The Labour leader’s previous reluctance publicly to reaffirm the pledge inherited from Jeremy Corbyn had sparked fears among climate activists that he was backing away from radical action on global warming, with 20 leftist MPs writing last year to urge him to readopt the Green New Deal approved by the party in 2019.
But in an exclusive interview with The Independent, Starmer said the party’s commitment to the promise – effectively putting the UK on the path to net zero 20 years ahead of Boris Johnson’s 2050 target – was as strong now as ever.
Asked if he stood by the pledge to complete the substantial majority of carbon reductions by 2030, he replied firmly: “Absolutely. Exactly the same as was in our 2019 manifesto.
“So the ambition – and not just the ambition, the determination and the commitment – of the Labour Party on the Green New Deal is just as strong now.”
Starmer’s announcement, which came on the eve of a two-day visit to Glasgow to highlight Labour’s climate plans ahead of November’s crucial COP26 global warming summit in the city, was welcomed by Green New Deal campaigners within the party.
But they cautioned that the promise must be backed by commitments to concrete action of the kind detailed in Corbyn’s manifesto, which pledged to ensure that the cost of transition to a green economy was born mostly by polluters and the wealthy, including by a windfall tax on oil companies, energy renationalisation, a ban on fracking and stock exchange delisting for climate-unfriendly businesses.
Sir Keir made clear that the detailed policy backing up the pledge was subject to Labour’s ongoing review, which will not report until nearer the next election.
His comments came as Labour warned that the government’s decision to scrap the Green Homes Grant has cost 90,000 jobs.
The grant was a central plank of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s 2020 plan for jobs, which promised a green recovery to improve 600,000 homes and support 100,000 green jobs.
But by the time it was closed in March 2021, just 63,000 households had benefited and new Labour analysis has found that only 10,000 jobs were delivered.
Shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell described the scheme as “a shambles from the start”.
“Once again the government are over-promising and under-delivering, with their failures damaging our Covid recovery and costing vital jobs,” she said.
“We urgently need to de-carbonise our homes, to create green jobs, reduce emissions and save people money on their bills and heating. Rather than scrapping the scheme and clawing back this vital funding, the government should invest in making homes warm, dry, cheaper to run and fit for the future.”
Labour’s 2030 emissions target was the subject of bitter wrangling after the 2019 party conference backed a motion to “work towards a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2030” in the face of resistance from unions who warned that an inflexible target of zero could lead to mass job losses.
No precise figure has been put on what a “substantial majority” of cuts would mean, though it is generally accepted it would be considerably more than the 68 per cent reductions on 1990 levels promised by Mr Johnson. Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said in December that the 68 per cent figure was the “minimum we should aim for”.
A spokesperson for the Labour for a Green New Deal (LGND) campaign told The Independent it should mean “as close to net zero as possible”.
“A motion backing net zero by 2030 was passed at Labour Party conference, giving the leadership a clear mandate to achieve this,” said the spokesperson. “The party should respect the spirit of this commitment, and work to deliver it as closely as possible.”
The LGND spokesperson said: “We welcome Keir Starmer recommitting to cut carbon emissions by 2030, but it’s urgent that he shows how he will achieve this. Meeting this goal will require bold, decisive action, and Labour’s 2019 manifesto offered a clear plan for how to do this.
“Only a Labour government can tackle the climate crisis while building a fairer, more equal society. But this will only be possible if the leadership commits to a transformative Green New Deal, built around public ownership and state investment on a huge scale.
“If the public are to have faith that Keir Starmer’s Labour Party can deliver decisive and drastic change for the sake of our climate, he must demonstrate this by committing to these policies now, not in 2024.”
One of the signatories to last year’s letter, Corbyn-era shadow cabinet member Clive Lewis, told The Independent: “Keir’s comment is welcome, but he needs to be going further and faster. The 2019 commitments are two years out of date now. Times have moved on and we can see for ourselves what is happening, with the wildfires and floods.
“Committing to the ‘substantial majority’ of emissions cuts by 2030 is the least we can expect. Joe Biden has been talking about making the corporations pay, and we really need to be out ahead of the Democrats on that sort of issue if Keir wants to have something to say at COP26 that will really show Boris Johnson up for the tin-pot climate leader he is.”
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