In the US and the UK, the Green New Deal movement has galvanised hope for transitioning to the more equitable zero carbon world we so desperately need to address poverty and keep global average temperatures to below 1.5°C. But there has also been criticism of an apparent initial focus on jobs in “every town and city across the UK”, rather than on transformational justice globally. The challenge for Green New Deal advocates is to recognise the historical roots of the climate crisis, and avoid being the PR face of ongoing climate colonialism.
In a challenge to current inadequate emissions reductions targets (80% by 2050), Green New Deal supporters are calling for Britain to go “zero carbon by 2030”, alongside addressing the social and economic impacts of neoliberalism and inequitable de-industrialisation in many parts of the UK. Such plans could radically reduce poverty rates and low-paid precarious work across the country, and could be designed to address the fact that poor people and people of colour are disproportionately negatively impacted by environmental pollution.
But it can’t stop there. Nathan Thanki argues that a Green New Deal cannot be allowed to be “eco-socialism for [us] and barbarism for the rest of the world”. Thanki argues for a larger transformation of the structure of our energy, housing, food, transport, and health systems, alongside de-growth. And Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler propose an International Green New Deal that would fund a transition to renewable energy and commit to providing climate reparations and energy based on need rather than means or geography.
Global workers’ rights
As Asad Rehman of War on Want recently wrote, at the heart of our economic system is a “belief that the UK and other rich countries are entitled to a greater share of the world’s finite resources”, through the global mineral supply chain, and thus we can expect that “mining giants and dirty energy companies will be waving the flag of climate emergency to justify the same deathly business model”. So a truly global Green New Deal must seek to support workers around the world, rather than narrowly focusing on UK workers. Co-operation – rather than imperialist intervention – will be required to de-carbonise the global economy.
So far little attention has been paid to working conditions in the global renewables supply chain, partially due to a nervousness against discrediting green 'solutions'.
If we are going to meet the scale of the challenge of keeping below 1.5°C, industries like solar, wind and battery storage will need to expand rapidly. Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles will require up to 43% of the world’s cobalt production and 50% of its lithium production by 2020, for example. Solar panels and magnets in wind turbines will require large quantities of other minerals and rare earths, such as neodymium, dysprosium and tellurium.
Significant countries for minerals include China, Argentina, Chile, Australia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The majority of the worlds reserves of cobalt (58%) are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining is associated with ongoing conflict, child labour, human rights violations, land grabs and environmental pollution. The supply chains of solar panels have a similar pattern of association with exploitation and oppression – land grabs from indigenous and other communities, toxic chemical poisoning of workers and communities, poverty wages, union busting, and forced and child labour.
And the renewable supply chain challenge doesn’t end with the extraction of raw materials for renewables. With China dominating the manufacturing of solar PV and lithium-ion batteries, what happens on the factory floors of Guangzhou should be as important as rebuilding industry in County Durham. Chinese workers are facing detention for organising on the factory floor. But they continue to fight for the kind of working conditions many take for granted in the UK. Large buyers such as governments can and should use their buying power to support workers on the ground.
Now is the time to focus on how the UK can be part of driving a renewables revolution for the many not the few. Building in protections to enshrine supply chain justice is vital to stop the renewables industry, and indeed nationalised green energy production, merely reproducing the global exploitation and destruction of fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP.
Supply chain justice in Labours Green New Deal should be a key demand for members. While a Green New Deal for the UK can't resolve these issues on its own, it can be allied to the workers and communities resisting green colonialism. Public procurement contracts could require the protection of human rights of workers and communities in their supply chains. Changes to the law to allow impacted communities in the Global South easy access to sue companies for damages in the UK courts could also be effective.
The need for reparations
But just addressing supply chain justice would still not be enough. Countries in the Global North – with high per person consumption habits – used up their fair share of carbon emissions decades ago. Since then, these rich, minority world countries have been delaying their responsibility to decarbonise and provide financing for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage to countries whose quotas they have eaten into.
Today, at 1°C warming, climate change is already devastating the lives of those who did the least to cause our current crisis. Cyclone Idai which tore through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March, and which has been followed by Cyclone Kenneth, has likely displaced more than one million people. The city of Beira in Mozambique – larger than Atlanta in the U.S. or Manchester in the UK – was wiped out. The death toll from drowning, dehydration, hunger and cholera will be in the many thousands. Mozambique is the sixth-poorest country in the world. The average citizen of Mozambique is responsible for 55 times less carbon emissions than the average U.S. citizen.
Every day, more than 1,300 individuals move from rural parts of Bangladesh to the capital, Dhaka, driven not just by events like cyclones but also slow-onset climate impacts such as saltwater intrusion or reduced fish stocks. Karachi and Kolkata are becoming increasingly uninhabitable due to soaring temperatures, and drought in Somalia has left half the country's population facing food and water shortages. The average metric tons per capita emissions of citizens in these countries (Bangladesh 0.5, Pakistan 0.9, India 1.7, Somalia 0.04) are tiny compared to the average emissions of a person in the U.S. (16.5), Canada (15.1), Australia (15.4), or UK (6.5).
The Global South – already subjected to colonialism and exploitative trade relations – is now also experiencing the impacts of historic carbon emissions, while future generations will experience the consequences of ours. We need to thoughtfully, equitably and responsibly find ways to repair the consequences of historic emissions, while preventing unmanageable harm for future generations.
Industrialised countries – through their emission-heavy development – now have higher adaptive capacities to avoid the most severe forms of climate change harms, while those least responsible pay the greatest price.
In the immediate term, ending state aid for the fossil fuel industry could allow us to re-direct $5.3 trillion-worth of subsidies to address poverty and climate change. Achieving 100% renewable energy globally by 2050 is estimated to cost only about a third of the amount spent on fossil fuel subsidies. The remaining savings could fund adaptation and address loss and damage from climate change impacts. Progressive taxes such as a frequent flyer levy, a Climate Damages Tax on oil, gas and coal extraction, together with a Financial Transaction Tax (a small levy to raise revenue from the trading of financial instruments), could also help mobilise billions - and potentially trillions. Applying these funds in a way that centres those most impacted is important.
And we must also address the root causes of the injustice multipliers that climate change sits upon, including systemic exclusion due to poverty, gender, age, indigenous or minority status, disability, sexuality, sexual identity, lack of access to sexual reproductive health and rights, national or social origin, birth or other status. It is past time to address the multiple injustices and histories of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism which have created our current crises.
The vast majority of the world’s richest 10% high emitters still live in wealthiest OECD countries, although that is slowly changing. 100 oil, coal and gas companies are together linked to 71% of emissions since 1988. The global consumer class cannot continue to build their lives on the back of the global poor.
A Green New Deal must recognise the UK's climate debt and fossil-fuelled colonial past. Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò has suggested the same for the U.S. In his view, Green New Deals can either enhance the power of poor nations to determine their own destinies, or they could promote climate colonialism through bordered concepts of justice. At the very least, a Global Green New Deal creates a direct responsibility both to aggressively mitigate emissions through funding a renewable energy and green jobs, but also to repair climate harms abroad and fund mitigation and adaption efforts in the majority world. To be consistent with justice principles, a Global Green New Deal will require a transformative transition away from poverty and climate harms and towards social, economic, political and cultural liberation.