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Jeff Rooker on tackling the long-term implications of climate change

If timing is all then a good example is the debate on climate change that I will be opening for Labour later this week in the House of Lords. No technical expertise is required. All of that was included in David Attenborough’s recent lecture on BBC1. A real visual update of the dangers to the planet as well as the positive actions we can take. Mitigation is all very well, but avoiding the dangers is much more important.

Writing for The Times earlier this month, Philip Collins drew attention to a 30 year old speech by Margaret Thatcher, since which “no senior politician has succeeded in making climate change a cause”. Tony Blair, Al Gore, David Cameron, both Milibands all tried and failed to deliver a memorable climate change speech, he opined. But the material in the then Prime Minister’s address to the United Nation’s general assembly was more dramatic and the scale vast. Remarkable for both its science-based admission that human actions are at fault and the way it sets out the potential of irreversible damage to the planet.

More recently, the 2006 Review of the Economics of Climate Change by Nicholas (now Lord) Stern has clear lists of the dangers, recommended actions and the economic impacts. Our scorecard against his recommendations is not too good.

It is a global issue. We have just eleven years to the 2030 potential tipping point to keep the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C or otherwise face potential changes which we cannot control. The long term targets to get to 2050 as either carbon free or an 80% reduction on the 1990 figures will be irrelevant if the global temperature has gone above 2°C or even 3°C. Catch up on Attenborough on BBC iPlayer to understand the consequences.

Carbon emissions are made by all countries but those likely to suffer most are not the big five carbon emitters of China (30%), the United States (15%), the EU28 (10%), India (7%) and Russia (5%). Together, they account for two thirds of the global total.

While coal burning must stop completely, worrying reports from Global Energy Monitor in the Institution of Engineering and Technology journal show China has quietly restarted construction on dozens of suspended projects. Even under President Trump (perhaps nobody’s told him), the United States is on course to phase out coal by 2030.

Having started it all with our Industrial Revolution, the UK is today a low emitter on the world scale. But we are also part of the third largest emitter and, whatever happens with Brexit, will remain in the EU integrated electricity market. We therefore have responsibilities from both a historical perspective and to next generation.

Even if our science remains world class, we are not doing well. However you look at the statistics, the young climate change activist Greta Thunberg was correct when she referred to the UK’s “very creative carbon accounting”. And the IPCC report last October is a real wake up call to tell us “the house is on fire”.

Yet the UK has continued population growth, big doubts about the new nuclear build required to provide the base load, insulation rates on housing have fallen, and planning permission has been given for a new coal mine. We have also abandoned wind generation on land, and listed building consents continue to stop the use of clean energy technologies. The best solutions need to be market driven but regulated – something that gives confidence to nations, manufactures and households to make changes they can accept and live with.

It is not too late but actions to change are really urgent. I have changed my mind on the third runway at Heathrow and fracking. We also need to address the simple truth that climate change does not fit into our current political system.

Lord Jeff Rooker is a Labour Peer and a member of the Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee

Published 29th April 2019

Wake up call

Jeff Rooker on tackling the long-term implications of climate change

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Denis Tunnicliffe on the ongoing success of NATO, 70 years after its creation

For more than 500 years, collective defence alliances have tended to last for around 15 years. On 4th April, the NATO celebrates its 70th anniversary – cementing itself as one of the most successful defence treaties in history. Peace and stability have been able to flourish over seven decades, and the collective security of the Alliance remains the cornerstone of the UK’s defence policy. 

For Labour, it’s an extra special celebration – given that the leadership of Clement Attlee and his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin was so instrumental in setting up NATO in 1949. Bevin said that members: “shall act as custodians of peace and as determined opponents of aggression, and shall combine our great resources and use them to raise the standard of life for the masses of the people all over the world.”

Deterrent was, and remains, the purpose of the pact. It sent a message to potential adversaries that NATO’s members were not weak, divided nations but a united front, bound together in collective self-defence. To this day, such common cause is sort through peaceful resolution and collective responsibility for action. The original twelve members has grown to 29, and its missions around the world range from training soldiers in Afghanistan to detecting terrorist activity in the Mediterranean. 

While NATO members are encouraged to meet a spending guideline of at least 2% of GDP on defence, the UK barely scrapes over the line. Pensions have been added into the target, and the Ministry of Defence has said its Equipment Plan faces an affordability gap between £7 to £15bn. Treasury-driven cuts have also resulted in a recruitment free-fall as well as a decline of morale across our armed forces. This lack of investment and care for our forces, along with uncertainty over spending commitments, undermines the UK’s role in NATO. 

Today, the Alliance is adapting to new and resurgent threats. Russia’s recent actions in Crimea and Salisbury demonstrate its abhorrent disregard for democracy and human rights. Actions that have led to a renewed focus on the need to secure NATO’s eastern border, as well as the wider security of the Alliance area.

Technology is also opening up whole new dimensions for warfare. Cyber-attacks remain a huge concern but NATO is taking some welcome steps and last year agreed to set up a new and responsive Cyberspace Operations Centre. As the Alliance also strengthens such cooperation with the EU, it represents a key area where the UK must continue to help coordinate action post-Brexit.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will also be at the heart of most – if not all – future cutting-edge technologies in both the military and civilian worlds. Machine learning will enable new modes of warfare, including various forms of autonomous and semi-autonomous weaponry. And those investing early and aggressively may end up in a position of military supremacy. We must therefore, explore how NATO and the UN can work together to develop an international governance framework to provide oversight to military use of AI – including the ethical and moral implications. Only then will AI be viewed as a global public good.

On its 70th Anniversary, NATO’s success in maximising collective security is undisputed. Labour will ensure it remains the cornerstone of the UK’s defence policy, while adapting as necessary to the changing state of warfare and conflict resolution.

Lord Denis Tunnicliffe is Shadow Defence Minister in the House of Lords

Published 1st April 2019

Strength and stability

Denis Tunnicliffe on the ongoing success of NATO, 70 years after its creation

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Anita Gale on tackling gender inequality in the workplace, politics and society

International Women's Day seeks to tip the scales that remain weighted towards men. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, with gender balance being essential to allow businesses to grow, leaders to govern, and communities to thrive.

But whether it is intimidation in public life, gender based violence or a no deal Brexit, a better balance can only be found by tackling these challenges head on.

Despite last year’s US midterms, when a record number of women ran for office and took their seats in the US Congress, the largest gender disparity remains with political empowerment. According to the UN, only 24% of all national parliamentarians are women. Demonstrating how this new wave of women have broken down barriers and perceptions, first term US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “women like me aren't supposed to run for office”.

Unfortunately, this belief continues to resonate widely, with intimidation being one of the barriers to participation. Women in politics face an extraordinary amount of abuse on and offline – often for speaking up, or simply because they are women. Amnesty International and Element AI surveyed millions of tweets received by 778 journalists and politicians from the UK and US throughout 2017 and found that 1.1million were abusive or problematic. Equivalent to one every 30 seconds.

Social media companies must do more to protect female users – especially those in elected office – by accepting responsibility for abusive content on their sites and the faster removal of such comments.

But sexism continues to manifest in more violent ways. Gender based violence remains a major public health issue. Rape and murder are used as weapons of war, and women fleeing conflict are left in extremely vulnerable situations. The development charity, International Rescue Committee, states that “girls living in crisis-affected communities are at increased risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence and exploitation, intimate partner violence and forced marriage.”

The UK must lead the global effort to protect and empower these women, but we must make sure this protection extends to the home. Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a partner or ex-partner, while funding cuts to women’s refuges leave many with no safe places to go.

Women’s Aid found that one in six referrals to a refuge were declined owing to a lack of space or capacity to support the survivor, and has said the draft Domestic Abuse Bill fails to deliver enough money to address the recent decimation of services.

That legislation cannot come soon enough. Labour welcomes the establishment of a Joint Committee to consider the Bill. We want sustainable funding for refuges and specialist services, with migrant women given full and equal access. We are also committed to spending 0.7% of GDP on development to tackle inequality across the world.

Labour is determined to stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit – something that would be catastrophic for equality in our country. The government’s own impact assessment revealed no deal could leave the UK economy up to 9% smaller, and the Women’s Budget Group said such a downturn would have a disproportionate impact on women. Businesses could go bust, unemployment could rise, and vital government services could be cut.

When money’s tight, women suffer the most.

Baroness Anita Gale is Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @BaronessGale

Published 6th March 2019

 

A balance for the better

Anita Gale on tackling gender inequality in the workplace, politics and society

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