secretary, David Miliband asserted that only Labour could tackle climate change. He argued that this was because only Labour recognised the need to intervene in markets. The Conservatives’ instincts, he said, would always pre-dispose them to solutions that stopped short of the measures necessary to set our economy on the route towards a low carbon, sustainable future. This, of course, was after the Stern report which had said that climate change was the greatest market failure the world had ever seen.

Keith Sonnet, UNISON Deputy General Secretary, reports from the UN climate talks in Cancun

When he was environment secretary, David Miliband asserted that only Labour could tackle climate change. He argued that this was because only Labour recognised the need to intervene in markets. The Conservatives’ instincts, he said, would always pre-dispose them to solutions that stopped short of the measures necessary to set our economy on the route towards a low carbon, sustainable future. This, of course, was after the Stern report which had said that climate change was the greatest market failure the world had ever seen.

This is still a powerful argument which, when applied to the bigger international left–right picture, helps us to understand what’s going wrong at COP16 in Cancun. An international trade union delegation in Cancun is lobbying negotiators from world governments for the shared vision statement that opens the draft agreement to embody just such an interventionist approach.

We have argued, with some success, that tackling climate change requires a just transition to a low carbon economy. In its broadest sense, this means managing change to a new economic system. We must address market failure and buttress hard emissions targets with active industrial policies.

Decent work, training the workforce for the low carbon economy and stakeholder dialogue are essential to success. One concrete measure that would gives force to the concept, would be an agreement on climate finance. This would enable developing countries to finance a sustainable, less polluting development path than the one taken by the developed world.

The concepts of just transition and decent work were, over the course of previous negotiations, inserted in the draft negotiating text. Progressive governments from Argentina and the USA, after Obama’s election, stuck their necks out and made the case. Ed Miliband, as Energy and Climate Change minister in Copenhagen last year backed us too.

Now, however, we find these commitments are on the cutting room floor. Negotiators are apparently paring back the shared vision to a bare minimum, focusing exclusively on the what and leaving out the how. You can see where the secretariat of the UNFCCC might be coming from.

Desperate for some progress and mindful of how the Copenhagen Accord pulled the rug out from under them last year. However, there is also a fear at the talks that the political climate is changing; that the right and the market fundamentalists are carrying the arguments. They view trade union and NGO perspectives on intervention and climate justice as getting in the way.

Richard Branson’s recent argument for business leadership is indicative. Of course business has a role, but we say people and their representatives should set the terms under which they operate.

So, where do we go from here? There are no easy solutions, but there is a very real truth in the proposition that the left do have all the right instincts on climate change. When David Cameron says, as he did on the eve of the Cancun talks, that to tackle climate change we need to mobilise the profit motive, my heart sinks. Where is the profit in bringing low carbon electricity to subsistence farmers or building flood defences in Bangladesh?

Just transition to a low carbon economy makes perfect sense. It needs to be developed and put at the centre of a radical new economic and industrial policy that should come out of Labour’s policy review. The burgeoning cross fertilisation between environmental campaign groups and trade unions, needs to be mobilised behind this cause.

We could build a strong movement that recognises the need for a common front for a new social and environmental contract, and the importance of collectivism and solidarity in achieving it. And, in turn, this needs to shape a new active global climate diplomacy. We need to lift our sights on this issue. Despite the gloom in Cancun, history is on our side. Airline bosses haven’t got the answers.

Lets not forget, climate change is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.

18 Responses to “Tackling climate change requires a just transition to a low carbon economy”

  1. carboncoach

    RT @leftfootfwd Tackling climchange requires a just transition to low carbon economy: //bit.ly/euclpb > eg #ContractionAndConvergence

  2. Jen Wilton

    "Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen" //bit.ly/euclpb [via@leftfootfwd]

  3. Philip Painter

    Climate Change. A trade unionist's view. //bit.ly/dZ4dFn

  4. Antony Last

    Tackling climate change requires a just transition to a low carbon economy – Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/dJJ1Sd

  5. Bill Fraser

    “Lets not forget, climate change is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.”

    Good! Hope it continues to be!

    So called-climate change… is a con.

    As anyone stuck in a airport, a train station or on a motorway for hours in snow and sub-zero temperatures knows…

  6. Gregory Norminton

    Bill Fraser:

    //e360.yale.edu/feature/is_the_end_in_sight_for_the_worlds_coral_reefs_/2347/

    //www.treehugger.com/files/2010/12/climate-change-kill-5-million-by-2020.php

    Even if there were only a faint chance of the above happening, your ‘opinions’ would be reprehensible. As it is, we really are set for misery on an unthinkable scale. And none of it will have been necessary.

    Your trite, hand-me-down bilge lacks all integrity.

  7. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tackling climate change requires a just transition to a low carbon economy //bit.ly/dYUIvr

  8. Anon E Mouse

    Gregory Norminton – All you ever seem to do is keep linking to articles that are about things that “might” happen in the future. I think one you linked to had dire predictions about 2060 for goodness sake.

    I’m old enough to remember “Global Cooling” in the 1970’s and CJD and GM Food and the oil running out, aids, global starvation and on and on.

    On top of that it’s become a business for the likes of individuals who seem to serve no purpose in life than perpetuating the very thing that keep them employed. The likes of that posh boy eco toff, Joss Garman and that middle class bunch of wusses for example. Has he actually done a single days work in his life I wonder?

    It’s just a fad and why you aren’t demonstrating at the Indian and Chinese embassy’s is beyond me – unless of course you yourself have nothing to do except wring your hands and wail at the moon.

    In my opinion you have too much time on your hands dude…

  9. Gregory Norminton

    Anon E Mouse: I link to science. But if it’s 2010 phenomena that you want, rather than predictive science (we’d have to live through the nightmare before we could be sure of it), try the following. This is, after all, an evidence-based blog.

    //www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/content.php?sid=3357

    “2010 has seen the publication of more evidence that the world is warming and that man has contributed to that warming. Changes have now been observed in many different climate variables, in addition to temperature: the amount of moisture in the atmosphere; continuing sea-level rise; and a decreasing Arctic sea-ice extent. All are consistent with a long-term warming trend.” (U.K. Met Office)
    //www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/media/pdf/m/6/evidence.pdf

    //en.rian.ru/russia/20100809/160128496.html

    //news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/12/photogalleries/101206-freshwater-amazon-drought-pictures/

    What none of us has is time – ‘dude’.

  10. Anon E Mouse

    Gregory Norminton – Predictive “science” gave us a bill running into millions for Bird Flu jabs and not that many died from CJD either, irrespective of the doom mongers’ predictions.

    I mentioned elsewhere in this blog that when “Friends” Of The Earth wrote to the Zambian government claiming that GM food caused cancer and it was all a big American conspiracy that resulted in human beings starving to death under African skies when the aid wasn’t given.

    You say coral reefs; I say Himalayan glaciers. You say potato; I say tomato.

    I don’t deny the climate is changing. I don’t say it may be partially man made. I don’t say the future isn’t dire if the temperature does rise as the alarmists predict.

    I say what are you doing about it in regards to China and India. Oh I know bunches of middle class posh boy eco toffs run around being shrill and waving banners but what about action against China?

    Instead of these self opinionated and ego inflated individuals sneering and trying to smear people who don’t support their minority view why not boycott Chinese goods because anything else is just middle class hot air air.

    Dude.

  11. Gregory Norminton

    *Sigh* These fruitless exchanges are tedious. I’m going to get on with my work.

  12. Anon E Mouse

    Gregory Norminton – I agree on getting some work done.

    It’s easier than you answering the issue about China and India I suppose.

    Well done Gregory…

  13. Gregory Norminton

    Right – you’ve goaded me. But only because it’s my lunchbreak!

    India and China are not responsible for historic emissions – we (the West) are. This is a global problem and neither Mr Garman nor I pretend otherwise. Yet India and China, both of which still have lower per capita emissions than the UK (and I believe in personal responsibility, even as only one person in 7 billion) are more than doing their bit, especially compared to the USA. A few more links for you to ignore:

    //www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/07/cancun-climate-change-summit-china

    //www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-06/china-s-cap-and-trade-to-come-within-five-years-professor-stern-predicts.html

    //cleantechnica.com/2010/12/04/china-adding-500-gigawatts-of-renewable-power-by-2020/

    //www.grist.org/article/2010-12-03-india-proposes-a-system-to-monitor-carbon-pollution-reductions

    //economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/energy/power/Indias-clean-power-sector-could-attract–169-bn-by-2020/articleshow/7065226.cms

    It has taken me four and a half minutes to pull these from the net. All you have to do is look.

    Now you have the floor. Taunt as you please. Get the last word in. I’ve wasted enough time already.

  14. Anon E Mouse

    Gregory Norminton – I have no intention of taunting you. Why would you be so touchy about global warming? The line “Get a life” springs to mind.

    Anyway not one of your links has any validity whilst China continues to build two coal fired power stations a week. It’s called a drop in the ocean.

    Actions speak louder than words and that’s my last word on this (but not yours I suspect…)

  15. Fay Tuncay

    Do you really think anyone will re-elect Labour if they continue to support this nonsense?

    Many members of the public and scientists are sceptical about the apocalyptic predictions about the impact of possible global warming, which at the moment is on hold, as there has been no statistical global warming for the last 15 years. Climate change is regional, so there is no sense in measuring the global mean temperature, as it tells us very little. The planet is always warming or cooling somewhere. In fact, warming can bring great benefits. And cooling a great many problems, as we see at the moment. So what exactly do you mean by “tackling climate change”? You aren’t tackling the snow too well at the moment. I don’t think you lot have a clue, you dogmatically repeat this phrase which it seems to me is little more than a propaganda exercise for taxes and frankly it is all wearing a bit thin.

    What many people now share is a profound concern for – not your “climate change”- but for this policy cock-up, which will place a huge costs and have negative social impacts on the lives of this generation. Most of these green decarbonisation policies currently being advocated are pure madness.

    The press Association has said today that:
    “consumers can expect to see the price of domestic gas and electricity increase by as much as 25% over the coming decade, power company bosses have predicted. The rise – equivalent to £275 on top of the £1,215 average annual energy bill, at today’s prices – will be driven, not only by rises in wholesale prices, but by volatile international markets and the cost of investing in “green” energy.”

    I would like to remind Labour there has been very little debate amongst the public on adaptation to climate cooling and warming. Schemes to tax the atmosphere have been cooked up in committee rooms by green lobbyists (funded by the taxpayer) for the benefit of carbon traders and green bankers, neither of whom have a mandate from the general public, these individuals are not elected representative. No taxation without representation springs to mind.

  16. Anon E Mouse

    Fay Tuncay – The problem is that whilst the coalition has done more to forward green issues by scrapping Runway 3 at Heathrow for some reason this drivel is continuing to be discussed on Left wing blogs.

    I hoped once that plainly stupid Plane Stupid job was done, thanks to the Tories and Lib Dems, that people like the posh boy eco toff, Joss Garman, (the man who excuses thousands of human beings starving to death as long as lies about GM food and the US are upheld) and his cohort of middle class wusses would have done something else but no.

    Because it has become a business and one in which perpetuating this stuff means money. Green taxes for governments. Money for them to live on.

    These people are uncaring selfish individuals, to a person not qualified in any way scientifically, not one doing any gainful employment and all they care about in continuing this Maggie Thatcher invented drivel.

    Labour won’t debate it – Ed Miliband is a hopeless union stooge, tax avoiding property millionaire who couldn’t decide if he want’s to debate it or not.

    Not in that ditherers case – the Son of Brown will never act democratically and Labour will suffer for years because of it. If Labour started protecting the poor and disadvantaged instead of rewarding the rich it may be electable again but not whilst Ed Miliband runs the party…

  17. Suttons Patter | Youth at the UN

    […] climate talks in Cancun, as a massive advocate of trade unionism, I took great pleasure in reading Keith Sonnet’s view on how addressing climate change can also be part of a transition to a sociall…. The example of UNISON and its green charter are certainly admirable but I wonder how these views […]

  18. Jonathan Hujsak

    Tackling climate change requires a just transition to a low carbon economy – Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/erBT8z

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