Climate crisis: Miliband calls for ‘biggest mobilisation ever’ to make 2021 a year of hope

Ed Miliband has called on the people of Britain to deliver “the biggest climate mobilisation we have ever seen” to make 2021 “a year of hope” for the future of the world. The UK is at the centre of the battle against the climate crisis in 2021, as host of the crucial Cop26 United Nations conference in Glasgow. Leaders from around the globe will be asked to step up to the challenge of keeping warming below 2C to prevent the most devastating effects on human life.

Speaking to The Independent, the Labour frontbencher said now was the time for ordinary Britons to send a loud message to Boris Johnson and the summit’s president, Alok Sharma, about the need for a sufficiently ambitious agreement. “Cop26 is a real moment of truth for the world on climate change,” said Mr Miliband. “And I think it can also be a moment of hope. Obviously, we have a special responsibility as hosts to make sure it is a success.

“This is a massive deal. The futures of our kids and our grandkids depend on this summit going well.” And he said that a new climate accord was too important to be left to politicians alone.

“This is not just about Boris Johnson or Alok Sharma and what they can do,” he told The Independent. “It’s also about your readers.

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“This has got to be the biggest climate mobilisation we’ve ever seen. There’s nothing that’s going to happen on climate in the next five years that is as important as this. This is so important.

Independent readers really care about this issue. They need to be part of the mobilisation, through the NGOs, through their local churches, through their local community groups, through the Women’s Institute – there’s a big coalition of groups. Our leaders have got to know that we want them to deliver on this.”?

Subject to whatever constraints are imposed by restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Miliband said Britain needs to deliver a campaign of demonstrations, rallies, letter-writing and lobbying in the 10 months before the November summit to ensure the prime minister gets the message loud and clear that the country expects him to deliver. 

In recent years, schoolchildren, inspired by Greta Thunberg, have carried out protests across the globe, skipping class to campaign for a better future. In the UK, Extinction Rebellion has also become a prominent force in the fight against the climate crisis, with controversial shutdowns of areas including Parliament Square that have led to mass arrests. People from around the world who fear for the future of the planet now have an opportunity to come together to demand action in a similar way to the Make Poverty History campaign to cancel developing-world debt in 2005, Mr Miliband said.

“This has got to be a global movement that tells our leaders to step up,” he said. “The world expects them to step up. “People are really seized of this issue and they wonder, ‘What difference can I make?’ We want Boris Johnson, Alok Sharma, Joe Biden, leaders from around the world, to know that this is on them. There are big expectations for the world in November, and the climate movement of the world is not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Mr Miliband, who is leading the Labour charge on Cop26, said he welcomed Mr Johnson’s recent pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68 per cent by 2030, phase out petrol and diesel cars and mobilise GBP12bn of investment on green projects. But he said he would have gone further, with a 2030 emissions target “in the seventies” and GBP30bn of green investment in the next 18 months. And he said that the prime minister – with the Covid crisis and Brexit to distract him – may lack the focus needed to argue and cajole other world leaders into following up on the pledges they made at the Paris summit in 2015, which are intended to be confirmed and enhanced at Glasgow.

“The Paris accord of 2015 set the goal to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels,” said Mr Miliband. “Pledges made by individual countries so far would deliver about 2.8 to 3 degrees. So there’s a massive gap between what is needed and what countries are promising to do.” A key to success will be Mr Johnson’s ability to get world leaders to attend Glasgow in large numbers, to create the kind of momentum for agreement seen in Paris, he said.

Hopes of a successful summit have been hugely improved by the election of Joe Biden as US president to succeed Donald Trump, who would have boycotted the gathering, said Mr Miliband. But he added: “This requires such an effort from government. We should be demanding that not just Alok Sharma, but the prime minister, the foreign secretary, the chancellor of the Exchequer, every government minister, every government department, has got to be really focused on this, straining every sinew to make sure this is a success.

It’s got to have real diplomatic and political muscle behind it. “Crucially, the government has got to be for maximum ambition. It’s their job to really push countries to go as far as they can with targets not just for 2050, but for 2030.

The UN has said we’ve got 10 years to turn this round, so it’s absolutely crucial, they’ve got to go the extra mile. Boris Johnson has to be ready to tell other leaders, ‘That’s not good enough, you’ve got to go further.'” But he said that the PM may be temperamentally unsuited to nailing down a deal at Glasgow, despite the government’s climate promises.

“I don’t want to be rude about Boris Johnson, but this is going to require attention to detail and focus, not just grand rhetoric,” said the shadow business secretary. “He’s going to have to do the hard diplomatic yards. “It’s not just about sailing in and making comments about Britain being ‘the Saudi Arabia of wind’ and then forgetting about it.

Greta Thunberg (centre) takes part in a climate protest (AFP/Getty)

“I want them to succeed.

But you can’t do it last minute, leave it all till the end and hope something turns up. This requires diligence, determination, doggedness, knowing the detail – all things which will be novel experiences for the prime minister.” As well as hosting the climate summit, the UK is chairing the G7 group of leading industrial powers in 2021, and Mr Miliband said that he would like to see Mr Johnson devote the group’s agenda to a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

He brushed aside suggestions that green investment would be a luxury as the world struggles to get back on its feet after Covid-19, insisting that the changes needed can be achieved without significant additions to the tax burden and will provide a massive boost to the economy in the long run. “The climate agenda is about creating better lives for people,” he said. “It’s not just about avoiding disaster. “Martin Luther King didn’t say ‘I have a nightmare’, he said ‘I have a dream’.

There’s a positive world that we can build, whether that is jobs or better air quality or access to green spaces or lower household bills. There’s so much to do.” Mr Johnson needs to produce a detailed long-term plan to unleash UK business, which is “champing at the bit” to lead the drive to a cleaner future with technology like low-emission jet engines, hydrogen power and electric cars, he said.

“The old view that you could either do well for your economy or well for your environment is no longer true,” said Mr Miliband. “The opposite is true in the sense that if we drive forward with our climate targets, we can get first-mover advantage in things like the hydrogen economy of the future, manufacturing the electric cars, all the new technologies that are potentially there. These are the jobs of the future. “There’s massive amounts we could be doing in manufacturing for the green recovery, massive amounts in the household setting.

One of the biggest challenges we face is converting the way we heat and insulate our homes. The government is announcing money but there’s no long-term plan.” Calling for consideration of ideas such as zero-interest loans for electric cars and sustained support for the production of wind turbines in the UK, Mr Miliband said:  “What I say to the government is, ‘Your lofty rhetoric needs to be matched by the reality.’

“Let’s get that recovery going.

Let’s not just allow people to end up out of work when there is so much work that needs doing in this area.”

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