The Left and the Climate Crisis After the Pandemic

I think there’s an interesting insight there. Ann, obviously being involved in the original 2008 drafting of the UK Green New Deal would recognize that they identified, a slightly different set of problems to what the US Green New Deal addresses.

In 2008, the Green New Deal group, convened out of the New Economics Foundation, was looking at what they saw as a triple threat of the climate crisis, what they called the credit crunch (the financial crisis in 2008), as well as projections about energy shortages globally as a result of advancing peak oil (which actually hasn’t really come to fruition due to innovations in the oil and gas industry, particularly fracking and liquefied natural gas).

What they identified as those three problems did lend itself, I think inherently, to a more global perspective insofar as energy shortages and peak oil demand are an inherently global issue, and they saw that as a threat to everyone.

But they also identified a source of the UK’s most significant contribution to climate injustice globally, which was its role as a seat of financial power. So the UK, the City of London, as a major site of financial flows, global insurance, particularly with Lloyd’s of London, which is a leading project insurer, without which things like a natural gas plant or a mine, can’t go ahead. All of these things have brought huge profitability to the City of London and they also wrought havoc on the rest of the world.

So there was an internationalist perspective there insofar as they recognized that this one part of our economic system has tremendously outsized impacts globally. And they did look at things like the global taxation system, international financial flows, capital controls, getting countries the means to enact control over their own domestic economies rather than risking capital flight and all of these things that are raised as a specter when countries in the global South suggest that they might try and decarbonize.

Whereas in the United States, which I guess drew inspiration from that, there is a more national focus in tone. Partly that comes down to constraints related to the fact that it actually proposed legislation. It was a resolution in the House and I think there are certain constraints that come with that, so it had a more domestic focus.

And I think a valid criticism is to say that it’s the focus on the US becoming a global leader in decarbonization and clean energy and all of these things that had the economic nationalist tone. The frontline communities that the motion identified, for example, tended to be people on the domestic front lines. That said, where they have the scope to do so — in the “be it resolved” section of the resolution — there is an acknowledgement of international impacts and distributions.

And again, whenever we talk about the Green New Deal, it’s such a — as you say, you use the word slogan — and in some ways that’s fair because it does mean so many things to so many people. In the UK as well, I would add a third sort of Green New Deal to this, which is the one that was campaigned on within the Labour Party and adopted to some extent in the recent manifesto.

What all three of these Green New Deals have in common from an international perspective is the idea of international financing and technology transfers. And this is where there’s a really legitimate criticism of all Green New Deal proposals: that this is as far as our collective imagination has reached for what the Green New Deal means internationally.

Going forward, though, there’s a lot of interesting work being done by a number of academics in the UK. For example, work on the idea of a reparations framework, as opposed to just technology transfers. This means materially atoning for the impacts of colonialism, as well as for outsized contributions to global carbon emissions and environmental degradation. That, I think, is the next frontier that the GND needs to pursue if it’s going to be a genuinely internationalist project.

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