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Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan must include nature

Ed Miliband is working with Steve Reed on finding a place for biodiversity restoration in the party's green investment plans.

By Megan Kenyon

Ed Miliband is setting the scene. Speaking at an event hosted by the Green Alliance to launch the latest iteration of the think tank’s Net Zero Policy Tracker last week, the shadow energy secretary asked listeners to “imagine visiting 2024 from, say, 2014”. A lot has changed over the past ten years, he pointed out, in terms of the climate crisis.

Miliband is right. For starters, the Labour Party – which he led until 2015 – looks to be on the cusp of forming the next government. Global temperatures are rising; February 2024 was the warmest February on record. And renewable energy – solar and wind – is a lot cheaper than it was a decade ago. But despite some positives in the changing landscape of sustainability, the urgency of addressing the climate crisis remains.

It’s clear Labour is aware of this, even if the back-and-forth over its headline £28bn green investment pledge left some room for confusion. As that episode showed, however, the party is still grappling with squaring the shadow cabinet’s dogged determination to get elected with the economic situation Labour will inherit if it wins the election.

Indeed, Miliband summed this up himself: “Understandably, there has been much debate following the scaling back of our £28bn commitment, but people should be in no doubt about the ambition of our agenda.”

More interestingly, Miliband also alluded to work he is currently doing with the shadow environment secretary, Steve Reed, on how nature restoration might fit into the party’s Green Prosperity Plan. “There can be no solution to the climate crisis without action on nature,” Miliband said, “the threat to biodiversity is profound.”

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One in six of the UK’s species are threatened by extinction, and across the country native species have declined by almost 20 per cent since 1970, according to last year’s State of Nature report. Restoring nature-rich habitats could improve the UK’s ability to meet its carbon reduction targets in areas such as agriculture.

Analysts at Green Alliance crunched the numbers last year and suggested that Labour could use £1bn of its £28bn pledge to invest in nature restoration, which would have an equally beneficial effect on climate action. The think tank suggested this money could be used for creation of woodlands, wetlands and other nature-rich habitats between 2024 and 2030.

But where would Labour find this funding now the pledge itself has been drastically cut back? It’s likely the party will have to rely on attracting private finance. But nature restoration has yet to be explicitly mentioned as part of the Green Prosperity Plan.

It could be very beneficial for Labour to carve out a space here. As Spotlight reported last year, robust policies on biodiversity could prove useful in persuading all-important swing voters.

Still, while Miliband was keen to talk about the work he is doing with Reed around this issue, his speech lacked detail of what that work will actually entail. Instead, he told attendees: “We will have more to say on nature in our manifesto.”

And in case anyone doubted his green credentials, the shadow secretary assured attendees that yes, he is installing a heat pump.

This article was originally published as an edition of the Green Transition, New Statesman Spotlight’s weekly newsletter on the economics of net zero. To see more editions and subscribe, click here.

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