Climate change - we've got 10 years

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas hails a UN report that she argues brings shame upon world leaders b

If you ever thought UN Development Reports were dull statistical tomes, full of little more than dry facts and figures, then the latest report - published this week on climate change - will very soon disabuse you.

This year’s Human Development Report 2007/2008 is a rousing call to arms, which firmly positions climate challenge as the most pressing moral issue of our time.

Rich nations and their citizens account for the overwhelming bulk of greenhouse gas emissions locked in the Earth's atmosphere.

But poor countries and their citizens will pay the highest price for it, as decades of development work are rolled back, destroying any chance of a sustainable future.

Allowing the tragedy of climate change to happen, argues the Report, would represent such a systematic violation of the human rights of the world's poor and of future generations, that it would be "an outrage to the conscience of mankind".

Passionately and eloquently, it hammers home its central message: that the world lacks neither the financial resources nor the technological capacities to act - if we fail to address climate change, it will be because of a simple lack of political will. And such an outcome, says the report, would represent "not just a failure of political imagination and leadership, but a moral failure on a scale unparalleled in history."

The report is critical of all developed countries for their performance so far on cutting emissions. But it singles out the UK government for particularly scathing attack, criticising its failure to adopt ambitious emission reduction targets and its lack of progress in developing renewable sources of energy. Not surprisingly, then, Britain produces more CO2 emissions than Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Vietnam combined.

In attempting to shame this government into action, we can only hope that the UNDP is successful where others have failed. Gordon Brown's recent announcements on the issue have turned hypocrisy into a new art form.

Just a few weeks ago, he was priding himself on his first major speech on climate change, claiming he was ready to meet this "immense challenge". Just four days later, his government gave the green light to a major expansion of aviation, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Such behaviour isn't just pathological - it demonstrates a monumental failure of political vision and leadership.

We are at a crucial stage in the battle to protect the world’s people from rising temperatures in the Earth’s atmosphere. We need nothing short of a revolution in the way we run our economies, the way we produce and consume, and the way we measure human welfare.

It's been estimated that, globally, it would cost about £800bn a year to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.

It sounds a lot, but it's substantially less than what we currently spend globally on arms. Governments urgently need to redefine security, and to recognise that climate change poses by far the greatest threat to our own security, and to that of future generations.

Reversing the environmental devastation wrought by current processes of economic globalisation, transforming our economies, asserting real global leadership on climate change through challenging the ‘business as usual’ politics that have caused it - all these things are possible, but they will require political will.

And as the quotation from Martin Luther King at the front of the report reminds us: “there is such a thing as being too late”. The world has less than a decade to change course. No issue merits more urgent attention – or more immediate action.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times