Proposals for a 'Green New Deal' focus on the ability of nation states in the global north to drive radical, investment-led change in their own economies. How can these be embedded within a broader agenda for global justice - one that recognises the historic legacies of colonialism and fossil capitalism?
Since 2018, long-standing demands to restructure the economy in service of people and planet have taken on a new form. Activists have rallied behind the banner of a 'Green New Deal', in the US, the UK and beyond. The idea itself originated in 2008 but did not win as much support then as it has now, when it has returned with a new impetus thanks to the campaigning of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US. This has spurred global interest in the idea that, if successfully elected, social-democratic state officials could implement big spending plans that would address inequality and curb climate change.
Some articulations of 'the Green New Deal' - including those promoted by Sanders - are internationalist in ambition. Others are not. This article considers the internationalist potential of the Green New Deal. It reports on activist discussions about the Green New Deal's implications for global justice at a 'policy lab' workshop, and other sessions, that were co-convened by the author during 2019's The World Transformed festival. (1) We set out to address the question of how to ensure that plans to tackle climate change are rooted in global justice, and do not seek to extract resources and labour from the Global South for green consumption in the minority Global North. It ends with some reflections following the 13 December 2019 election in the UK.
Framing the discussion
For much of the Global South, extreme weather events caused by climate change are already a horrifying reality. Cyclones Idai, and Kenneth hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in spring 2019, causing more than 600 deaths, leaving more than two million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and resulting in significant infrastructure damage, displacement, cholera and disease spread and crop damage. Never since records began have two such strong storms hit Mozambique. (2) Global extreme weather events have continued from Australia to Indonesia, while fish stocks decline, crops fail and oceans rise as glaciers and seas warm. All this brings threats to life, health, housing, community, safety, and (for many small island and delta states) even sovereignty.
Yet current state pledges and climate action ambitions will still see around 2.8[degrees]C of global average surface temperature rise, far higher than the devastating impacts described in the IPCC's October 2018 special report. (3) Worse, these ambitions rely on future carbon capture technologies that are impracticable at best; and they will continue environmental racism through resource extraction and waste dumping. The goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emission mitigation - limiting global temperature rise to well below 2[degrees]C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5[degrees]C - would significantly reduce the adverse impacts of climate change. But even these would not, however, enable people and places at the frontline to adapt to and repair the harmful effects of historic emissions already in motion.
In response to the climate emergency, grassroots organising in the UK has pushed the Labour Party to advocate a radical green new deal, promote a four-day week, protect and extend free movement, end the hostile environment and close all detention centres; and the Labour Party's 2019 election manifesto was its most inspiring on climate action to date. The distance between what we could have won and what we will now spend the next few years fighting against makes the election result heartbreakingly difficult to process. But it also makes it all the more important to find resources for hope and to keep on campaigning. This article recasts some of the key themes from our Policy Lab discussion in the hopes that it can be helpful as the UK hosts the UN's twenty-sixth climate conference in Glasgow in November this year.
Framing the typical Green New Deal
Most ambitious Green New Deal articulations focus on mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). They tend to centre on creating green jobs, apprenticeships and re-training programmes to stimulate 100 per cent renewable energy generation; increase energy efficiency; reduce waste; promote sustainable transport; and alter land use. They demand the renationalisation of energy, waste, agricultural and transport companies in order to carry this out quickly and efficiently. They also seek to combat fuel poverty by reducing household utility bills through a combination of cheaper state generated clean energy and energy savings schemes (improving insulation, for example).
Socially progressive Green New Deals additionally seek to ensure that jobs lost in the fossil fuel and industrial agriculture sectors are transferred to decent work in the renewable energy, energy efficiency and organic agroecology sectors, as well as enabling traditionally excluded segments of the population to enter work. Democratic varieties of the Green New Deal prioritise locally generated clean energy through municipalised state-citizen joint enterprise cooperatives, where energy consumers become generators through innovations in decentralising technology, and exercise high degrees of political agency. Public, accessible and free or cheap transport options are also typically framed within mainstream conceptions of Green New Deals. Finally, protecting and promoting ocean and bio-diversity and engaging in reforestation are other key features of Green New Deals focused on reducing GHG emissions. (4) Winning all of this, even in one country, would be a huge step.
Just decarbonisation and beyond
From a global justice perspective, fast and efficient efforts to bring GHG emissions down means fewer people lose their lives, livelihoods, homes and health. The UK has a unique responsibility to reduce GHG emissions as quickly as possible: between 1850 and 2002, countries in the Global North...