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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

On behalf of the next generation, we need a Green New Deal - Sophie Sleeman and Aaron Smith

This essay first appeared in the IPPR and WWF publication Putting People at the Heart of the Green Transition.

We’re growing up in an uncertain world. One in which climate breakdown creates a new crisis every day, while threatening the democracies of the future. We’re told that changing our toothbrush will solve a global crisis, yet most people feel they have no power at all over decision-making in the UK. We know the science, we have the technological solutions, so the climate crisis is a crisis in politics – in democracy.

A Green New Deal could be driven by people, if the political structures to enable this transition are put in place now. Citizens’ assemblies have already been used to allow people to discuss divisive issues beyond the distorted world of fake news and corporate media. But in order for them to become truly effective, they must be permanently integrated into our political system, giving citizens a direct tool in which they can shape a Green New Deal for their community.

These assemblies don’t have to conform to one model. They can be specific, like a community energy group who know exactly which public housing blocks are trapped in fuel poverty; or broad, such as a land trust formed to rewild common land. If they’re given access to tax money collected by local banks, powered by strong local currencies, these new structures could restore local councils – which, from our experience as youth strikers, are painfully stuck in the past.

"We know the science, we have the technological solutions, so the climate crisis is a crisis in politics – in democracy."

By encouraging discussion and consensus decision-making, participatory democracies will wear away the harsh polarisation which has fractured our communities and prevented the strong cooperation needed to mobilise behind decarbonisation.

However, a Green New Deal will not just empower citizens by shifting who governs who. Open source digital systems could be combined with strong public ownership and shorter working weeks to allow people to spend time on shared gardens, care work and local politics. Inside such a system, anyone – from farmers to former gas workers – could develop local solutions to our unsustainable models of consumption, that can then be shared and adapted on global platforms. A Green New Deal will require top-down changes in infrastructure in order for it to be implemented by people in local contexts.

We can give people the feeling that they – not the corporations who profit off collective neglect – are responsible for their community. So, a just transition must shift our systems of governance as well as economics. It must let the vulnerable as well as the wealthy shape our zero-carbon future, otherwise what might be a safety net for the planet will be full of gaping holes.

For too long people have been separated from the decision-making that controls their lives, leading to neglectful policies that ignore marginalised voices. A Green New Deal is an opportunity to remind ourselves that policy is made for the benefit of the people it serves. We should empower communities to decide where their renewable energy comes from, what jobs they’ll have and where our investment goes – supported, not dictated, by central government.

"A Green New Deal is an opportunity to remind ourselves that policy is made for the benefit of the people it serves."

Climate justice requires an overhaul of our current political system, one that recognises the failings of the traditional order. To do this we need real devolution of powers to regions, communities, cooperatives, councils and citizens’ assemblies to prevent their advice being brushed aside and ignored. People must be given the power to produce real changes, especially those who have fresh insight into how to solve the crisis in a way that is socially just. From government this will require a change of attitude, to be radical in the face of the climate emergency for the good of us all.

This isn’t the time for shoulds and shouldn’ts, these are things we must do. The government must follow the guidelines set out by the Green New Deal Group:

1. Totally decarbonise the economy of the United Kingdom in a way that works to eliminate social and economic inequality.

2. Create millions of new well-paid, secure, unionised jobs across the country.

3. Transform our economy to place human and ecological well-being and prosperity at the centre; enable democratic participation, accountability and common ownership.

4. Protect and restore vital habitats and carbon sinks, including forests and wild areas.

5. Promote global justice by supporting all peoples and countries to decarbonise quickly and fairly, in line with timeframes set out by science, including through transfers of resources, finance and technology from historic emitters in the Global North to the Global South.

When people are empowered to protect their future, decisions will be made that that help us all.

It’s time to participate

Sophie and Aaron are organisers with UK Student Climate Network, fighting for ambitious action on climate change through the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement.

This essay first appeared in the IPPR and WWF publication Putting People at the Heart of the Green Transition.