Labour urged to get tougher on climate change targets

Jim Pickard

This article originally appeared in The Financial Times

The Labour leadership will be pushed to adopt a more hardline position on dealing with climate change during its autumn conference, after a flood of constituency motions calling for a 2030 “zero carbon” position.

More than 50 constituency Labour parties (CLPs) have signed a petition from a group called Labour for a Green New Deal calling for the emissions target.

One of Theresa May’s last initiatives as prime minister was to commit Britain to a 2050 target for reducing net emissions to zero, as called for by the official Committee on Climate Change. Labour’s current policy also commits to a 2050 target for zero net emissions.

However, environmental activists Extinction Rebellion, a group that held high-profile protests in London in April, are ramping up the pressure on governments to act more quickly and calling for a 2025 net zero target.

A tougher emissions target, if adopted by a future Labour government, would have significant consequences for many industries and for Britain’s transport system. Net zero means that any greenhouse gas emissions would be balanced by schemes to offset carbon from the atmosphere, such as planting trees or using carbon capture and storage schemes.

With more than 50 constituencies signing the motion it is almost certain to be debated at the party’s annual conference in September. Momentum, the leftwing activist group, has been using phone banks to encourage members to back the zero-carbon motion — along with other petitions for a four-day week and an end to migrant detention centres.

Recommended FT Magazine Extinction Rebellion: inside the new climate resistance The environmental campaigners are likely to face a backlash from some union officials who fear the 2030 zero-carbon target could cost jobs in some heavy industries.

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, told the FT in June that he wanted an earlier target than 2050 if a practical way forward could be found.

Lauren Townsend, a spokesperson for the Labour for Green New Deal group, said the motion had been endorsed by 50 constituency parties ranging from Islington North — Mr Corbyn’s seat — to others in the Labour heartlands such as Hartlepool, Newcastle East and Sedgefield. “A transformative Green New Deal which guarantees high-quality, unionised green jobs to all, is gathering a critical mass of support . . . our motion looks set to be a key feature of party conference in September,” said Ms Townsend.

The 2030 motion will be competing for attention against demands from other CLPs for the leadership to adopt a clear “Remain” position on Brexit. Remain Labour, for example, is encouraging constituencies to submit motions calling for an “unequivocal” backing for Labour to campaign to stay in the EU.