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Forget the deficit. The government has forgotten the biggest crisis of all

Far from doing its most to combat climate change, the Conservative government is part of the problem.

For the vast majority of people in this country the reality of climate change is not in doubt. What is in doubt, however, is whether this government is genuinely committed to tackling it.

Since the general election, the Conservative government has scrapped or watered down some of the most important environmental policies needed to protect people, tackle climate change and give our renewables industry a fighting chance of success.

In less than six months they’ve scrapped the programme to help people insulate cold homes; removed support for onshore wind farms – currently the cheapest low carbon technology available; announced the sell-off of the Green Investment Bank, needed to drive low carbon investment; cancelled a decade long commitment to zero carbon homes; and watered down vehicle carbon emissions standards – meaning some of the most polluting cars are now taxed the same as the greenest.

But despite this depressing series of U-turns, it is their latest attack which has really brought home the size of the axe that David Cameron, George Osborne and co. are taking to green projects, and the people whose livelihoods those projects support.

Following the government’s recent proposals for an 87% cut to support for solar projects – we’ve 1,000 jobs axed after four solar power companies folded in this month alone. Yet there is more to come as we’re told hundreds more jobs will be lost in the coming months if the government’s proposed slashing of clean energy subsidies come into effect in the New Year.

The cuts have been criticised by, among others, Al Gore, the CBI and the TUC whilst the solar companies themselves have said the government is “actively destroying UK renewables.”

To add insult to injury the Ggovernment is, at the same time, determined to write an enormous cheque to Chinese and French state-backed businesses to provide subsidised nuclear energy at twice the cost or current wholesale energy prices. Once again home-grown, small and medium sized businesses are being sacrificed to this Government’s unyielding loyalty to vested interest. And yet throughout the recession and recent years of almost zero growth, it was the domestic green economy that remained Britain's success story.

Steadily, growing at 4.8 per cent per year, it contributed to a third of all Britain's growth in 2012. There were as many as one million people employed in the low carbon goods and services sector, worth in the region of £128 billion. At the same time the cost of renewable energy plummeted.

Billions worth of investment into the UK was up for grabs as companies like Siemens and Alstom talked about creating new manufacturing hubs in Hull, Bristol and elsewhere. But following this summer's wrecking ball of environment policies, much of this potential investment is now being redirected to our competitors as companies invest in countries whose governments have genuinely committed to growing the role of clean energy.

Now, for the first time ever, Britain has dropped from Ernst and Young's list of the 10 most attractive renewable energy markets after what the consultancy calls “death by 1000 cuts.”

That’s why Labour won’t not stand by and let the Conservatives put people's jobs and the environment at risk. The sheer callousness of their approach was recently revealed when Energy Minster Andrea Leadsom admitted she didn’t even know how many jobs there are in solar, never mind how many they are putting at risk.

There are too many projects which are just a few years away from being self-sufficient and Labour will do everything it can to ensure a life line is thrown to the solar industry. T

hat’s because we understand that the green economy is a central pillar of our future prosperity, delivering new, high-tech, well paid skilled jobs that also protect our planet and our children’s future. Our wind and wave battered island has the best renewable energy resource in Europe. If we used just a third of our offshore wind, wave and tidal energy it could create around 145,000 jobs making Britain a net exporter- not importer - of electricity. It would also ensure our nation’s energy-security and help re-invent our manufacturing industries.

Yes, climate change is a crisis – but rather than let it go to waste as this Government is, Labour will turn it to our country’s advantage.

 

Clive Lewis is the MP for Norwich South and an Opposition frontbencher. 

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The end of Europe - test

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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