Labour: UK must use Biden victory to spark green recovery efforts

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband has called on the government to provide a global example by creating green jobs ahead of the COP26 climate conference, in an interview with the Guardian

Labour has called on the UK government to take full advantage of Joe Biden’s election  victory to spur efforts to tackle the climate crisis and create green jobs, thereby ensuring the country sets a powerful example in the run-up to the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow next year.

In an interview with the Guardian this weekend, Business Secretary Ed Miliband emphasised that “what we should be doing is bringing forward investment, a green recovery, to create hundreds of thousands of green jobs”.

“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,” Miliband urged. Asked to be specific by what he meant by green jobs, he replied: “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.”

Miliband welcomed Biden’s victory, telling the Guardian “you can’t overstate the impact a Biden presidency will have on the climate issue”.

Biden last week reiterated his pledge to return the US to the Paris Agreement as one of his first acts in the Oval Office, after the US formally exited the treaty on Wednesday under Trump’s direction and stressed that climate action would be a top priority for his administration.

“Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement,” Biden tweeted. “And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.”

Miliband noted that “there are so many issues” on which a Biden presidency would make a difference, but added that, “internationally, climate is top of the list”. With Biden promising to deliver a $2tr climate investment plan, Miliband argued the UK should use its 2021 chairmanship of the G7 to press for a globally coordinated green stimulus. But he also warned the UK needed to develop its own ambitious plan if it is to convince other countries to follow suit.

“We could be pushing internationally for green recovery,” he said. “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.”

Miliband’s comments came in advance of a report he is to publish this week with Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, 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. He accused Boris Johnson and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, of accepting a sharp rise of unemployment as all but inevitable.

“We say it’s not inevitable,” Miliband said. “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.”

The UK government has promised to invest more than £600bn over the next five years in infrastructure, but Labour is concerned that much of the focus is on longer-term projects that will not create urgently needed jobs. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the climate crisis a central theme of his Conservative party conference speech last month, claiming the UK could become “the Saudi Arabia of wind power”.

He is now expected to offer further details on the government’s promised 10-point green recovery plan later this month, with senior Ministers reportedly meeting this week to finalise details of the plan, including decisions on how to support new nuclear projects and when to bring an end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK.

However, campaigners have grown increasingly frustrated at the UK government’s failure to match the green stimulus spending plans already announced by Germand and France, and as such Miliband called on the Prime Minister to “strain every political sinew” to strengthen the UK’s green recovery plans as soon as possible.

“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.”

Labour’s call coincides with new polling showing “overwhelming” support from across the political spectrum for a job creation programme aimed at creating a fairer, greener Britain.

Commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Green New Deal, which includes former Theresa May environment adviser Lord Randall, as well as Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP Clive Lewis, the Opiminium poll found that 67 per cent of the public, including 61 per cent of Conservative voters, think the government should use the need to rebuild the economy after the Coronavirus pandemic to make life in the UK “greener and fairer”.

Two thirds of respondents, including 62 per cent of Conservative voters, backed a jobs guarantee as part of the transition to a greener economy. Top priorities highlighted by respondents included ‘greening’ homes and building more social housing, investing in clean energy and manufacturing, funding transport upgrades, and supporting land, forestry and agriculture improvements.

The polling was commissioned as part of the All Party Group’s Reset report, published today, which engaged with individuals and organisations on how the UK should rebuild from the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing on evidence from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, the report argues that government investment in green projects would create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns, and lead to increased long-term cost savings compared to traditional fiscal stimulus measures. 

“President-elect Biden understands that responding to the climate crisis means embracing ambition on an epic scale – creating millions of well-paid jobs insulating homes, transforming outdated infrastructure and protecting and restoring nature,” said Caroline Lucas, co-chair of the APPG.

“The tide has now turned from words to action on climate. When the Prime Minister announces his 10-point action plan for greening the economy we need to see ambition that can meet the scale of the challenge and a guarantee of well-paid jobs for millions that can level up the nation and offset the worst economic impacts of the pandemic.” 

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