Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:24 pm on 20th October 2021.
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to place duties on the Secretary of State to decarbonise the United Kingdom economy and to reverse inequality;
to establish a 10-year economic and public investment strategy in accordance with those duties which promote a community and employee-led transition from high-carbon to low and zero-carbon industry;
to require the Government to report on their adherence to the strategy;
to establish higher environmental standards for air, water and green spaces;
to make provision to protect and restore natural habitats;
and for connected purposes.
With just 10 days to go until the critical COP26 climate talks begin in Glasgow, it is vital that the Government show that they have understood the scale and scope of the climate and nature crises, and that they understand both the work to be done, and the opportunity that that presents to build better lives for us all. We do not need just a 10-point plan, we need a 10-year plan—a comprehensive green new deal that mobilises every part of Government, and every person in these nations: workers and investors, creatives and care workers, scientists and engineers, administrators and accountants, farmers and factory workers.
The Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill, also known as the green new deal Bill, lays out the framework that would make that unprecedented mobilisation possible, and move us from talking to doing. I have stood up in this Chamber so many times over the past 11 years to make the case for bold action in response to the climate and nature crises, as have so many of my colleagues. In each of those 11 years, evidence of the accelerating emergency has become ever clearer, and sadly this year has been no exception. In August the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has been described as its “starkest warning yet”. Human activity is changing the earth’s climate in ways that are unprecedented in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, with some of the changes now “inevitable and irreversible”. As its report set out, only rapid and far-reaching reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent climate breakdown.
However, just as the issues have become clearer over my time as an MP, so too have the solutions. In this millennium, energy sources such as wind and solar that move us away from fossil fuels have come of age. Those energy technologies have been matched by an explosion of social technologies, community wealth building, new co-operative forms of enterprise, and an understanding of the social and environmental value of, for example, a shorter working week. It has become increasingly clear that the economic path we have been following is destroying the ecosystem we depend on, increasing inequality and impoverishing lives. Not only is it trashing the planet, but it is failing to deliver for millions of people across the UK. If we fail to grasp that, we will fail the climate test. That means that we cannot limit our imaginations to tinkering around the edges of the problem, or to creating a world that is not quite so bad. We must expand our imaginations to encompass a world where we do not treat people, or our living breathing planet, as expendable.
Our greatest threat now is the delayers, and those who would kick creating a better world into the long grass because they profit from the current destructive system. On that, the Queen is entirely in agreement with climate activist Greta Thunberg when she complains that, “They talk, but they don’t do.” The time for talking is over. It is not inevitable that the news gets worse year on year. We can create a better world. All that is currently lacking is the political will. This is our chance. Every mind, every policy decision, and every spending decision should be focused on the transformation ahead of us.
The Bill sets out comprehensive criteria for a plan that would renew almost every part of our economy and society, together with the means to deliver it. It is not only my work, as it draws on expertise from across the House and every corner of the UK, including from the hon. Members for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome), for Oldham East and Saddleworth, for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), and for North Down (Stephen Farry), who are co-sponsoring the Bill. The Bill has had input from scientists and civil society groups, unions and campaigners, and tax experts. It shows what we can do when we work together.
The first part of the Bill sets out targets to reduce emissions in line with our commitment to stay within 1.5° C of global heating, to restore nature and to reverse inequality. The Bill then sets out a framework for the reform of our financial and economic system so that the Government are free to work with all sectors to mobilise the resources necessary to invest in the complete renewal of our economy and society. That would put the Government, and not markets, in charge of the economy so that we are able to make the big economic decisions that will affect our futures.
We saw what was possible in the early phases of the covid pandemic. When they choose to, the Government can intervene on behalf of the people of this country. They can house the homeless, they can write off NHS debt overnight and—for a time, at least—they can put health and wellbeing above profit and growth. Now, we need those kinds of changes to be made on an everyday basis, not just as an extraordinary occurrence.
Doing that requires much greater co-ordination between the Bank of England, the Treasury and the Debt Management Office, so that we can manage the flow of money through the economy. Under the green new deal, credit creation, the availability of credit and the tax system would work together to benefit the whole of society. That would allow us to invest in renewable energy, clean transport, climate-friendly farming and warm homes. It would reduce inequality and increase incomes and tax revenues through the creation of skilled, well-paid jobs. Wealth taxes and measures to reduce tax evasion and avoidance would contribute, too.
A clear plan for Government investment would give private investors the confidence they need to put resources into the green new deal. Changing tax incentives on pensions and individual savings accounts to direct funds into the green new deal would bring long-term benefits to everyday savers and everyone in society. But we need to go further.
The Treasury’s own Dasgupta review of the economics of biodiversity calls for
“urgent and transformative change in how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world.”
That means that GDP can no longer be our fundamental measure of progress. Instead, we should prioritise measures that help to guide us towards real prosperity, such as improvements in people’s health and wellbeing, the reversal of inequality, tackling the climate emergency, and the restoration and protection of the natural environment on which we all depend.
As so often, the people of the UK are ahead of the Government on this. Two thirds of UK adults think that the Government should prioritise the health and wellbeing of citizens over GDP growth. Other nations have led the way. New Zealand’s wellbeing budget, led by its Treasury, invests billions in tackling deep-rooted social and environmental problems, including the climate crisis.
Once management of the economy is transformed, the Bill makes provision for a green new deal commission, drawing in expertise from across society and informed by a series of citizens’ assemblies, to rapidly draw up a 10-year plan for the UK. That plan will set out how we decarbonise and diversify our energy supply; how we insulate the UK’s 29 million homes; how we transform the way we travel so we no longer depend on fossil fuels and our air is cleaner; how we invest in climate-friendly agriculture, and how we restore and enhance our environment, increasing the number of green spaces for us all to enjoy.
That means valuing the work that human hands do—the growing, the producing and delivery of the food that we eat; the shaping of the physical infrastructure, from warmer homes to low-carbon transport; and, crucially, the provision of care. It means creating good, unionised, secure jobs in every corner of the UK, delivering on the promise to level up.
This worker-led just transition will redress the historical mismanagement of industrial change and structural inequalities in the economy, to ensure that the green new deal enhances all our lives. New forms of business, from worker-owned co-operatives to community enterprises, will bring many more of us a stake in our future. Bringing key services into democratic ownership will ensure that our energy and water, our rail and mail, are run for the public good. And there are things we need to stop doing, too. There can be no more fossil fuel extraction, no more aviation expansion and no new plans for roads, where the money could far more effectively be spent on improving the existing network.
There is much work to be done. We have just a decade to turn this around. That is why this is our last best chance. By raising our sights to the horizon, we can create a world that is more humane and beautiful. One of my favourite cartoons shows a professor in front of a whiteboard. They have written up all the advantages of moving to a greener society, and a student says, “But what happens if climate change is a hoax and we’ve created a better world for no reason?” This is about creating a better world—that is what this Bill will do.
Question put and agreed to.
That Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis, Zarah Sultana, Wera Hobhouse, Nadia Whittome, Debbie Abrahams, Claire Hanna, Stephen Farry and Beth Winter present the Bill.
Caroline Lucas accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday