Rebecca Long-Bailey – 2020 Speech on a Green Industrial Revolution

Below is the text of the speech made by Rebecca Long-Bailey in the House of Commons on 15 January 2020.

I thank the Secretary of State for her kind comments. Of course, she will understand what I and the other Labour leadership candidates are going through at the moment. Putting yourself forward and standing up for your principles is a noble pursuit, but it is also certainly an interesting one—I will say that much.

I agree with much of what the Secretary of State said in her speech, but that ambition needs to be matched with sufficient action. I hope she takes the comments that I am about to make in the spirit in which they are intended, so we can work across the House and reach a solution to the climate emergency.

I pay tribute to my colleagues Danielle Rowley, Laura Pidcock and Sue Hayman, who were sadly unable to take their place after the general election. Each one of them has been a champion, fighting against the climate emergency, and their policy work will leave a mark on this House for years to come. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) to his new role on the shadow DEFRA team. I am sure he will also leave his mark in the years to come.

Climate change and environmental breakdown present an existential threat to our society. I doubt that there is a single Member of this House who would disagree with me. Seeing off that threat by investing in new industries and technologies, and the restoration of our natural world, has the potential to bring jobs, new wealth and new pride to all the regions and nations of the UK. Again, I doubt there is a single Member of the House who does not want to see that.

So we start from a position of agreement on the green industrial revolution, which, in a nutshell, is about achieving just that. But to make it happen, rather than just talking about it, three qualities are required that are lacking in the Queen’s Speech: honesty, ambition and fairness. We need to be honest with ourselves and with the electorate about what the science says is necessary to avoid planetary catastrophe; we need to be ambitious, deploying our resources and testing our inventiveness at a pace and scale that is commensurate with the challenge; and we need to be fair, tackling climate change in a way that is socially just, that leaves nobody behind, and that meets and exceeds the expectations that people have for their lives and their communities.

I turn to the first quality—honesty. The Queen’s Speech references the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, ​but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the world’s leading scientific body on the subject, says that the entire world needs to reach net zero by 2050 to avoid more than 1.5° C of warming. Given the UK’s historical responsibility for climate change, and our wealth and resources to do something about it, we clearly need to be ahead of the curve on this, and we need to be honest that 2050 is not good enough—not if we are serious about keeping our people safe. I urge the Government to revisit this target.

Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)

My hon Friend is making an excellent speech. COP26 is coming to the UK this year. Is that not an additional responsibility for the Government, not just a historical one? Is it not true that we have a responsibility for the entire planet as the president and host of COP26?

Rebecca Long Bailey

My hon. Friend is spot on. We have an opportunity now to show on the world stage that we really mean business when it comes to tackling climate change. We need to lead the world, and not just in terms of the industries we support in the UK. We need to lead by example and encourage other countries across the world to take as robust action as I hope we will do over the coming years.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

My hon. Friend is making some good points. Does she agree that another advantage to the early adoption of a zero-carbon target is that we can lead the world in the products we have developed and sell them around the world? When we left government in 2010, we had set a target for passive house standards for all buildings by 2015. One example of Government failure in this area is that this Government removed that law, meaning that new houses are not currently being built to passive house standards. We are falling behind in new builds and environmental standards, and should be calling on the Government to address this. They should be ashamed of what they have done.

Rebecca Long Bailey

My hon. Friend is right. It is important to note that markets are incentivised by robust targets, but that targets alone are not enough. They need to sit alongside a robust industrial strategy that supports our industries, all the way through from our steel sector to our automotive sector, so that they are capable of delivering the change at the pace that is required.

Mr Dhesi

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that, despite the grand statements from the Government, they are missing all the targets that they are putting in place due to their own mediocre measures? Does she also agree that the cuts to renewable energy subsidies need to be reversed, and that we need to ensure that the Government work towards jobs in the green industries—unionised jobs? Rather than just talking a good game, the Government actually need to deliver.

Rebecca Long Bailey

My hon. Friend is spot on.

We need to be honest that we are off track when it comes to meeting our targets, inadequate as they are. In fact, according to the Committee on Climate Change—the Government’s official advisers—the UK is even off track ​with regard to meeting its old target of an 80% reduction by 2050. The UK’s CO2 emissions fell by only 2% between 2017 and 2018. Politics aside, that is nowhere near good enough. Let us be honest about what it means. It is not like failing an exam or a driving test. Failing on climate change means devastating fires sweeping across Australia and the Amazon. It means critical threats to food security, water security and the entire ecosystem, on which we all depend.

Janet Daby

Constituents living in flats and houses have emailed me regarding a lack of charging options for electric cars. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are simply not ambitious enough to support the UK’s electric vehicle charging needs?

Rebecca Long Bailey

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. Although the comments in the Queen’s Speech are certainly welcome—I will come to them in more detail shortly—they do not sit alongside a robust strategy to support the creation of a market for electric vehicles. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) made a point about the affordability of electric vehicles. They are not cheap and most people cannot afford them, so we have a duty to create the market by providing incentives. The Government should use their own procurement to ensure that their fleets are electric by a specified date, and we should ensure that fleet operators are incentivised to make their fleets electric so that the vehicles can transition into the second-hand car market. There is an essential need to ensure that people who want to buy new electric vehicles can afford to do so, with options ranging from scrappage schemes all the way through to incentivisation.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)

As my hon. Friend will be aware, Orb steelworks—the only producer of electrical steels in the country—was mothballed just before Christmas. With investment, the plant could provide an end-to-end supply chain for the electric vehicles industry so that we would not have to import this kind of steel. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely crucial that the Government step up and support our steel industry, which could play a key part in this green industrial revolution?

Rebecca Long Bailey

My hon. Friend is quite right. It is devastating to see the impact of what has happened in her constituency. We need to tackle the climate emergency, and we need a robust industrial strategy to sit alongside it. This is the biggest economic opportunity that the country has had in a generation. By tackling a huge societal and environmental need, we can support our industries and create the new green jobs of the future. Unfortunately, although we talk about targets, and about providing help here and there, we are not backing it up with a comprehensive industrial strategy that supports our industries. What was lacking in the general election campaign—although certainly not from the Labour party—was support for the steel sector, with a robust strategy ensuring that the steel industry plays a key role in our infrastructure projects and the technologies of the future. That is what I would like to see from this Government.

Alan Brown

On honesty and ambition, the hon. Lady said that net zero by 2050 is not good enough, so I am sure she will welcome the fact that the Scottish ​Government have legislated for net zero by 2045. During the general election campaign, Labour started talking about net zero by 2030. Currently, 27 million homes rely on fossil fuels, so getting to net zero by then would mean changing over 52,000 homes a week every week from 1 January 2020 until the end of the decade. What are Labour’s plans for doing that?

Rebecca Long Bailey

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. Certainly, there is no point in having a target without having an ambitious plan to deliver it. We know from the work of leading scientists across the world that the majority of the work that needs to be done even to reach net zero by 2050 must be done by 2030. That is an inescapable fact and that is why we have to move so quickly.

The Government have started to work towards insulating social homes. That is welcome, but it is not enough. We need to look at how we can support the UK’s 27 million homes to take part in a home insulation programme that will not only tackle climate change but help to bring down bills. We had an ambitious package for that but unfortunately we did not deliver that message strongly enough in our election campaign.

Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s rhetoric is far away from the action that we actually see? In Greater Manchester we have a clean air crisis where people are literally dying because of the quality of the air. When the Mayor of Greater Manchester made an approach to Government for grant support to help taxi drivers and the self-employed to transition to new vehicles, the Government were not even willing to meet him halfway.

Rebecca Long Bailey

My hon. Friend is quite right. We are expected to encourage our localities and our regional governments to take part in the climate emergency and to do their best to deliver plans on a local scale, but they are not being given sufficient resources to be able to do so. That is not acceptable, because this is a national crisis and a local crisis. That goes right to the heart of the point about public transport. We need to make sure that all the workers involved in transport are given the opportunity to deliver transport that is eco-friendly, but they are not, particularly taxi drivers. Taxi drivers, in many cases, cannot afford to transition to electric vehicles as rapidly as we need them to, and we must provide the support that is necessary for them to be able to achieve that.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)

A little earlier, the shadow Minister implied that climate change was causing the raging fires in the Amazon and Australia. The fires in the Amazon are caused by mankind trying to create agricultural land, not climate change, as I would expect it is very wet out there. In Australia—this goes back to a question I asked earlier—75% of fires are caused by arson.

Rebecca Long Bailey

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s points, but we need to move beyond discussions regarding climate change denial and recognise the scale of the task ahead of ahead of us, because the science is clear. We are facing a climate emergency, and if we do not take robust action and lead the world, we will not have a world left—it is as simple as that.

​Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)

I am very disappointed that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) has mentioned the 75% figure, which was also mentioned by the Foreign Office Minister who gave the statement on the bushfires last week. It is fake news that is being spread by climate change deniers in Australia. A letter to The Guardian from a number of well-renowned climate academics, including several from Bristol University, was published yesterday. I think the true figure for arson is less than 1%. I would like to make sure that that is absolutely on the record.

Rebecca Long Bailey

I thank my hon. Friend for her point because she is quite right.

With reference to civil society groups like Extinction Rebellion who have been urging those in power to tell the truth about climate change, I was alarmed by reports that the Government’s response was to defend the recommendation to list them alongside neo-Nazi terrorists. That is an absolute disgrace. I urge the Secretary of State to speak to her colleagues about this. It is absolutely absurd that our school strikers and our climate activists who were trying to fight to be heard here in Westminster are being listed alongside terrorist organisations when they are simply trying to save the planet and deliver a world for their future and that of their children and grandchildren.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

I have no doubt in my own mind that the landslips, the flooding and the collapse of roads is being caused by climate change: I come from the land of the mountain and the flood. Highland Council and all rural councils, not just in Scotland but all over the UK, are faced with the cost of the restoration works. Adding to the hon. Lady’s suggestion that the money is not there, does she agree that we need a dedicated income stream for the devolved institutions in the UK to pay for these repairs, because otherwise it is just going to get worse?

Rebecca Long Bailey

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments because he is quite right. As I said earlier, we cannot keep having discussions about whether climate change is real. It is real, and we cannot detach ourselves from the situation in thinking that it is something that happens to other countries across the world and it is not going to affect us. It is already affecting us, and even if it does affect other countries across the world we will need to help the people in those countries. We also need to recognise that for a country like ours that is so reliant on imported food, any disruption to any part of the world disrupts our quality of life here. That is why it is so important for us to protect the people here in the UK by making sure that we lead across the world on this. I am sure that we have collaborative agreement across the House on that point.

Caroline Lucas

A moment ago the hon. Lady was talking about civil society organisations. I absolutely agree with her about the excellent work done by Extinction Rebellion and others. Will she join me in congratulating the student climate network, People and Planet, which only this week announced that over half of UK universities have now divested from fossil fuels? Does she agree that it is about time that we in this Parliament got our house in order? I have been trying, along with other colleagues, to get our parliamentary pension fund to divest from fossil fuels. That still has not happened. Will she join me in saying that it is long overdue that we take this step?

Rebecca Long Bailey

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and associate myself with them wholeheartedly. I thank her for all the work that she has done in this House over the years really to put this issue on the agenda at a time when others did not want to talk about it, quite frankly.

Let me move on to the second quality that is required—ambition. The purpose of the Queen’s Speech should be to look forward—to set out the Government’s future plans—but most of the climate section looks backwards, sadly, to the Government’s record over the past 12 months, and even this is confusing to many. There is reference to £400 million of funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, but this was first announced in the 2017 Budget. The Queen’s Speech also references an industrial energy transformation fund, but this was announced in the 2018 Budget. We were told that 53% of electricity now comes from low-carbon sources, and that sounds good, but is it really ambitious enough? As any energy expert will tell you, electricity is the easy part. Only 11% of the UK’s total end energy consumption, including heat and transport, comes from renewable sources. Only 7% of the UK’s heat demand is met by renewable sources. As Labour set out at the general election, to get on track to a net-zero energy system, we need low-carbon electricity at levels of above 90% within a decade.

The Government reference their doubling of international climate finance, and this sounds good until you realise that this money is not new or additional and that the Government are effectively raiding the aid budget to pay for it. The Government want to ensure that everybody is within 30 miles of an electric charging point, but that does not sound particularly ambitious to me, to be honest. Nor does the commitment to end the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries when 60% of our plastic waste exports are actually shipped to OECD countries. Should not the Government be asking why we are producing all that pointless plastic in the first place and cut it off at source rather than dumping the problem overseas?

There are of course welcome features in the Queen’s Speech, such as the commitment to invest £800 million to develop the UK’s first carbon capture and storage cluster by the mid-2020s. But I remember the time in 2010 when the coalition made a £1 billion commitment to CCS before scrapping it again in 2015. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the UK’s carbon-intensive industries will not suffer the same fate as when the last promise was made? Why is it that as the climate crisis worsens the Government appear to be treading water and going backwards? Tackling the climate and environmental emergency and capturing the massive opportunities of the green economy require ambition. We needed to see an emergency plan for the first 100 days of Government—a plan for every year of this Parliament and a plan for the decade ahead. Sadly, the Queen’s Speech does not come close to this.

I now turn to the third and final quality—fairness. Rapid decarbonisation across our economy requires fundamental changes in the way we work and the way we live. Done badly, this presents big risks to people’s livelihoods. Only by socialising the costs and the benefits of decarbonisation will we be able to take the public with us through this change, but the Queen’s Speech does not set out a plan to do that.​

To give an example, fossil fuel workers have powered the country for decades. We need a clear and properly funded plan for what will happen to those workers and their communities as we move to a renewable energy system. We tried to set out proposals at the election for a just transition fund. The absence of a plan for a just transition in the Queen’s Speech is a major omission, and I urge the Government to do better and start listening to and working with trade unions on this as quickly as possible.

It was more than 30 years ago that NASA scientist James Hansen presented his findings on climate change to the US Senate. Nobody could reasonably argue that we have done enough since then, and now we are running out of time. We cannot afford another lost five years. I urge the Government to work with us and Members across the House to correct the obvious shortcomings of the Queen’s Speech and their agenda, and to develop a package of measures that can secure the future all of us deserve. There is still time, but it is running out.