Climate change matters because of the legacy we will leave to our kids and grandkids, but it also matters because we can create a much better economic future for people across our region by tackling it. We need a carbon army of workers to make the green transition happen.
The science of climate change is clear. We need to change fast. We have just over 10 years to take decisive action to change the way our economy works, or it will be too late to prevent levels of global warming which will lead to an increase in extreme weather events like heatwaves, flooding, and coastal erosion here at home to climate refugees fleeing their countries and the destruction of many species and wildlife around the world.
If we have just two degrees of global warming, and we are already at one degree, we will lose 99 per cent of the world’s coral reefs. In the face of this challenge, although Britain has done better than most, no country is doing enough.
That’s why, as part of a new Environmental Justice Commission bringing together politicians, scientists, representatives from business and people across the generations, we have come together to call for the Government to put us on a ‘‘war footing’’ to deal with the problem.
That would mean every government department doing its bit to tackle the problem and no decision being taken without regard to the environmental context. This can create a world of potential job opportunities for people in our country. Just take our homes, offices and factories. The way we heat them is going to need to change.
If we really took this seriously, we would be emulating what we did in the 1960s and 1970s as a country when we transitioned from town gas (from coal) to natural gas. Then, workers went from house to house, street by street to help people convert.
We should be doing the same now – helping people insulate their homes and convert to renewable sources of heating and, at the same time, cut their bills. Of course, this is a massive undertaking across tens of millions of homes in the UK, but it could be done, and it could employ literally tens of thousands of people.
Take another area – transport. We will need to transform the way our towns and cities are organised. More routes for cycling, walking, better public transport and charging points for electric vehicles. We can create a better quality of life for everyone as we cut air pollution, which kills thousands of people in our country.
Then there is the power sector. Yorkshire has big first mover advantages here with Siemens in Hull. But think how much more we could do on wind and solar power. This is a global race and we’re not doing enough to get ourselves in the lead.
Farmers too can contribute to this national effort. Over time, consumers are eating less meat, and health guidelines suggest that is sensible. Agricultural land can be a vital tool in the battle against climate change – for example, reforestation with trees which can help suck carbon dioxide from the air. Of course, farmers will need support to do so. We shouldn’t pretend that there won’t be changes and disruption in some industries. Change is coming sooner or later. But the big question facing us is whether we are willing to take the action to ensure a just transition?
We know the huge costs and damage that can be done from a sudden and unplanned transition – as we saw with the closure of the pits. We cannot allow that to happen again. Let’s make sure everyone, not just some, have better lives at the end of this. Some people will say there is no point in acting because of countries like China. I believe this misses the point. China is getting ahead in wind power, solar power and renewable technologies. They’re going all out because they see this is the economic future. We should too.
So many people wonder where the jobs of the future are coming from, and how their sons or daughters might earn a living in the future. We have an answer staring us in the face. Confront the biggest threat facing people in our country, and put our people to work to tackle it.
If we do this, in 10, 20, 30 years time, future generations will say that we not only understood the planetary emergency but the economic opportunity. This issue is so much bigger than party politics. It is about the legacy we leave to future generations. We must seize the moment.
Ed Miliband is the Doncaster North MP. He was Energy and Climate Change Secretary under Gordon Brown – and is the former Labour leader.