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Combatting the climate change – left concepts

We are confronted with a profound economic, social and political upheavals caused in particular by the ecological challenges under which the climate change is certainly the biggest one. The pandemic which at present determines our working and living conditions aggravates the crisis increasing also the already existing large social inequalities. The depletion of natural resources and the ecological disasters are a man-made reality and can be adjusted by the actions of human beings. This requires, however, a radical change in politics. 

The causes of the climate catastrophe are linked to the profit-oriented capitalist system of production in general and to the neoliberal policy in particular. Our way to produce must be called into question. A drastic reduction of CO2 is needed. It’s now evident, that a production based on fossil energies has no future anymore. But we need not only another energy policy. We have to rethink and to change our entire production system. 

The concept of Socio- Ecological Transformation, or the Green New Deal, is an answer to this requirement and it is a key component of the European Left’s political strategy. Nearly everybody talks about the necessity to launch a Green New Deal, but there are very different concepts. The European Commission, for example, has launched a “European Green Deal” intended to make the European Union climate-neutral by 2050. Key components of this Deal comprise investment in environmentally-friendly technologies, the decarbonisation of energy, the energy renovation of buildings, and cleaner, healthier private and public transport. The EU as a whole should shift towards a green economy.  The European Commission’s Green Deal is certainly a point of reference but still by far inefficient to tackle the burning tasks from climate change and mitigating the loss of biodiversity.

The Left in the European Parliament (Gue/Ngl) has also developed a tangible proposal based on the Paris Agreement, which strives to limit global warming to 1.5 °C (“Towards a Green & Social New Deal for Europe”). It calls for a change in energy policy with the expansion of renewable energies, an environmentally sound agricultural policy, a massive reduction in emissions and an industrial and economic policy wholly based on sustainability. The proposal primarily focuses on the protection of workers and employees and better working and living conditions. The Green Deal is also seen as an opportunity for fair and equitable international trade. It calls for a fundamental change in policy whereby people and sustainability take precedence over profit.

The UK’s Labour Party has probably put forward the most developed concept for a Green New Deal. The Labour Party Manifesto 2019 called for a green industrial revolution to create one million jobs in the UK. Industry, energy, transport, agriculture and even the construction sector would be transformed to align production with nature. Emissions would be significantly reduced by 2030. The economy would be reshaped to serve the interests of the many, not the few. The concept both calls for investment in an ecological transformation and raises the question of ownership. The needs of the people and the preservation of the planet, not profit, would be the top key performance indicators. Above all, the concept sees energy and water as public assets accessible to all. Public assets should be used to guarantee decent work and equal rights for everyone

For the left, the combination of ecological and social needs is crucial. There is no doubt that a green industrial revolution, as the Labour Manifesto calls it, is necessary. But equally, workers affected by these changes must be protected. “Just Transition”, as promoted by the Ituc, is a concept that combines ecological transformation with social protection and aims to ensure that a green economy can provide decent work. Workers and citizens must not only see their rights strengthened in this transformation process; they must also be directly involved. Their direct involvement is indispensable for a left-wing Green New Deal. From a leftist perspective, therefore, the connection of the Green New Deal with economic democracy is paramount. This also distinguishes it from other concepts. 

A left-wing Green New Deal must go hand in hand with the expansion of workers’ rights. This can be linked to the pillar of social rights as adopted by the European Commission. At the Social Summit in May in Porto an action plan was adopted to implement this pillar of social rights, which is, however, not very ambitious. The Etuc, supported also by the Trade Unionists Network Europe (Tune), demands a binding “Social Protocol” as a part of the European Treaties. 

A Left Green New Deal must be understood as a comprehensive transformation concept that combines ecological and social requirements and ensures the direct involvement of the workers themselves. It breaks with neoliberal European policy of the Green Deal and goes beyond the limits of capitalist development. 

Combatting the climate change is a huge challenge that the Left must face. The Green New Deal must become a focal point of cooperation with other left and progressive forces, especially movements like “Fridays For Future” and, above all, the trade unions.

Heinz Bierbaum is President of the Party of the European Left. He is a sociologist and economist.