There is of course absolutely no doubt that we are in the grip of a climate and environmental emergency. It is therefore vitally important that we rapidly move to urgent action to tackle the escalating threat.
That is why Labour forced the Government to agree to declare an environment and climate emergency. An emergency that requires immediate action. The motion recognised the devastating impact volatile and extreme weather will have on UK food production, water availability, public health, flooding and wildfire damage. It set the Government six months to bring forward urgent measures to restore nature and move towards a circular, zero waste economy.
Six months which expires on – 31st October! It is intensely frustrating that this has been overshadowed by the identical Brexit deadline, but with the help of climate strikers and activists Labour will not let them off the hook.
Complacency about the UK’s limited progress on tackling the climate and environmental crisis will have dire consequences for our society and the natural world. Recent activism has been a massive and necessary wake up call for rapid and dramatic action.
We learned in the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) report earlier this year from 400 expert scientists that around 1 million species are threatened with extinction, more than ever before in human history. This is the sixth wave of extinction in our planet’s history but it is the first that is all our own doing.
This is a red flag we ignore at our peril. As Jeremy said: “We made it happen and with urgent action, we can stop it. To do so will require transformative changes to reprogramme our whole economy so that it works in the interests of both people and the planet.”
Labour would turn around this Government’s reckless and ruinous approach to our natural world. Our Green Transformation policy document set out our priorities and principles for environmental action – preventing and adapting to climate change, achieving high air and water quality for all, reversing the decline of biodiversity, and protecting natural habitats.
Rebecca Long Bailey announced at Conference that under a Labour Government we will see measures to dramatically increase renewable energy and ban fracking. The People’s Power Plan will deliver 52GW of offshore wind by 2030, equivalent to 38 coal power stations and enough power for 57 million households, creating at least 67,000 new unionised high-skilled jobs in the offshore wind sector, concentrated in Scotland, Yorkshire & Humber, East Anglia and North-East England.
Climate change will be a core part of the curriculum to ensure all young people are educated about its ecological and social impact. In order to win public sector contracts firms will have to take radical action on climate change. Jon Ashworth announced Labour’s Green NHS will include solar power on buildings, low emission vehicles, and an NHS forest of a million trees.
But nowhere is the threat of the climate and environmental emergency more critical than in food and farming. I’m very proud to have worked with Labour’s shadow environment team on this year’s extensive consultation looking at how we can achieve sustainable food policy. The first step was Sue Hayman’s announcement in the Climate Emergency debate at Labour Conference that we will put into law a right to food to guarantee we never again have to see people sent to foodbanks because they can’t afford to eat.
This year we have seen climate and environmental degradation take hold across the planet, with the dangerous feedback loops scientists have predicted starting to get a grip. Ice is melting at the poles and mountain glaciers with shocking speed. Permafrost which has been frozen for centuries is thawing releasing tonnes of highly carbon intensive methane. Fires rage across the Arctic and the Amazon. Death and destruction have descended from Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas.
Even in our temperate corner of the globe, extreme weather, storms, flooding and wildfires are setting in with an increasingly dramatic impact on our farmers, rural and coastal communities.
Achieving net zero and building resilience to extreme weather demand urgent action across the whole food and farming sector, including food production, trade, land use, subsidies and waste.
This is about social justice, so our policy consultation heard loud and clear that we need to future-proof the food system based not on the pursuit of profit, but on the needs of people, putting those who produce, process and consume healthy and local food at the heart. We must build a healthy and thriving food industry which supports the wellbeing, social welfare and economic stability of the people working in it. Labour’s National Food Commission will do just that alongside improved rights and working conditions for workers in the food and agriculture sector, including a robust health and safety regime, a real living wage and decent holidays, underpinned by collective bargaining.
In 21st century Britain, hospital admissions for malnutrition have trebled since 2009. We need to completely transform the food system to end the shocking scandal of the rise in foodbank demand, the obesity and diabetes epidemic, and the obscene levels of food waste. Everyone must have access to and the ability to choose affordable, healthy, nutritious and sustainably sourced food. The People’s Access to Food Fund will provide grants to support kitchens, food hubs and food growing clubs in the 50 communities with the worst food poverty.
Following Conference we are now working to develop the further detail. We will need farm payments based on the production of healthy food and the achievement of high environmental, animal welfare and worker safety standards. We must make good food readily available in schools, and workplaces, hospitals, prisons and care homes. Farmers and tenants need support to develop agricultural systems that produce nutritionally rich foods and dietary diversity. With scientific advice to help improve soil organic matter, increase water storage capacity, and adopt agroecological techniques that increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste, whilst also producing more food and timber. This can achieve zero emission farming integrated with habitat and wildlife restoration.
Food should not be just another commodity that can be speculated on the global market. Trade must not undercut the high environmental standards we rightly want to hold our farmers to, and imports must give a fair return to producers especially in parts of the world hardest hit by climate breakdown. Labelling and advertising must act to support consumers in making healthy and sustainable food choices. Markets should enrich local economies, protect farmers and farming landscapes and allow consumers to access affordable fresh, healthy, seasonal produce. The power of supermarkets needs to be managed with protection against aggressive unfair contracts insisted on by the major supermarket chains.
Please get in touch with views and input as we take this exciting agenda forward and begin building our radical and transforming manifesto for the coming election.
Based on a talk given at the Climate Emergency and Social Justice Public Meeting held with Hemel Hempstead CLP on Friday 4th October 2019, alongside Dr Kate Jeffery of Extinction Rebellion and London Assembly member Leonie Cooper of SERA, chaired by Mandi Tattershall.