In September 2007, the financial crisis began to unfold. In its wake, a group of economists and environmentalists, including the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, met regularly in a small London flat. Together they drafted a plan: The Green New Deal, which brought together social, economic and environmental justice.
Inspired by Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was formed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Green New Deal was a response to the looming financial crash, aiming to bring equality back to the core of the political agenda. Today, the original Green New Deal group continues to meet, debate, and work towards a better world.
When they first began meeting, the group had no idea their plans would be adopted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and achieve global notoriety. Now, the demand for a Green New Deal stretches across the world and is echoed by activists on every continent. So let’s look at what that actually entails.
The Green New Deal is a movement
The Green New Deal has several goals, most notable is the focus on a ‘just transition’, moving away from the carbon economy which is killing our planet in a way that creates jobs and protects people.
But the deal is also multifaceted, focusing on much more than just eco-friendly policy. While the environment is a top priority, the deal is also a collection of solutions that work in conjunction to cover sectors such as transport, education, healthcare, justice, food, and political reform. Together these policies aim to create a more fair, just, and green society that benefits every person and community, and properly cares for the needs of the most vulnerable.
The Green New Deal is not a fixed end goal or something to achieve by a certain time. Instead, it’s a way of life. It is a set of guiding principles that are fluid and flexible, shifting as we work to reform the underlying rules of our society.
While the current UK government struggles to promote constant economic growth while simultaneously ignoring its most vulnerable citizens, the Green New Deal offers hope. The next five years in the UK are going to be difficult, but implementing the Green New Deal at a local level (where possible) has the potential to make tangible, lasting change. By implementing these solutions through local councils and communities we can create a series of smaller-scale wins, which add up to collective prosperity and a better future across our country. And as these victories come forth, it can galvanise us to continue demanding that central government implements the Green New Deal nationally too.
Because not only is the Green New Deal hopeful, it’s also achievable. By seeing the benefits on a localised scale, each implementation of Green New Deal policy helps communities while also proving how these solutions can help the whole country.
This combination of a bottom-up and top-down approach can’t be ignored by those in power forever. It’s similar to the fossil fuel industry: they can cling on to their increasingly irrelevant industry all they like, but it doesn’t change the fact that renewable energy is now the economically smart choice. Whether they like it or not.
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By creating real change in our local communities, we can shift the narrative for our entire society. By prioritising climate and social justice above other factors, we can also prove that the Green New Deal is our best option for a better tomorrow.
What is a just transition?
Climate justice is inherently tied to social justice, equality and fair treatment of people. The specific term ‘just transition’ is most often used in regards to work. More specifically, it’s about supporting those who will lose their jobs due to environmental policies, for example those who work in the coal industry.
It’s vital that we change our infrastructure, but we can’t make entire workforces and communities unemployed and then refuse to help them transition into new lives. Most unions support environmental policy (and have been present at climate strikes in London), but they also emphasise that caring for workers needs to be at the heart of climate legislation.
Some areas are currently disproportionately reliant on what the UN has described as ‘climate critical’ sectors including energy, transport, manufacturing, and agriculture. These are all sectors that can and should thrive in a net-zero world, but that doesn’t mean they will. Given the rise of precarious work, it also doesn’t mean that jobs in those sectors in the future will be well-paid, safe, unionised and desirable.
NEF’s new report, ‘Trust in Transition’, shows that these ‘climate critical’ jobs make up more than 30% of all employment in more than 10 local authorities. Particularly exposed are the industrial heartlands of the Midlands and Yorkshire & the Humber – areas that have seen steady deindustrialisation over recent decades and where Gross Value Added is generally lower. It is here that the need for a place-focused and ‘just’ approach to industrial strategy has been so notably felt by its absence. Entire economies will stand or fall by how fairly and actively workers are transitioned from a high- to a zero-carbon economy
The problem is that many workers don’t currently trust the government, especially after decades of policy that has prioritised London over the rest of the country. Direct investment in places beyond the capital is key, and worker’s rights have been built into the Green New Deal from the beginning.
A Green New Deal would change the rules, making sure that industrial policy is fundamentally for the delivery of a just transition, quickly, to a net-zero economy, built around social dialogue with the people and places that most need that to happen.
There is ultimately a simple reason that the UK has not delivered a just transition in climate or broader industrial policy to date: it hasn’t wanted to. And unless we hardwire social justice and climate radicalism into the machinery of government – putting government in the harness of the economy after years of unbridled laissez-faire – it won’t.
Many workers and trade unions currently feel like they aren’t included in conversations around decarbonisation, as lived experiences of workers and their communities are ignored by those who have no conception of the daily realities of normal people. Policy must allow these voices to be heard, through initiatives like citizens assemblies and direct communication with workers on how the transition evolves.
When done well, transitions are incredible opportunities to reshape both policies and whole countries. A new model is needed that localises industrial strategy depending on the specific needs of communities. The only policy that makes sense in this context is one that looks at economic, environmental and social justice at once.
That policy is the Green New Deal. Implementing it locally brings the opportunity to tailor it to the specific needs of each area; giving workers a clear voice and trade unions an active role throughout the implementation process.
But how do we finance the Green New Deal?
When wars need to be fought, or banks bailed out, governments do not hesitate to find the money.
The government’s total annual spending is around 38% of GDP per year. Spending on the climate emergency each year only needs to increase to 2% of GDP in the short term, ramping up to 5% to deliver change at pace.
Whenever systemic progressive change is proposed naysayers often turn to the same argument: how will we pay for it?
This is often a bad faith argument, used to imply that these changes will be at a high cost to the taxpayer, hurting everyday people. But this isn’t actually how it works.
Large scale transformational projects aren’t financed from taxes. Whether it’s the USA going to the moon or Britain’s HS2 rail project, the suggestion that these changes will be funded with higher taxes (even if those taxes are from large corporations which would be completely justified) is incorrect.
There are two ways that countries usually find money for these types of projects. The first is borrowing, usually through applying for a loan, the second is existing savings. In the case of the Green New Deal, financing is not as difficult as we may think.
First, the borrowing: credit issued by a commercial bank, as we all know from spending on our credit cards, does not draw on our existing deposits or savings. Instead it is a promise to pay in the future. OECD governments (backed by millions of taxpayers) are the most trusted borrowers, which is why their promises (bonds) are in such demand. Savings, by contrast, already exist – in bank deposits and savings accounts.
When a government borrows, as it has for financing HS2, that leads to investment and the creation of paid jobs in public and private sectors, and to private sector profits. Both employment income and profits generate tax revenues. Tax revenues are, therefore, a consequence of spending or investment – and can be used to pay back the borrowing. They need not be used directly to finance that investment.
Essentially, The Green New Deal will pay for itself through the creation of millions of jobs. These jobs will generate the income and tax revenues needed to repay any borrowing. Considering that the transition to renewable energy could create at least a million UK jobs, this isn’t that surprising.
This only works because the Green New Deal is so focused on worker rights and a truly just transition, making job creation a top priority. There are also additional methods we can consider for extra funding too, which has been thoroughly researched by the New Economics Foundation (who were also part of the original Green New Deal creation):
Just because the Green New Deal requires different models, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It is both an economically feasible and socially responsible choice. After all, just because we do something the way it’s always been done, doesn’t make it the right option or the best one.
As you can see, this system of financing is entirely doable. However, to succeed, our plan demands a decisive rupture from the neoliberal consensus of pairing expansionary monetary policy (QE) with contractionary fiscal policy (austerity).
A missed opportunity: time to right our wrongs
Despite the creation of the Green New Deal in 2008, during the last recession the UK government failed to respond by scaling up investment in a socially just way to tackle climate breakdown. This was a missed opportunity, and the austerity that followed resulted in brutal slashes to public services that increased inequality and worsened average living standards. The fact that homelessness in the UK has risen by 165% since 2010 is a tragic fact and clear evidence that our current economic model is failing.
Worse still, failure from the government to fund a zero carbon economy after the recession has left us in a dangerous position.
Green public investment was cut back after 2010, while money was found for tax cuts that benefited the richest households more than anyone else. New analysis for this report shows that had £10.5bn — only a third of the funds used to pay for the coalition government’s cuts to income tax and corporation tax between 2010 and 2013 — been used instead to fund a mass home insulation programme, residential emissions would have been reduced by 30% by 2018. This is about a third of current emissions from the UK’s power sector.
Now we are in a position where we only have a decade to rapidly reduce emissions and the likelihood of another recession is high, which will hurt the poorest even more. But both of these challenges can be faced with a common solution: a policy response of the ‘largest green stimulus in zero-carbon infrastructure that is feasibly possible.’
Aka, expanding as much green infrastructure as possible.
Now, more than ever before, the Green New Deal is vital. For the planet, for people, and for true prosperity in the UK. Implementing it locally, through councils and community projects, is our best hope, while also being the democratic option that allows workers to shape the changes that will affect them the most.
So how do we implement these policies? Well, there are people who are already on the case. In the wake of so many councils declaring climate emergencies, The Green Party has hired a climate emergency officer (Julian Dean) to work with local councils, helping them create local versions of the Green New Deal for their communities. All you need to do is support these efforts through:
- Voting for more green councillors in May’s local elections
- Contacting your local councils and asking them to work with The Green Party to implement the Green New Deal in your area
- And supporting The Green Party whenever and wherever you can, including becoming a member of The Green Party
Most importantly, you can also choose give £20 for 2020 here, to help raise £50k to implement the Green New Deal across the UK
When Greens give, Greens win. And when Greens win, the planet and people prosper.