Labour is urging the government to seize on Joe Biden’s presidency to redouble Britain’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis by bringing forward a multibillion pound “green recovery” plan in the run-up to next year’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow.
“You can’t overstate the impact a Biden presidency will have on the climate issue,” the shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, told the Guardian. “There are so many issues on which this is going to make such a big difference. Internationally, climate is top of the list.
“But you also can’t overstate the scale of the task that we face on this issue, and in particular making a success of Glasgow,” he added.
Miliband called on the government to use “the power of example” in the next 12 months, to show that a “green recovery” from the deep recession triggered by the Covid pandemic can create employment, and accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy.
“We need people to be coming to Glasgow in 12 months’ time, to a country that has been creating green jobs, showing the power of a green recovery, showing what can be done,” he said.
Miliband will publish a report with the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, this week, detailing how the government could create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in the next two years by bringing forward billions of pounds of investment.
“In this country we have an unemployment emergency now, we have a climate emergency now. Put those two things together, and it’s so obvious what we should be doing,” he said.
“What we should be doing is bringing forward investment, a green recovery, to create hundreds of thousands of green jobs. Why is that the right thing to do? It’s the right thing to do because the people who are losing their jobs, need work to be doing. It’s the right thing to do because as Keir has rightly said, we want to go back to normal as soon as possible, but we can’t go back to business as usual: we’ve got to build something better. And it’s the right thing to do on value-for-money grounds, because we’ve got to spend this money anyway. We’re going to have to do this.”
Asked for examples of “green jobs,” he said, “it’s about the electric vehicle charging points that we need around this country. It’s about the ports and the supply chain that we need so we can actually get the offshore wind into place. It’s about carbon capture and storage, it’s about leading in the hydrogen economy. It’s about the green spaces we need. I mean, there are so many jobs to be done.
He accused Johnson and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, of accepting a sharp rise in unemployment as all but inevitable, despite last week’s announcement that the Treasury would extend the furlough scheme.
“We say it’s not inevitable. What we’re going to be doing this week is opening a new front in the economic argument by saying we’ve got to create these jobs, these jobs need to be created, they need to be done,” he said.
The UK government has promised to invest more than £600bn over the next five years in infrastructure; but Labour is concerned that much of this is in longer-term projects that will not create urgently needed jobs.
With Biden promising a $2trn climate plan, Miliband added that the UK should use its chairmanship of the G7 group of leading nations in 2021 to press for a coordinated green stimulus – but could only do so if it had its own ambitious plan.
“We could be pushing internationally for green recovery. We can’t be doing that if we’re doing a few billion pounds with our green recovery, while France is doing tens of billions, Germany’s doing tens of billions, and we’re hanging back. So, we’ve got to show leadership on that.
He called on the prime minister to “strain every political sinew” to secure a global commitment to ambitious emissions targets for 2030 at next year’s summit, which is a follow-up to the Paris climate summit of 2015.
“Science is telling us we’ve got 10 years to turn this around,” he said. “If we keep emitting at similar rates now, if we don’t have dramatic reductions, then it will be too late. That requires America, China, Europe.”
The US formally left the Paris accord this week, the result of a process initiated by Donald Trump. But Miliband said, “we desperately need America back in it”.
“Boris Johnson should be insisting – subject to Covid – that leaders are at Glasgow, either virtually or in person. Because, you know, this has got to be a forcing mechanism.”
Johnson made offshore wind one of the themes of his Conservative party conference speech last month, claiming the UK could become “the Saudi Arabia of wind power”. The prime minister is also expected to offer further details of his environmental plans in another forthcoming speech.
But Miliband, who was energy and climate change secretary in the last Labour government, said the levels of investment Johnson was promising were not ambitious enough.
“He’s big on rhetoric, he’s short on delivery. He’s short on a plan. And he’s short in my view on urgency and ambition.”
Delivering a “green industrial revolution” was at the heart of last year’s Labour manifesto, when Rebecca Long-Bailey was shadow business secretary.
Asked how Labour’s latest latest proposals differ from that, Miliband said: “What it shares is a sense of urgency. What is different is the sense that we are in the middle of the Covid crisis. So if anything, the economic case for action now is even stronger than it was in 2019.”
Miliband returned to the shadow cabinet when his close ally Keir Starmer took over the Labour leadership earlier this year, after five years on the backbenches following his defeat in the 2015 general election.
He praised the start Starmer had made: including his handling of the equalities and human rights commission (EHRC) report into antisemitism in the party – which resulted in the controversial suspension of Jeremy Corbyn.
“That EHRC report, it makes really, really bad reading. And it’s right to deal strongly with it,” he said. He declined to comment on Corbyn’s suspension, insisting: “one of the things the EHRC have said is that it’s got to be independent, everybody needs to be able to make their case, it shouldn’t be political interference in these decisions.
But he added, “you know, from my part, let me say, I think, the way Keir has handled this has been absolutely right.”