The two Green New Deal motions for Labour conference

By Alexis Clements

The Labour for a Green New Deal campaign is promoting a model motion for Labour Party conference in September. The Clarion is promoting an alternative version using some of the same text but with policy demands modelled closely on those passed by the Fire Brigades Union conference in May. What are the differences? Why did we feel the need to produce an alternative motion?


Firstly, in full justice to LGND, we should say that their model motion includes two broadly internationalist demands which are important but not included in our version. These are, firstly, “supporting developing countries’ climate transitions by increasing transfers of finance, technology and capacity”, and secondly, “welcoming climate refugees while taking measures against the displacement of peoples from their homes.”

This is basically a result of the extremely tight word limit on Labour conference motions (250 words). We were keen to fit in as much of the FBU’s program as possible, and were aware that the LGND version, which came out before ours and has much wider reach, would certainly be submitted multiple times, so this text would definitely be available in the compositing process. We are trying in some CLPs to rejig our motion in order to integrate some of this wording.

Zero or net zero?

Our motion, taken from the FBU wording, says “A target of net-zero UK carbon emissions by 2030”. The LGND one says “Commitment to zero carbon emissions by 2030.” This has been the subject of some argument.

Some LGND comrades have argued that we should avoid the word “net” because it can provide cover for various kinds of schemes, for instance carbon trading, that at least give the appearance of bringing down emissions for a single country, but are ecologically ineffective and/or socially unjust. For a rich, imperialist country like Britain, there may be a dynamic of exporting further ecological destruction and social misery to poorer countries.

We have no disagreement with this criticism in general, but it’s not clear that getting rid of the word “net” is the way to address it. In any case, “zero carbon emissions” is not a good or clear way of explaining what is needed, since it is quite literally impossible. And in fact, in debate, the LGND spokespeople criticising our formulation admit that they do intend their formulation to include various forms of offsetting to balance out emissions that would still occur. So…

There may be an actual political disagreement here, but it is far from clear. In a number of places people submitting our motion have decided to remove the word “net”; in at least one case we know of, a supporter of the LGND motion has put the word “net” into it!

There is a different criticism a comrade of ours has made, which is that “net zero” is insufficiently ambitious and we should be arguing for “net negative”.

Now we come to the points on which we think our motion is unambiguously superior and which are the reason we are working hard to make sure it is sent to conference by as many CLPs as possible.

Ambitiousness and concreteness of demands

Compare the two motions and you will see that the program of demands set out in the FBU conference motion and our Labour conference motion based on it are much more extensive, ambitious and detailed on a whole range of issues. In other words, they talk about what a radical Green New Deal would actually look like and involve.

Public ownership of energy

Our motion calls for “public ownership of energy including expropriating the Big Six, creating an integrated, democratic system” – as opposed to existing Labour policy of setting up public companies to compete in the market with the existing firms. We don’t think we particularly need to explain why the former demand is crucial for a Green New Deal to have teeth.

Public ownership of banking and finance

This may be less immediately obvious, but again it is necessary for a GND to have weight and cutting edge. On a negative level, to break the power of institutions which are contributing powerfully to ecological destruction; on a positive level, to provide the economic resources and leverage necessary to seriously reorganise and decarbonise the economy. For more on this, see the notes here.

LGND has said it is promoting motions calling for “democratic control of finance”, but – in addition to the fact its not clear what this phrase means, public ownership or not? – we can’t find a demand about this in their materials.

Repeal of the anti-union laws

School student climate activists are calling for workers to strike alongside them on 20 September, but the anti-union laws make this flatly illegal in theory and difficult in practice (which is not to say that all kind of action, probably mostly more limited, will not be possible). That’s why, in line with the FBU policy, our motion calls for “repeal of all anti-union laws, so workers can take action over social and political issues including climate change.” To talk about workers driving climate activism or a Green New Deal without making this demand would seem rather empty.

To a greater extent than public ownership of the banks, which unfortunately clearly does require some serious debate in the movement (though it was called for by TUC Congress in 2012), repealing all the anti-union laws – which has been demanded by Labour Party conference – should surely be an immediate consensus position. We will be very interested to see if LGND adopt this demand.

Airport expansion

Our motion calls for an end to it. The LGND one doesn’t. Obviously no small matter.

Hopefully the LGND version, our version and others will be submitted to conference, so we have lots of demands and formulations to work with when the motions are composited. Since the LGND motion has already been submitted numerous times, we strongly encourage comrades to submit a version of our motion from their CLP.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply?

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