The Labour conference assembled in Brighton, only a few days after a wave of climate strikes had rippled round the world. The phrases “Green New Deal” and “climate justice” were popping up in the hall and in fringe meetings about topics—including industrial and economic policy—which would once have been seen as only tangentially connected to the environment.
The centrality of climate change to political thinking is, then, evident as ever before. But the question for our beautifully-timed Prospect/Heathrow discussion is whether it is also at the heart of business thinking and practice—and, if not, how we can instil it there.
From the Labour front bench, shadow environment minister David Drew confirmed the passion on the ground in his own Stroud constituency, a small town where 5,000 people had taken to the streets in the climate strikes. He cautioned, though, that in parts of the population there was also a backlash against this huge mobilisation of youthful opinion—particularly among hard-pressed and older people who were worried about being bullied into making potentially costly choices, like replacing a car with a greener model.
He was, however, confident that citizens—and businesses—could adjust as long as there was “clarity” about the direction they were being asked to take. At the moment, he felt, this was not forthcoming. It was the absence of leadership about, for example, the future of the electricity grid and what sort of infrastructure we would have (and when) to support electric cars that made it difficult for individuals and firms to commit the resources that were required.
Interestingly, he worried, too, about the danger of Labour undermining its own credibility in this field by setting unrealistically rapid timetables for transition before figuring out exactly how they would be implemented. The party couldn’t hope to give a lead without a fully worked through plan. These remarks raised some eyebrows, seeing as Jeremy Corbyn had spoken in the days before about potentially speeding up the timetable for carbon neutrality which the government recently agreed to, without yet fully fleshing out its own plans.
Next up was Professor Joseph Alcamo of Sussex University, an expert in climate systems and a man with ranging experience of official and other international discussions on the problem going back many…