Tuesday, 19 November 2019

For an Eco-Socialist Vision: An Interview with Qingzhi Huan


First published at Global Dialogue

Qingzhi Huan is professor of comparative politics at Peking University in China. In 2002-3 he was a Harvard-Yenching Visiting Scholar at Harvard University, USA and in 2005-6 Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Mannheim in Germany. His research focusses on environmental politics, European politics as well as left politics. He authored and edited a number of books on these issues including A Comparative Study on European Green Parties in 2000 and Eco-socialism as Politics. Rebuilding the Basis of Our Modern Civilisation in 2010.

He is interviewed by Christine Schickert, the administrative director of the Research Group on Post-Growth Societies at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany and assistant editor of Global Dialogue.

CS: Climate change has become one of the most talked about political issues in recent years, at least in the countries of the Global North. Could you describe the role this discussion plays in Chinese politics and society today?

QH: Dealing with global climate change as one of the major issues of international environmental politics has traveled quite a long way since the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) at the Rio summit in 1992. Generally speaking, like most of the other developing countries, China’s position on combating climate change is clear and coherent – it is called the “Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility” (CBDR).

First of all, climate change is a common challenge or crisis for the whole of human society rather than just for advanced or developing countries; secondly, the so-called advanced countries or regions, especially the EU and the US, should take on their main historical responsibilities by offering or transferring necessary resources and technologies to the developing countries; thirdly, developing countries, including China, should make increasing contributions to global climate change control and adaptation in accordance with their growing capacities.

Based on this policy position, China’s participation in international climate change politics over the past years can be divided into three stages: pre-1992, 1992-2012, 2012-now. Up until 2012, the dominant understanding was that it was the advanced countries like the EU countries and the US which were to take immediate actions.

Since 2012, the Chinese government gradually updated or shifted its position towards international cooperation on climate change, especially under the framework of the UNFCCC. The best example here is the new role of China in reaching and implementing the Paris Agreement.

To be honest, the major impetus for this adjustment of the Chinese policy position does not stem from the signing and implementation of the Paris Agreement but comes from implementing the national strategy of promoting the construction of an eco-civilization. Briefly speaking, marked by the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the modernization of “national ecological environment governance system and governance capacity” has been recognized as one of the top political and policy goals for the CPC and the Chinese government, and joining international cooperation on climate change more actively is one ideal symbolic case to show their political willingness.

For instance, China is also paying more and more attention to the implementation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by organizing several important, related international activities in 2019-20.

CS: Environmental protection is not a new issue in China. In 1972, China, unlike other countries ruled by socialist parties, took part in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, where a number of principles and recommendations concerning environmental protection were agreed upon. Could you sketch developments and changes in China’s environmental policies since then?

QH: It is true that China’s environmental protection as a public policy formally started in 1972, when the Chinese delegation attended the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment. As a result, in 1973, China held its first national conference on environmental protection and set up a national office in charge of this policy issue. Since then, China’s environmental policy has experienced at least four stages of development: 1973-89, 1989-92, 1992-2012, and 2012-now.

In the first stage, with the formation and implementation of the “reform and opening-up” policy in 1978 under the political leadership of Deng Xiaoping, environmental protection quickly became a prominent policy issue, and consequently, “environment protection as a basic state policy” was officially recognized in 1983 and has been one of the key policy guidelines for China’s environmental protection until today. During the second stage, under the political leadership of Jiang Zemin, sustainable development became the major expression of the CPC and Chinese government’s political ecology and environmental governance strategy.

From 2002 to 2012 – a transition stage in more than one way – under the political leadership of Hu Jintao, the concept of the “two-pattern society construction” (resource-saving and environmentally friendly society), put forward in 2005, was the CPC and Chinese government’s central term of that time. In 2007, the term “eco-civilization construction” was included in the working report of the 17th National Congress of the CPC.

Since 2012, the real change is not that “eco-civilization construction” has become the umbrella word of the CPC and Chinese government’s political ecology and environmental governance strategy, but rather that environmental protection and governance are recognized as an integral part of the pursued “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics in a new era,” theoretically and practically.

CS: For quite some time now, your work has focused on the idea of eco-socialism. You argue that “greening” capitalism is not the answer to the current ecological crisis but neither is “greening” traditional socialism. Could you elaborate on this argument and explain what eco-socialism means?

QH: Briefly speaking, eco-socialism as a green political philosophy includes two major aspects. On the one hand, it argues that ecological and environmental challenges on the local, national, and global level, especially under the dominant institutional framework of contemporary capitalism, are not just partial or temporary problems or defects, but are inseparable from the framework itself: they follow the logic of capital proliferation and the protection of the interests of capital-owners.

In this sense, various measures under the capitalist regime, the so-called “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism,” cannot solve environmental problems. Of course, as Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen have expounded clearly in their book The Limits to Capitalist Nature this does not mean that capitalist measures against environmental damage, or even “green capitalism,” are totally impossible in reality (though always implemented in a selective way).

On the other hand, what is stressed in eco-socialism as a political philosophy is that it is a new type of socialism, or an updated version of socialism, and thus different from a simplified or falsified greening of traditional socialism. It is worth noting that the scientific socialism or communism that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggested nearly two centuries ago is an ideal which has so far not been realized, whether in the former Soviet Union or in today’s China. And this ideal cannot be established in any country or region of the world in the foreseeable future.

This implies that what we are imagining or striving for is an eco-socialist orientation of our contemporary world rather than a totally new socialist society. In other words, one of the main tasks for eco-socialists today is to make clear why various measures under the capitalist regime will eventually fail to solve the problems that they claim to solve, and why various initiatives of eco-socialism as real or radical alternatives can indeed bring about substantial change in all societies, so that “another world is really possible.”

CS: In many discourses that I have followed, eco-socialism is discussed as an alternative to green capitalism with its own vision of the future that not only offers solutions for the ecological crisis but also addresses issues of inequality; it aims at connecting environmental justice with social justice. But you argue that eco-socialist concepts at the moment don’t seem attractive to people. Why is that?

QH: Admittedly, the concept of eco-socialism is still not as popular as many people may expect or argue, not only in capitalist countries but also in socialist countries including China. In my opinion, there are various reasons for explaining this anomaly. Firstly, eco-socialism as a political ideology and public policy is still very much affected by the stained reputation of traditional socialism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, which were obviously unsuccessful in institutionalizing the socialist ideas and values and in dealing with environmental issues, as Saral Sarkar has convincingly analyzed in his book Eco-socialism or Eco-capitalism?

Moreover, the hegemony of neoliberalism throughout the world after the collapse of the socialist bloc in the early 1990s and its political and ideological propaganda have undoubtedly been a success, making the majority of people believe that there is indeed no alternative to capitalism. Most interestingly and/or regrettably, the economic and financial crisis of 2008 in Europe and the US also did not substantially improve the structural situation for radical or alternative politics, including eco-socialism. The rise and growing popularity of “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism” in recent years can be considered as supporting evidence for this argument.

Secondly, as far as China is concerned, the competing political and policy interpretation of “eco-civilization construction” and “socialist eco-civilization construction” is a good example to illuminate that eco-socialism is far from being an established political ideology and political ecology. One deep divergence is whether or not a socialist orientation or direction is an institutional precondition for modernizing the environmental protection and governance system of today’s China.

From an eco-Marxist perspective, over-emphasizing the introduction of the so-called modern institutions or mechanisms for environmental protection and governance from the US and the EU would be at the risk of neglecting the socialist reshaping of the whole society which is essential for a future socialist eco-civilization.

CS: What is needed to make eco-socialism more attractive as a vision for a future society?

QH: Needless to say, this is an urgent and very challenging task for eco-socialists today. First of all, socialist/green-Left political parties and politics are still the major forces to make the eco-socialist vision for a future society more desirable and attractive among the public, and lots of work can be done by them. For instance, an encouraging message from the European Parliamentary elections of 2019 is that the European electorate, especially the young generation, are holding quite a supportive position towards combating climate change and other global environmental issues, but the Left as a whole did not benefit too much from it.

Secondly, international dialogue and collaboration among academics on all issues relating to eco-socialism should be further strengthened. Of course, it should be a more equal and open-minded, two-way process between the West and the developing countries. To be frank, China has been a “good” student of the West over the past decades in the sense of doing its best to imitate what the advanced nations have done or are doing to modernize the country. From now on though, China needs to be a more independent and reflective partner of the international academic community, focusing on how to really make the country better.

Thirdly, one of the key tasks to make eco-socialism more attractive, especially in China, is to make “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era” more attractive. From my point of view, a crucial way is to consciously introduce and implement the principle and policy of “socialist eco-civilization construction.”

CS: You distinguish between “growing economy” and “growth economy,” the latter being dependent on continued economic growth, something that seems detrimental to solving the ecological crisis. What does this distinction mean in regard to China?

QH: I used the term “growing economy” in 2008 to conceptualize the nature of economic development in China at that time, to show how I somewhat differ from Takis Fotopoulos, a London-based Greek thinker, who analyzed whether sustainable development is compatible with globalization by looking at developments in China.

My major argument is as follows: both in terms of the legitimacy, desirability, and sustainability of resource support and environmental capacity, the economic growth rate of China at the beginning of the 21st century was to a large extent necessary or defendable. Of course, the overall situation of China’s economic development has changed dramatically over the past decade and is currently facing an even more challenging situation today owing to the trade dispute/war with the US.

The real question in this regard is whether or not the Chinese economy is gradually moving towards a growth economy as Takis Fotopoulos has defined it. My reflection is that there is still no simple answer to this question. On the one hand, the annual economic growth rate of 6-7% since 2015 is almost half what it was ten years ago (11.4% in 2005), indicating that China is continuously optimizing its economy in line with the different stages of development, and, at least for the central and western regions of China, that an appropriate economic growth rate is still necessary or maintainable in the near future.

On the other hand, considering the economic aggregate of China today – according to the World Bank, it is 13.608 trillion US dollars in total and 15.86% of the whole world in 2018 – even an annual growth rate of around 5% may bring about wide and tremendous impacts on our ecological environment. This is the very reason why we argue that an eco-socialist perspective or “socialist eco-civilization construction” has the potential to make a contribution to better combine the necessity of meeting the basic needs of common people and protecting the ecological environment: more ecologism and more socialism.

CS: In European countries and in North America, the idea of a green capitalism is the mainstream answer to the current ecological challenges. What could they gain from alternative visions of the future like the one you put forward?

QH: Arguably, “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism” is the most practical or even “rational” approach to deal with the current ecological challenges in European countries and in North America, because, thanks to the hierarchical international economic and political order and the increasingly wide acceptance of the “imperial mode of living” in developing countries, these “advanced” countries can manage to use the global resources and sinks to their own advantage. If such a structural configuration remains unchanged, one can imagine that there will be little possibility for the world to move towards an eco-socialist future.

However, it seems that this configuration has indeed become socially and ecologically problematic in recent years. On the one hand, following the economic rise of several major developing countries including China, it is becoming more and more difficult for the US and European countries to maintain the status quo of the international order, which will threaten not only their position of hegemony in the traditional sense but also their green model of “eco-capitalism.” In other words, there will be less and less space or possibilities in reality for these “advanced” countries to maintain the good quality of their local environment while continuing to enjoy a high level of material consumption.

To some extent, the increasing tensions today between China and the West led by the US can be interpreted in this way. On the other hand, more and more developing countries, especially the emerging economies like China, are taking the ecological environment problems seriously for different reasons. This implies that there will be more and stricter restrictions from developing countries on the acceptance of “dirty” capital and technology, let alone of waste and garbage, as the dispute over waste import between the Philippines and Canada has clearly shown.

In both senses mentioned above, in my opinion, the principles and ways of thinking of eco-socialism can contribute in making European and North American countries eventually realize the limits and defects of “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism.” Solving local or short-term problems while others pay the costs needs to end, and a process of radical social-ecological transformation needs to be initiated as soon as possible. A more just world and more equal society are the precondition for a cleaner environment.

Qingzhi Huan can be contacted here <qzhuan@sdu.edu.cn>

Saturday, 16 November 2019

This General Election is Unpredictable in Fragmented Britain


Leaving aside how badly wrong most of the opinion polls were at 2017 General Election, so far all the pollsters give the Tories a decent lead over Labour, although the lead has narrowed over the last week or so. The picture is being further complicated by regional variations and even variations within regions.

Take a look at these local council by-election results from this week, as supplied by Britain Elects. Yes, council by-elections have a low turn out of voters, usually around 30%, and yes local issues can and do play a part in swaying the voters. But they are real votes, not (weighted) surveys of what people tell pollsters they intend to do.

St Mary's (Powys) result:

LAB: 37.4% (+16.3)
CON: 26.5% (-14.9)
PC: 14.1% (+14.1)
LDEM: 11.1% (-16.3)
IND: 11.0% (+11.0)

Labour GAIN from Conservative.

No GRN (-10.2) as prev.

Goodrington with Roselands (Torbay) result:

CON: 49.3% (+17.6)
LDEM: 35.5% (-)
BREX: 9.3% (+9.3)
LAB: 4.0% (-3.2)
GRN: 1.9% (-8.9)

Conservative GAIN from Liberal Democrat.

No UKIP (-14.7) as prev.

Culverden (Tunbridge Wells) result:

LDEM: 46.7% (+33.5)
CON: 24.9% (-19.1)
WEP: 10.2% (+10.2)
TWA: 9.5% (+9.5)
LAB: 5.2% (-14.3)
GRN: 3.5% (-7.5)

Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

No UKIP (-12.2) as prev (2016).

Shap (Eden) result:

LDEM: 48.5% (+17.3)
CON: 33.8% (-17.4)
PCF: 17.7% (+0.1)

Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

PCF: Putting Cumbria First.

Dunfermline East (Fife) first preferences:

SNP: 33.2% (+9.1)
CON: 24.8% (-6.5)
LDEM: 22.8% (+13.8)
LAB: 13.5% (-6.3)
GRN: 5.1% (+0.9)
LBT: 0.6% (+0.6)

SNP GAIN from Conservative.

Rosyth (Fife) first preferences:

SNP: 42.8% (+16.5)
CON: 24.4% (-2.3)
LAB: 15.2% (-4.3)
LDEM: 7.9% (-0.9)
IND: 5.0% (+2.9)
GRN: 4.2% (+0.7)
LBT: 0.5% (+0.5)

SNP HOLD.

No other Ind(s) (-13.1) as prev.

Rhos (Neath Port Talbot) result:

PC: 53.9% (+23.1)
CON: 24.3% (+0.8)
LAB: 21.8% (-23.9)

Plaid Cymru GAIN from Labour.

As you can see, the results cover England, Scotland and Wales, and vary considerably in different parts of the country. There looks to be something for all the parties to cheer in these results. The St Mary's result appears indicate the Labour party benefiting from there being no Green candidate standing.

The Scottish results confirm what the polls have been saying about the Scottish National Party's prospects in Scotland, they look good. In England and Wales though, no clear winner is indicated by these results. Although it looks as though things are going fairly well for the Liberal Democrats.

The local elections just before the 2017 General Election were disastrous for Labour, gaining only 27% of the popular vote, and losing 382 council seats. They were good for the Tories who got 38% of the vote and gained 563 council seats. Only a month later at the General Election the Tories scored 42.4% of the vote, whilst Labour got 40%, and the Tories duly lost their majority in Parliament.

Labour is probably in a better position now that it was at this stage of the 2017 campaign, but they do look to have ground to make up, to be in with a chance forming a government, although it will probably need to be some kind coalition, with Labour the largest party.

The mood may be different from 2017, after all of the paralysis in Parliament of the last two years, with voters getting increasingly frustrated with the inability of MPs to agree something, anything, to move us on from the Brexit debate, and this is something that the Tories are trying to cynically exploit.

But judging by the times that the Tory leader Boris Johnson meets actual voters on his walk-abouts though, not all voters are absolving him from blame for this, and voters want to talk about other issues, the NHS, cuts to council services and environmental concerns, especially in recently flood hit areas. I also think it is fair to say that the Tory campaign has been pretty shambolic, and no better than the car crash campaign they had in 2017.

It is hard to see how the recent floods will play well for the Tories, and it could be even worse with the looming winter crisis in the NHS, so there is all still to all play for the opposition parties over the next four weeks. Over 850,000 people under the age of 34 have registered to vote since the election was called, who tend to favour Labour over the Tories and also tend to be mainly anti-Brexit.

The coming election could well shape the country for a generation, and I think it is the most important General Election since 1979. I’m sure many people have not engaged with the campaign so far, but traditionally tend to in the last two weeks. This time though it will be almost Christmas by then, and it is to be hoped that voters are not distracted by that. There are so many unknowns in this election which makes it so difficult to call.    

Monday, 11 November 2019

Green Party Rebellion Breaks Out Over Lib Dem Pact


After my last post on Saturday about unhappiness in the Green party about the leadership brokered electoral pact with the Lib Dems for December’s general election, the fight-back appears to have started. I have heard of dozens of resignations from the party over this, and as I said, I was thinking about it myself.

But I have been much heartened by the response of Green party members, not so much those who have resigned, although it is a clear indication of dissatisfaction with the pact. What is encouraging is that many members are determined to stay in the party, but fight against the pact, in practical ways.

Several local Green parties in Labour/Tory marginal constituencies, are unilaterally standing down in favour of Labour, and even in the constituencies covered by the pact, some members are saying they will not campaign for or endorse the Lib Dems, and will campaign for Labour instead. It is too late to change this pact now, but Greens have worked out that it can be nobbled on the ground.

Green Left, the ecosocialist grouping in the Green party has released a statement, copied in full below. The statement concludes thus:

Green Left is very concerned that the implied call to support Liberal Democrat General Election candidates where the Green Party is not standing and where the Labour candidate was either the sitting MP or is the best placed candidate to defeat the Tory MP is an incorrect position to take - especially if that person supports anti-austerity, proportional representation, a Green New Deal and a people’s vote.

Therefore, we urge Green Party members and supporters to support the Labour Party candidate in these areas.

In effect this is a call to ignore the leadership’s pact and do the right thing in places where the Tories stand to gain seats from Labour. Green Left’s Facebook group, has been inundated with people asking to join the group, indicating a growing rejection of this very bad deal.

Chris Jarvis, the editor of Bright Green website, writing on Left Foot Forward urges Greens to vote Labour in English marginals, where he argues that Labour are far closer allies to the Greens than the Lib Dems will ever be.

All of this is nothing short of a rebellion by Green party members. I stand with the rebels.

Green Left says ‘no’ to supporting Jo Swinson’s second rate Tories. The Liberal Democrats nationally oppose our Green values.

Green Left believes a step forward for the green movement in the UK has taken place recently, with many people joining both the Green Party and Labour Party, reflecting real concerns about the threat of climate change to our very existence on this planet.

Green Left welcomes the fact that the Green New Deal is gaining support on the left, especially in the Labour Party, and we believe that Greens should engage with others who share the same policies as us, to build the green movement for change which is the only way to save the planet.

Green Left believes the mass movement of Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Strikes shows up the pro capitalist parties for what they are – gambling with the planet. The Lib Dems are part of the problem not the solution.

The Liberal Democrats are a party whose leader, Jo Swinson, received funding from a major fracking company and voted for fracking. She and her party also voted for the bedroom tax, benefit cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit, the scrapping of the education maintenance, increased tuition fees, opposed increasing the tax rate on those earning £150,000, supported cuts to the police and emergency services, supported zero hours contracts, supported the badger cull and did little to challenge climate change, preferring instead nuclear power.

The Lib Dems are also uncritical supporters of the EU, unlike the Greens who want major democratic reform and accountability. The Lib Dems reject a proper further referendum that allows people a democratic say on any EU deal or no deal.

Green Left believes Caroline Lucas was right to warn how dangerous the Lib Dems position of ignoring the Referendum result, and instead going for Revoke, is  : “I certainly think that the Lib Dem way out is arrogant, self-indulgent, cynical and very dangerous. I think that will put fuel on the fire,” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/18/caroline-lucas-lib-dems-revoke-and-remain-stance-brexit-is-arrogant

Green Party policy has been for a second people’s vote, and in this case is closer to that of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, who also support a second  referendum, than the Liberal Democrats’ Revoke position.

Green Left is very concerned that the implied call to support Liberal Democrat General Election candidates where the Green Party is not standing and where the Labour candidate was either the sitting MP or is the best placed candidate to defeat the Tory MP is an incorrect position to take - especially if that person supports anti-austerity, proportional representation, a Green New Deal and a people’s vote.

Therefore, we urge Green Party members and supporters to support the Labour Party candidate in these areas.

The UniteToRemain pact contradicts the Green Party’s initial position that this should be a Climate Emergency election. Instead the pact makes it a Brexit election.

ENDS

Green Left is an Eco-Socialist current within the Green Party of England and Wales.

CONTACT:

ukgreenleft@gmail.com

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Green Party Members Dismayed with Lib Dem Election Pact



The decision by the leadership of the Green party to enter into the Unite to Remain electoral pact with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) has been greeted with dismay by the party’s membership and supporters. Under the pact, the Greens have agreed to stand down in 43 constituencies, mainly to the benefit of the Lib Dems. The Greens will get a free run in 10 constituencies, but are unlikely to gain any seats at the election.

Professor John Curtis, the polling expert reckons that at best this pact will deliver an extra 5 or 6 seats to the Lib Dems, but no gains for the Greens or Plaid. To make matters worse, some of the seats where the Greens are standing down are held by Labour party Remain MPs, including Warrington South, where their majority over the Tories is only 2,500. There is a risk that this pact could lead to a Tory victory, and all that that would entail.

The Lib Dems also were in coalition with the Tory government between 2010 and 2015, leading to the politics of austerity where the least wealthy endured savage cuts to living standards, because of the recklessness of the banks causing the financial crash of 2008. Why does the Green party want to be associated with a party like that?

Just when we were gaining ground, at the local and European elections earlier this year, the Green party seems to have shot themselves in the foot, and many members are unhappy about the direction of the party that this decision appears to signal. A move to the political right. Below are just some examples of comments by members and supporters on the Facebook groups where Greens tend to hang out.

At this moment in time I am still a Green Party member, but I am absolutely dismayed that the Greens are having ANYTHING to do with the Lib Dems let alone forming an electoral alliance with them for the sake of (potentially) a couple of extra seats.

I have resigned from the greens. I see it as a decisive move to the right by the leadership who seem to be out of touch. Vote Labour is the only option to remove the Tories.

I feel exactly the same. No longer a member.

The green party is nothing like the lib dems and we should not be likened to them at all.

Very very unhappy. Such a crass political tactic which sells our principles down the river for doubtful short term political gain. The lib-dems, as yanis varoufakis said recently, deserve 'maximum contempt'.

I have more faith in Jeremy Corbyn than I do in Jo Swinson, and I am concerned that the Green Party seems more convinced by her than by him. She has a history of voting in favour of appalling things, he does not.

I am not happy either given how little difference it actually made in 2017 and the Liberal Democrats' terrible environmental record.

I’m not sure why local Greens parties will be standing aside and backing Lib Dems in tight Tory/lab marginals (eg Warrington South) When this could let the Tories in?

It has been poorly researched almost amateur - a position whereby the greens stand down to topple a Labour MP nearer our political position then the Lib Dems - who we are supporting by fact is very poor.

Will the LibDems commit to the Green New Deal - co-sponsored by the Greens and Labour? Because I wouldn't vote for a party that didn't do that as a minimum.

The LibDem candidate in my constituency was a Tory as recently as September! So, to kick out the Tories, I should vote for a Tory and a party that was happily in coalition with the Tories?

Never trust a Fib Dems or do business with them. When will Green Party members realise this?

I thought Jo Swinson was lying when I saw her on a program spouting off about a pact with the greens, what the actual fuck!

This is what happens when you lose sight of what’s actually important, mainly because people seem to think stopping Brexit is a bigger priority than ending austerity.

I'm so gutted the Greens have done this. The libdems will sell out faster than half price Glastonbury tickets!

How can the Greens go into a pact, with a party whose leader is in the pocket of the industries any environmentalist would oppose?

Worried about several of those seats where Greens are standing down for the LibDems, including Southwark and Old Bermondsey, where the sitting Labour MP Neil Coyle is strongly anti-Brexit.

It’s a f*cking disgraceful- 3 months ago I asked the NEC about these rumours. They denied them explicitly- cannot believe it- may as well join the #Tories. Our votes are being sold for 1 seat ( Bristol). I will now rejoin labour or start my own EcoSocialist Party

This will kill the Green Party. No one in their right mind should form an alliance with the lying Yellow Tories of the Lib Dems.

Well, I am sadly leaving the GP as a consequence!

This whole thing is doing my head in. I feel like hibernating (like my hedgehogs) until the whole thing is over.

It is not a great start to the Greens electoral campaign to piss off your activists, and the party could well rue this decision, as it can potentially set us back years. I must say, that I am also considering my position, and whether after 13 years I still want to remain in the Green party.   

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Why I Hate the Tories


I am from a Labour party supporting background, raised in local authority housing, schooled and paid for and maintained in higher education by the same municipality, a Labour run council. My dad was a shop steward in the engineering union too, so it’s no surprise then that I have never even considered supporting the Tory party. It always seemed to me that the Tories did not represent my interests, rather they are the party of the wealthy establishment and the ‘bosses.’ 

I was 17 when Margaret Thatcher became Tory prime minister in 1979, and I remember being furious that I was not allowed to vote in that election, when older people, who I considered ignorant of politics were. Thatcher set about destroying the political post second world war consensus, often referred to as ‘welfare capitalism.’ The welfare state, which had served me and others like me so well, was consigned to dust bin of history and replaced with rampant individualism, privatisation of public assets, the neutering of trade unions, tax cuts for the rich, promoting inequality and a nasty patriotism bordering on jingoism.

Through the following 18 long years, first with Thatcher as leader, then John Major, all of these things came to pass, turning the country into a neo-liberal front runner in the process. Communities that were once characterised by social solidarity, like mining communities, turned into barren wastelands, where good jobs were scarce and money hard to come by. An attitude of ‘bugger everyone else, me, me, me, reigned in place of the old esprit de corps.

I can still remember vividly election night in 1997, when the Tories were spectacularly booted out of office, with big political names losing their seats, culminating in arch Thatcherite Michael Portillo losing a pretty safe majority in his constituency. The night just kept getting better. But Thatcher had managed to change the Labour party into a paler shade of the Tories, and we didn’t have to wait long for the disappointment to manifest itself with the New Labour government. The essentially neo-liberal policies continued, with a few of the rougher edges smoothed off.

The final straw for me was the Iraq war, when I decided that I could no longer vote for the Labour party, and a year or so later, I joined the Green party. It wasn’t an easy decision given my background, but I felt that Labour no longer represented my interests and I was becoming increasingly alarmed by climate change.

Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party in 2015, it does now look more like its old self, although not nearly as left wing as the right wing media would have you believe. Labour does though offer an alternative to the type of policies that been inflicted on the country for the last forty years.

The Tories of course made a comeback in 2010, and we have suffered a further nine years of their misrule, aided and abetted by first by the Lib Dems and then with the bigots of the DUP. A new nastiness has been a feature of the current Tory government, with the disgraceful demonisation of benefit claimants, and a cruel regime of sanctions on the most vulnerable in our society. The numbers of rough sleepers has rocketed and local authority budgets have been slashed leaving them only as procurers of some, mainly statutory, public services. 

This will get even worse if the Tories are re-elected, with the prospect of the NHS being sold off to US corporations, a removal of employment and environmental protections, and sub-standard regulations on the food we eat. It is the only way we will be ‘competitive’ once we leave the EU, if we do.  

Wages in the public sector have fallen in real terms by something like £5,000 per year, per person since 2010, when the fetish for austerity was inflicted by the Tories on the nation. A policy that has made matters worse, since the national debt has almost doubled over the last nine years, whilst the Tories talk of ‘sound money’ and ‘economic competence’ but the facts speak for themselves. The country has been screwed, but the wealthy continue to get richer.

And then there is Brexit. There was no clamour for a referendum on leaving the European Union (EU) in the country, only in the Tory party. UKIP never won a Parliamentary election, other than Tory defectors. The Tories latest austerity policies, together with the neo-liberal ethos introduced by Thatcher and continued by New Labour, by and large, led to the feeling that the referendum was seen by many as a golden opportunity to ‘stick it up the establishment,’ and of course this was enough to produce a vote to leave the EU.

The handling of Brexit has been a textbook exercise in rank incompetence, as the in-fighting in the Tory party continues with its obsession with the EU, while the country sees a spike in hate crimes. The Tories don’t care about the country though, only their own fixation with Europe.

So there you have it. An uncaring party which screws the poorest to benefit the richest people. Why people with little or nothing to ‘conserve’ ever vote for them is a complete mystery to me, but even if I was rich, there is no way I could vote for these mendacious bastards. Like 1979 the forthcoming General Election is a water shed election. Do whatever it takes to kick the Tories out on December 12.   

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Principles for a Global Green New Deal



Written by Simon Maxwell and first published at Simon Maxwell.eu

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. From that perspective, a Green New Deal is an enticing prospect; a Global Green New Deal much more so. Even Joe Stiglitz says so. Hang on, though. There are two big problems - and a lot of work for us to do.

The first problem is that ‘New Deal’ and ‘Green New Deal’ appear to be portmanteau terms, signalling a desire to make progress on a range of economic, social and environmental fronts, but encompassing many different pathways.

To take just one example, the US Congress Resolution on a Green New Deal sponsored by Alexandria Orcasio Cortes (AOC), and currently in Committee, makes no mention of nationalisation; the UK Labour Party Conference Resolution (UKLP), entitled a Socialist Green New Deal, commits to take energy and rail into public ownership. It is certainly a good thing that the precise configuration of policy should adapt to local circumstance. But a sceptic might conclude that the portmanteaux open to reveal very different sets of clothes. I will have more to say later on a comparison of AOC and the Labour Party.

The second problem is that very few of the new deal options on offer deal satisfactorily with the interdependencies associated with a truly global transition. Developing countries should be provided with finance and technology to support their own domestic transitions, yes; but rarely is there a serious discussion of limits to global growth, global redistribution, the constraints on trade-led development, or the competitive pressures a new deal might unleash. There is a risk that some developing countries will be left floundering and disadvantaged as rich countries adjust.

These two problems lay down a challenge: to design a framework for a truly global but locally appropriate green new deal. That is no easy task, and will need a collaborative effort, but here are some thoughts to kick us off. The focus is on climate change. In brief,

There are technical and policy issues hidden within the global climate framework, to which developing countries need to be alert. Developed countries cannot continue to offshore emissions, and need to take responsibility for faster, deeper cuts in both their national emissions and total footprint. Cuts will need to be even faster, if burden-sharing is to allow some room for short-term emissions growth in poorer countries. And proposals to off-set emissions need careful analysis.

The term Green New Deal can, as noted, be a portmanteau term, covering a range of policies and approaches. Having a range of preoccupations is positive, if it means that policy-makers consider the full implications of action on climate change: the transition costs, for example, the lifestyle implications, and the impact on losers. However, is it necessary to distinguish the ‘climate must-haves’ from the ‘climate like-to-haves’? The issue of different approaches is more complicated. A ‘Socialist Green New Deal’ will perforce differ from a market-based Green New Deal. A key lesson: assess proposals on a New Green Deal in wider philosophical or ideological context.
     
A Global Green New Deal is not just about adding up a series of national transitions. It needs to address the issue of who has the right to emit within limited carbon budgets, and the spill-over effects of one country’s actions on another. The ‘entry-level package’ is about finance and technology transfer, but other questions about growth and trade need to be central. So far, coverage of those is insufficient.
   
A collective effort is needed to define the parameters of a Global Green New Deal, a Brain Trust for the twenty-first century, drawing on expertise in both North and South, and from both the development and climate communities. Experimentation will be the order of the day. However, three tests can be applied.  Is climate action SDG compatible, maximising synergies and avoiding making the achievement of other SDGs harder? Is it bottom-up, building climate compatible development planning into national strategies? And does it recognise the urgency of climate action?

On climate change

First, then, climate change may be the defining issue of our time, but there are some serious cracks in current approaches. We know that a rapid reduction in emissions is needed globally, faster than ever because so much time has been wasted. The UN Environment Emissions Gap Report summarises the data. Emissions are still rising, by over 1% a year, when they should be falling. The latest estimates are that reductions amounting to over 50% are needed from 2020-2030 if the world is to be on a least cost pathway to 1.5 degree warming. That compares to a globally leading 2% a year in the UK since 1990.

The current national pledges only promise about a tenth of what is needed to 2030. And meanwhile, as many as seven G20 countries are not on track to meet even those modest commitments. It is not surprising that the spotlight is shining on the revisions countries will make to their Nationally Determined Contributions in 2020: how many will pledge to reach net zero, and by when? The UN Secretary General called for countries to commit to net zero by 2050.  The pressure is on from Groups like Extinction Rebellion, who want net zero by 2025.  The climate talks in Glasgow at the end of next year will be pivotal.

Behind those headlines lie some deep problems. Some are technical. For example, the Integrated Assessment Models used in calculating least cost pathways do not take account of the impact of extreme weather events. If those were endogenised, then the rates of reduction required would be even higher.  Similarly, the cost of deviating from the least-cost pathway needs to be factored in, including costs associated with the increased frequency and severity of droughts, floods, storms and sea level rise. There also needs to be very careful analysis of the negative net emission requirements of some models, dependent on technologies which do not yet exist or have not yet been proved at commercial scale.

Other issues go to the heart of the policy-making process which drives the global climate negotiations.

One issue concerns how imported and exported emissions are to be handled, when most developed countries consume more than they produce, and most developing countries produce more than they consume. Is it right that the UK, for example, should be able to claim success in reducing emissions, when one key reason is that nearly half of the carbon the UK ‘consumes’ is generated in other countries in the process of making the goods we import – and this has risen, not fallen? 

Should the carbon content of these imports be removed from, say, the China account, and entered on the UK account? It is a mystery that footprints do not feature more prominently at the UNFCCC, and elsewhere – though attention is beginning to be paid to imported emissions, and associated questions of measurement, reporting, certification, regulation and taxation.

Another issue which dares not speak its name, apparently, is whether poor countries have a right to increase emissions, at least in the short term, because they have not contributed in the past to the high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Today, not surprisingly, rich countries emit more per capita than poor ones, even allowing for the fact that some of their contribution is off-shored to countries like China. The global average is about 7 tons/capita. 

However, the US has emissions of 20 tons/capita, Russia about 17, China about 9, the EUEuropean Union 28 about 9, but India only about 3. Meanwhile, India has a per capita income in PPP terms of about $US 8,000, the EUEuropean Union $US 44,000, and US $US 63,000. If a fair ‘burden-sharing’ approach allowed India to increase emissions, as it would, then developed countries would have to cut faster to compensate. Averchenkova and colleagues explored this issue in 2014.

They concluded that burden-sharing approaches ‘are likely to be unrealistic in terms of political economy because they fail to take into account the national self-interest of countries through consideration of national benefits of climate action’. A better approach would be to focus on the benefits of climate action for all countries. Nevertheless, ‘‘burden-sharing’ could help to provide an initial assessment of domestic commitments . . .’.

The COP in Glasgow will not resolve the technical or policy issues hidden within the global climate framework, but developing countries need to be alert to the consequences. In particular, they need to demand much more ambitious plans from developed countries, including with respect to their overall footprints. They will need to review commitments to carbon neutrality, be alert to the difference between ‘zero’ and ‘net zero’, look carefully at offset options, and probably be sceptical if commitments are made which require negative emissions later in the century. They will want to review burden-sharing options in terms of the global carbon budget. And they will certainly want to make sure that the costs of preparing for and responding to extreme weather events are properly considered.

On the elements of a Green New Deal

The all-encompassing nature of current new deal proposals has origins in the diverse package of measures put in place during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original New Deal, in 1933-34 and again in 1935-36. Covering Relief, Recovery and Reform, the package included major public works, but also trade liberalisation, financial sector reform, labour rights, and social security. The package was informed by the work of a Brain Trust (think-tanks take note!) and evolved over time, as some measures worked and some did not (c.f. Adaptive Development!).

Interestingly, the programme did not rely heavily on deficit spending: federal expenditure remained at about 3% of GDPGross Domestic Product through the 1930s, and only rose (to 40% of GDP) when the US entered the Second World War. It is also interesting to note that the programme was highly political, in the sense of being contested at different points and on different issues from both right and left. And it ran into many legal problems in the Supreme Court. Key issues included federal versus state expenditure, the power of big business, income and wealth distribution, balanced budgets, segregation, tariffs, and rural versus urban interests: a normal day at the office, then, or in FDR’s case, a normal decade plus, in the life of any Government leader.

The idea of a Green New Deal has its origins in the financial crisis of 2008, over ‘comfort food and wine’, in the flat of Ann Pettifor, and with the participation of other left-of-centre and green thinkers. The first manifesto, published in July 2008, described a ‘triple crunch . . a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices, underpinned by an encroaching peak in oil production’. 

It proposed ‘two main strands. First, . . .  a structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, and major changes to taxation systems. And, second, . . . a sustained programme to invest in and deploy energy conservation and renewable energies, coupled with effective demand management.’ Specific measures included investment in renewable energy, insulation of homes, higher fossil fuel prices, and a series of financial measures, including a clamp-down on tax havens, and de-merger of banking and financial groups.

In the years since 2008, the Green New Deal Group itself has made further proposals, and there have been many others. Ann Pettifor has a new book on the Green New Deal, for example, as does Naomi Klein. Google has 15 million results for “Green New Deal”. As an illustration of the range of policies on offer, and no more than that, I have compared the AOC and UKLP versions. A side-by-side comparison can be found here. Both are ambitious and wide-ranging, with considerable overlap, but many points of difference, and some important omissions:

Both aim for net zero emissions by 2050, but with AOC including all Greenhouse Gases, and the UK Labour party only CO2. At the Labour Party Conference, there was a debate about adding the word ‘net’, with labour unions wanting protection for industrial jobs.  

Both speak of a just transition. In the case of AOC, this is ‘for all communities and workers’, and with a special focus on groups described as ‘frontline and vulnerable communities’. In the case of UKLP, there is an explicit commitment to ‘a workers-. . . (and) state-led programme of investment and regulation, based on public ownership and democratic control, . . .  that reduces inequality and . . .the cost of which would be borne by the wealthiest not the majority’.   

Both lay out ambitious plans for infrastructure, energy and transport. In the case of AOC, the priority is investment in renewable capacity and energy efficiency, combined with repair and upgrading of infrastructure. In the case of UKLP, the plan is similar, but with the addition of public ownership of energy, and taking ‘transport into public ownership and invest in expanded, integrated, free or affordable green public transport’.     

In terms of industry, agriculture, and jobs, both envisage significant greening, including renewal of ecosystems. Both are optimistic about jobs and the potential to reverse regional imbalances. AOC, for example, calls for ‘ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition’. It goes on to argue that the Green New Deal should include ‘guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States’.   

  • On social provision more generally, both include an element of protection for workers’ rights, including unionisation, and both lay out a wider agenda on services, including (AOC) health care and housing, and (UKLP) ‘universal services’.
       
  • On trade, an important difference is that AOC calls for ‘trade rules, procurement standards and border adjustments with strong labour and environmental protections’. It says nothing about imported emissions. UKLP, on the other hand, does not reference trade rules, but does say it is important to ‘measure and tackle consumption emissions, not just those produced on UK soil’. It also references migration, which AOC does not.                                                                                                                                                                  
  • Neither document has much to say about carbon pricing (on which see the report of the High Level Commission), and neither explores in any detail what ‘net’ emissions might mean, for example by referencing offset options under the Clean Development Mechanism or its successor, the Sustainable Development Mechanism. Neither has much to say about lifestyle issues, including diet (on which see, for example, the EAT-Lancet Report on Food, Planet, Health, or the recent IPCC Special Report on land). Neither discusses fiscal issues in any detail, including the overall cost and sources of financing. And neither has much to say about the rest of the world – in the sense of understanding what will be the impact on trade of climate actions elsewhere, or how we might work together on new technology. 
It would not be fair to AOC or UKLP to consider these resolutions as final and definitive policy platforms. The UK Labour Party, for example, has recently fleshed out proposals to achieve a carbon neutral energy system by 2030. However, the comparison illustrates both the range of preoccupations under the label ‘Green New Deal’, and the fact that different approaches are possible.

Having a range of preoccupations is positive, up to a point, if it means that policy-makers consider the full implications of action on climate change: the transition costs, for example, the lifestyle implications, and the impact on losers. The new commitment in Germany to spend €40 billion to help coal mining areas adjust to the closure of mines is an example of where such thinking can lead. A line of sight needs to be preserved, however. Having a Green New Deal is not an excuse to throw everything on the wish list into the kitchen sink. Is it necessary to distinguish the ‘climate must-haves’ from the ‘climate like-to-haves’?

The issue of different approaches is more complicated. A ‘Socialist Green New Deal’ (copyright UKLP) will perforce differ from a market-based Green New Deal. Nationalisation will be one dividing line. Tax will be another. Regulation versus voluntary codes may be another. There are important arguments, and it is good to have them. They play to wider debates on the future of capitalism: see recent contributions by the likes of CollierStiglitzthe IPPRInstitute for Public Policy Research (London) Commission on Prosperity and Justice, and, most recently, Branko Milanovich. A key lesson: assess proposals on a New Green Deal in wider philosophical or ideological context.

On a Global Green New Deal

Entry-level thinking about the global dimension of a green new deal is simply to facilitate transition in every country around the globe. Such thinking is evident, for example, in the AOC call for ‘promoting the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services,  . . .  to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal’, and in UKLP to ‘support developing countries’ climate transitions through free or cheap transfers of finance, technology and capacity’.

We know from the work of CDKN and others that this is not enough. Mitigation and adaption at national level are important. But action on climate change, especially in large economies, reverberates around the world, affecting the size of markets for different products, as well as prices, influencing migration flows, and modifying the risk of natural disasters. The effects may be positive or negative: new markets for products like lithium, for example, and new possibilities for industrialisation in producer countries; or, conversely, loss of competitiveness because of the failure to adopt new technology or invest in energy efficiency. 

One piece of recent research suggests that mitigation in rich countries could benefit developing countries in two ways: all would benefit from the reduced cost of extreme weather events, and oil importers could benefit significantly from lower oil prices. By 2050, GDPGross Domestic Product in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique could be between 2 and 6 per cent higher. 

There are also wider questions. For example, as discussed above, the issue of who has a right to emit within the remaining carbon budget. And is global growth sustainable, or should we either be agnostic about growth (Kate Raworth) or think about ‘de-growth’ (Jason Hickel)? Remember that the latest UK Labour Party policy paper on development committed (in 2018) to ‘reducing the importance of growth as an objective for UK-funded development programmes’. The test, then, of work on a Global Green New Deal is whether these issues are taken into account.

There is a stream of work on a global green new deal, though smaller than that on a green new deal: only 74,500 Google hits, compared to 15 million. An early example, perhaps the earliest, is a report coordinated by Edward Barbier for the UN Environment Programme in 2009, ‘Rethinking the Economic Recovery: A Global Green New Deal‘. The main purpose was to insert an environmental element into then discussions about global recovery from the food, fuel and financial crises. A Business as Usual recovery, based on fiscal stimulus, would worsen environmental burdens. Instead, a Global Green New Deal (GGND) would rest on three pillars:

Revive the world economy, create employment opportunities and protect vulnerable groups.

Reduce carbon dependency, ecosystem degradation and water scarcity. 

Further the Millennium Development Goal of ending extreme world poverty by 2015.

The policy package contained many familiar elements: removal of fossil fuel subsidies, retro-fitting buildings, investment in renewable energy, low carbon transport, and payment for ecosystem services, all backed up by increased aid. There were limited proposals on trade and finance, including reducing non-tariff barriers on clean technology. The report concluded that ‘A GGND is not just about creating a greener world economy. It is about ensuring that the correct mix of economic policies, investments and incentives reduce carbon dependency, protect ecosystems and alleviate poverty while fostering economic recovery and creating jobs.

Reviving the world economy is essential, but measures that focus solely on this objective will not achieve lasting success. Only through the national actions and global cooperation envisioned in a GGND will the world sustain its economic recovery by addressing the imminent challenges posed by climate change, energy insecurity, growing freshwater scarcity, deteriorating ecosystems, and above all, worsening global poverty.’

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) also produced a report on a GGND in 2009, ‘A Global Green New Deal for Climate, Energy, and Development, described as ‘A big push strategy to drive down the cost of renewable energy, ramp up deployment in developing countries, end energy poverty, contribute to economic recovery and growth, generate employment in all countries, and help avoid dangerous climate change’. The main focus was on renewable energy.

I would say that both these reports fail to pass the test of dealing with interlinkages and disruptions on a global scale. Two more recent contributions, respectively from UNCTADUnited Nations Conference on Trade and Development (concentrating on finance) and the World Bank (concentrating on trade) come just a little closer.

The UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) Trade and Development Report for 2019 is sub-titled ‘Financing a Global Green New Deal’. Climate issues are subsumed within a general and familiar narrative about faltering growth, debt dependency, over-financialisation, hyperglobalisation, and looming threats associated with disputes over trade and intellectual property. 

The key idea, though, is that ‘beyond the immediate risks that could stall the global economy are a series of macrostructural challenges that predate the Global Financial Crisis and have gone largely unattended since then. Four stand out because of their high degree of interdependence: the falling income share of labour; the erosion of public spending; the weakening of productive investment; and the unsustainable increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.’

This is classic ‘new deal-ism’, linking issues in order to provide comprehensive solutions. In this case, the key response is to ‘reclaim policy space and act to boost aggregate demand’. Governments must ‘tackle high levels of income inequality head on, adopting more progressive fiscal arrangements, and directly targeting social outcomes through employment creation, decent work programmes and expanded social insurance. 

But they must also spearhead a coordinated investment push, especially towards decarbonization of the economy, both by investing directly (through public sector entities) and by boosting private investment in more productive and sustainable economic activities.’

To support all this, the main focus of UNCTAD’s recommendations are in the area of international finance: coordinated capital controls, action on illicit financial flows, better taxation of multinationals (especially digital), and more and better ‘public banks’.

The 2020 World Development Report on Trading for Development in the Age of Global Value Chains has a chapter on the environment. Its key findings are summarised as follows:

  1. Global value chains (GVCs) are a mixed blessing for the environment. Scale effects— which refer to the rapid growth of GVC economic activity—are bad for the environment, whereas composition effects—which refer to how tasks are distributed across the globe— have ambiguous effects. Technique effects—which refer to the environmental cost per unit of production—are positive for the environment. 

  1. GVCs are associated with more shipping and more waste in the aggregate than standard trade. Both have environmental costs. 

  1. One important concern has been that industries might migrate to jurisdictions where environmental regulations are lax, but that concern is not borne out by the data. Rather, by locating production where it is most efficient, GVCs can lower the net resource intensity of global agricultural production.   

  1. The relational aspect of GVCs can attenuate environmental concerns. Knowledge flows between firms can enable the spread of more environmentally friendly production techniques throughout a GVC. The large scale of lead firms in GVCs can accelerate environmental innovation and push for higher standards. 
  2. GVCs also facilitate the production of new environmentally friendly goods. Products such as solar panels, electric cars, and wind turbines are produced at lower costs in GVCs and help reduce the environmental costs of consumption.

Other initiatives are worth noting

The C40 cities group have recently declared for a Global Green New Deal, ‘putting inclusive climate action at the centre of all urban decision-making to secure a just transition for those working in high-carbon industries and correct long-running environmental injustices for those disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis – people living in the global south generally, and the poorest communities everywhere’.

On trade and supply chains specifically, many are working on tracking and reporting on carbon emissions along supply chains, with some policy-makers proposing border carbon adjustments, or taxes on imported carbon. Others are working to tackle supply chain sustainability. Examples include the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, the G7 Fashion Pact, and the One Planet Business for Biodiversity Initiative. The UK has set up a Global Resource Initiative task force on greening the UK’s supply chain. Other commitments were made at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in September 2019.

No doubt there is more to be dug up on the debate about a GGND. It would be sensible, for example, to triangulate with separate debates on Green GrowthJust Transition, or Deep Decarbonisation Pathways. For the time being, though, there remain many gaps.

On the way forward

What comes next? Frankly, it feels like a big ask at this point to set down the content of an alternative Global Green New Deal.

If FDR were still with us, he would no doubt set up a twenty-first century Brain Trust to help adjudicate on the big questions identified above: allocating emission rights, painting a picture of green growth, separating the must-haves from the like-to-haves, and dealing with the global dislocations associated with climate action. This needs voices from both North and South, and from the climate and development communities: really, a new, reinforced CDKN.

FDR would also emphasise that the best is the enemy of the good, and that the way forward is to get started, experiment and learn from experience. Remember that there were 15 Bills passed through Congress in the first 100 days of his first administration, but that not all innovations worked, and not all survived. As a disciple of Robert Chambers, that seems eminently sensible to me: adopt process rather than blueprint planning; start small and grow; embrace failure; etc . .

Nevertheless, there are some principles at stake, some tests of whether a new approach is right:

First, SDG and climate compatible development planning both need to be bottom up, recognising local circumstances. For climate action, I have argued elsewhere that countries need to incorporate climate compatible development into development planning and industrial strategies, beginning with improved country diagnostics. Aid programmes need to follow.

Second, SDG compatibility. Climate change itself is an SDG (Goal 13) and links strongly to others, including SDG 7 on energy. There are wider links to other SDGs, including on income, inequality, democracy, and the like. The SDGs cannot be treated as a simple check-list, however, and it is unrealistic to expect that compatibilities can be found across the board. It seems reasonable to ask that cross-checks be made, that synergies and co-benefits should be maximised and that a kind of ‘do no harm’ principle should apply, that action on climate does not make achieving other SDGs more difficult.

Third, urgency. The UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Emissions Gap Reports make clear how fast and deep emissions cuts need to be to 2030 if Paris temperature targets are to be reached on the least cost pathway. Commitments to zero or net zero by 2050 imply continued, sustained effort, well beyond the potential quick wins like closing down coal. Will proposals for a Global Green New Deal be able to demonstrate that emissions globally will fall at the required pace?