UK Labour party’s plan to tackle the climate crisis - GulfToday

UK Labour party’s plan to tackle the climate crisis

UK Labour party’s plan to tackle the climate crisis

Climate change activists hold a banner reading “Hunger for Climate Change” as they take part in a hunger strike whilst demonstrating outside of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party headquarters in London. Agence France-Presse

James Moore and Esmé O’Keeffe, The Independent

John McDonnell’s pledge to force carbon polluters to delist their shares from the London Stock Exchange exemplifies everything that’s wrong with British politics.

Superficially it looks good. It tells the corporate bad boys who are turning the planet into a cooker to clean up or clear off. It helps delegitimise the carbon economy. What’s not to like?

As someone who’s advocated for more radical policies on the climate crisis, and more progressive action from business, you might think I’d fall in behind it.

But here’s the problem: it’s messaging dressed up as policymaking, same as the Tories’ “get Brexit done” slogan.

If you spend even five minutes thinking about the practicalities, it starts to creak. Same as… you guessed it.

Let’s say you press ahead with it and end up telling FilthyCarbonPolluter plc to hop it. Here’s what what will likely happen:

 [We move to CEO Freddie Fatcat’s sumptuous office. His PA has just got his school chum Cedric Cityboy, who works for BigInvestmentBank Brothers, on the line.]

Freddie: “Cedders, these dreadful Labour chappies are threatening to kick us out of London. Dash it all, Freddie Junior’s starting at Eton next month and they’ve just put the fees up again. Could you help?”

Cedric: “Don’t you worry old man! There are plenty of stock exchanges where they’d be only too happy to have you. Some of them are in places where they’re seemingly still denying the climate crisis even exists. It’ll be a bit rum for a few months, you’ll have some forms to fill in and some investor roadshows to do. But after we get your shares moved across you can pollute away to your heart’s content.”

Freddie: “Really? Super. I knew I could rely on you.”

Cedric: “Always Freddie. Now, shall we talk fees? My holiday home is a bit too close to the coast for comfort. I could do with this year’s bonus being big enough to buy somewhere on higher ground so the family doesn’t have to worry about the rising sea levels you lot are helping to create ha ha ha!”

[Six months later, FilthyCarbonPolluter plc is no longer worrying about its London listing and has even dropped the plc having domiciled itself offshore.]

Now, I think McDonnell takes the issue of the climate crisis seriously. I also think he’d do a much better job at driving improvement than his opposite number Dominic Cummings, sorry, Sajid Javid, who nominally holds the title of Chancellor. But this isn’t the way to do it.

If the improvements he’s gong to demand from bad carbon companies are easier for them to bring in than moving exchange, they’re not going to amount to very much.

But let’s say they’re tough, and McDonnell ends up kicking some companies out to prove this is more than just a threat. The worst 1 per cent. That doesn’t get us very far either. We all get to feel self-righteous and good about ourselves. But there’s no more leverage. No more means of bringing pressure to bear on those businesses. And at the end of the day they’re still the worst 1 per cent. Sure, they don’t have the benefit of a London listing. But the prestige of that isn’t what it was given the way Boris Johnson has been trashing Britain’s international standing.  

There are plenty of alternatives for cleaning up the planet and the City if that’s McDonnell’s aim. You could reform the system of corporate governance to push the climate crisis up the boardroom agenda by, say, requiring that companies produce a carbon audit and then giving shareholders a binding vote on it. You could also force the big institutions to publish their voting decisions (I can just hear the squeals that would result).

Of course, when it comes to the electorate that takes a bit of explaining. It’s doesn’t make for an easy sound bite.  You could reform the tax system, bring consideration of climate policies into the way public contracts are awarded.

There are options if your aim is to achieve something. This proposal won’t do that. It’s the policy equivalent of Nick Kyrgios. Like the bad-boy Aussie tennis player, it catches the eye, makes a lot of noise but ultimately achieves… not very much.

Anyone who has seen the pollution plumes and waste piled high in cities like Rome and Naples may be surprised to hear that Italy is bearing the torch in the fight against the climate crisis.

However, with its green new deal and promotion of a sustainable circular economy, Italy is proving to be an unlikely leader on climate issues. With devastating floods occurring across northern England, political parties in Britain would do well to learn from their counterparts in Italy.  

The current coalition, composed of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), and headed by prime minister Giuseppe Conte, has made a raft of climate-conscious announcements. M5S has always placed a strong emphasis on protecting the environment, the party included it as a central campaign promise in the March 2018 election that swept it into power. In October, the government braved the wrath of Italy’s “Packaging Valley” to announce a new tax on plastic in its 2020 draft budget, obliging firms to pay a €1 levy per kilogramme of plastic produced.

This comes in the wake of an alarming report (October 2019) by the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (Ispra) on the Mediterranean, entitled “On rubbish, we have hit rock bottom, and it’s 75 per cent plastic.” Findings revealed that more than 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste end up in the Mediterranean each year, with fishermen reporting more waste than fish in their nets.

Speaking on tackling plastic waste in November, Roberto Gualtieri, PD finance minister, said: “We can’t first applaud the children who fight for a better environment and then not take action.” Unlike our own, the Italian government recognises the importance of youth activism. In September, Lorenzo Fioramonti, M5S education minister, came out in favour of the school climate strikes, telling schools to “consider the absence of pupils taking part in the mobilisation against the climate emergency as ‘justified’”. Fioramonti’s endorsement of the Fridays for Future strikes marks a stark contrast to Boris Johnson’s dismissal of Extinction Rebellion protestors in London as “uncooperative crusties”.

In November, Fioramonti went a step further and introduced compulsory climate change lessons for all schools, making Italy the first country to do so. From September 2020, children will have 33 hours a year of climate and sustainable development education. While climate change is taught in geography and science in UK secondary schools, petitions to make it a core part of the national curriculum haven’t received enough signatures to be debated in parliament.

Speaking on the climate emergency at the UN General Assembly in September, Conte said: “Italy intends to play a leading role in the global fight against climate change. We owe it to all the young people who are making their voices heard.” Johnson, in contrast, saw his own plans dismissed by Greenpeace as “a flop” and a failure in world leadership on the climate crisis.

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