Protesting in parliament square. Photo: Isai Priya

Protesting in parliament square. Photo: Isai Priya   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Robert Oseney, North London Socialist Party

Boris Johnson and the Tories see the COP26 conference in November as an opportunity to showcase their vision for a ‘Global Britain’ leading the way on climate change. Unwilling to take on the big business super-polluters, the Tories have no credible plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and Labour isn’t any better.

One of the stated goals for COP26, is a move away from coal-fired power plants, which release a number of other greenhouse gases as well as carbon dioxide. But faced with a crisis of the energy market, with natural gas prices soaring, old coal-powered plants have been fired up to provide cheaper energy.

The crisis has also highlighted another key source of UK emissions: housing, which accounts for 15% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Old, inefficient gas heating systems need to be replaced, and old drafty houses need to be insulated. So far the Tories have shown no sign of addressing this issue.

A paltry ‘green voucher’ programme was announced in March 2020 that would have given some homeowners money for upgrades. But the programme was defunded and then cancelled after less than a year, with no sign of an alternative proposal.

The recent spike in natural gas prices is being pushed onto working-class customers. Rather than nationalising failing providers, the Tories are stepping back and allowing them to be gobbled up by the ‘big six’ energy companies, who will come out of this crisis with less competition and more freedom to raise prices and cut back services. Three of those top six energy companies (SSE, Scottish Power and National Grid) are major sponsors of COP26.

In the face of Tory inaction, Labour has provided no credible alternative. At the recent Labour Party conference, activists tried to propose a motion calling for a bold “Green New Deal,” including expansion of public transport, mass investment in green technologies and the retrofitting of homes. Rather than allowing these measures to be debated and voted upon, the party bureaucracy ruled the motion ‘out of order’, preventing it from being put before the membership.

Soon afterwards, party leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would refuse to nationalise the ‘big six’ energy companies as part of a transition to clean energy. This is a reversal of his previous stance during the party leadership election, where he claimed that he would preserve the bold, socialist policies of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

We call for a new mass workers’ party that can take the necessary steps to ensure a bright future for all of us. A just climate transition requires the nationalisation of the major energy companies in order to quickly move to cleaner energy sources; likewise for industries such as shipping and aviation. And it is clear that the mass retrofitting of homes will not be accomplished with a simple voucher programme. Instead, we will need socialist, democratic planning and workers’ control of the economy to accomplish this transition in the timeframe that is necessary.