The mainstreaming of climate action within the UK’s political landscape

The debate surrounding climate change action has intensified and entered the mainstream. Over the past month David Attenborough’s Our Planet series has engaged households across the country and political space is occupied by climate action groups. In this insight we set out the main actors involved in the current climate movement, exploring their main asks and the political reality of the climate change debate.

Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion is an international network using ‘civil disobedience to protest for climate action’. Their demonstration on 15th April resulted in the occupation of five locations within London, over 100 arrests, and vandalising Shell’s London offices.

Extinction Rebellion have three demands:

1.    The government to declare a climate and ecological emergency.

2.    Immediate action to achieve net zero by 2025.

3.     A Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

The group argue strongly that climate change cannot be tackled within a circular capitalist economy. Whilst Extinction Rebellion’s unapologetically disruptive protest techniques have sparked criticism, it is undeniable that the movement has put climate change onto the political agenda.

UK Student Climate Network

United under the lead of 15-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg, the UK Student Climate Network mobilised together 50,000 students in their latest UK strike.

The group have four main asks for the UK Government:

1.    The Government to declare a climate emergency and implement a Green New Deal

2.    The national curriculum reformed to prioritise educating the ecological crisis

3.    The Government to communicate the severity of the ecological crisis

4.    To lower the voting age down to 16

Alongside the Extinction Rebellion protests, the UK school strikes have resulted in widespread media attention and political debate that brings the current system into question.

Green New Deal

The momentum for a Green New Deal in the UK was influenced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey’s mainstreaming of the deal in the US. The Democrat’s Green New Deal is originally an idea by the New Economics Foundation a decade ago and was also influenced by an IPCC report that warned carbon emissions must be halved by 2030. Last month, Labour launched their Green New Deal campaign, aiming to respond to the climate and social crises. The central principle is that climate change is a class issue and is rooted in an economic system that works for private profit before society. Labour’s Deal involves policies for renewable energy, transport decarbonisation and a net zero economy, on top of plans to tackle unemployment and poverty. In March, Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary, announced a climate and environment emergency in parliament. Rebecca Long-Bailey, energy and industrial strategy secretary, announced plans for a green industrial revolution. However, critics highlight the need for cross-party support for the Deal in order to gain political leverage.

The recent climate protests highlight that there is no time for complacency, and that politicians have a mandate to take action. The government’s intention to introduce a net zero target and to host the key climate summit in 2020 make us optimistic that the UK means to lead the global transition to a low carbon economy. The Clean Growth Plan, Industrial Strategy and the 25 Year Environment Plan show we also know how to get there. But there is still a long way to go before the UK reaches its emission reduction targets and tackling climate change will require more than plans. To deliver on the commitments made, over the next ten years we must see emissions to fall across all sectors of our economy, increased fossil fuel divestment, widespread public engagement on the issue and the UK’s continuing international leadership.

In the meantime we look forward to seeing the Committee on Climate Change’s advice on a net zero target for the UK, due to be published in the next few weeks.