Fridays For Future Exeter, the youth climate strikers who led 3500 people on a march through the city as part of today’s global climate strike, have launched a detailed vision for a Green New Deal for Devon.
In the fourteen page document they call on elected representatives across the county to recognise the climate crisis as a symptom of a dysfunctional political economy and to place it at the centre of every policy, planning and spending decision they make.
It focusses on the interdependence of climate and social justice, addressing a wide range of issues from unaffordable bus travel and rural unemployment to the flaws in carbon trading and credit schemes which mean they simply don’t work.
Transport, the UK’s biggest greenhouse gas-emitting sector and a key issue in a county which heavily depends on private vehicle use, comes in for particular scrutiny. The Office for National Statistics reported this week that greenhouse gas emissions from road transport have increased by 6% since 1990, making up one fifth of the UK’s total emissions in 2017. Despite this, 93% of the county’s highways capital spending budget is allocated to road building and the promotion of incremental behavioural change, such as “encouraging active travel”, remains at the centre of county transport policy.
The impact of aviation at Exeter airport is also a major concern. A recent study showed that carbon dioxide emissions from commercial flights are rising up to 70% faster than predicted while zero emissions passenger aircraft are, at best, decades away. The growth of Exeter airport is nevertheless regularly promoted by key local organisations.
Agriculture, which emits more greenhouse gases than transport in Devon, is the subject of farming and land use proposals informed by carbon opportunity cost analysis which promote the restoration of habitats, rewilding and the provision of equitable access to natural resources such as clean air and water and green spaces. The county’s food production and supply chains are also addressed.
The document also deals with energy, housing, health and social care, the impact of the retail sector and the “business as usual” approach that currently drives much local and regional social and economic policy.
The Fridays For Future Exeter Green New Deal for Devon is primarily addressed to Devon County Council as the principal regional authority, and the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group (DCERG) that it convened in response to the sequence of youth climate strikes that took place in the spring.
However, despite the county council declaring a climate emergency in February, the Net-Zero Task Force appointed by the DCERG to develop a Devon Carbon Plan has yet to hold its first meeting seven months later.
At the same time, according to the county council website, only ten of the group’s 27 members have so far signed the Devon Climate Declaration it published in May, four months ago.
This has not, however, deterred it from creating two more QUANGOs, a Devon Climate Emergency Tactical Group, and a Climate Impacts Group. Nor has it deterred Devon County Council from publishing no fewer than sixteen press releases promoting its sustainability credentials during the same period.
Neither DCERG nor its three sub-groups publish their agendas or meet in public, nor are any of their members elected. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the group has embraced the oxymoronic “clean growth agenda” and a reliance on private sector investment
The DCERG aims to publish the Devon Carbon Plan by the end of 2020, two years after it first considered the climate emergency motion brought by Green Party councillor Jacqui Hodgson. The original motion proposed a 2030 decarbonisation deadline; Devon County Council leader John Hart removed this without replacing it.
The citizens’ assembly, depicted at the bottom of the DCERG stakeholder map above, is only scheduled to meet during two of the eighteen months timetabled for the delivery of the Devon Carbon Plan. The DCERG intends it only to discuss options drawn up by the Net-Zero Task Force, and has yet to announce how its members will be selected.
The Fridays for Future Exeter Green New Deal for Devon document lays out a diametrically different vision of participation in local democracy. It says a citizens’ assembly should not only be demographically representative, but also specifically include marginalised social groups.
It also says a citizens’ assembly must be an ongoing, regular, integrated part of council decision-making and not a one-off occurrence and that its members must be involved in formulating policy and not just ratifying proposals that are likely to represent regressive agendas.
In addition, it proposes a people-led Green New Deal Commission to act as a DCERG watchdog to ensure the unelected membership of the DCERG and its sub-groups delivers the ecological and social goals at the heart of the Green New Deal vision.
The idea of a Green New Deal was originally developed by a group including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas that began meeting in 2007 in response to contemporary financial, energy and environmental crises.
It was inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which saved the US from the worst impacts of the Great Depression in the 1930’s and produced a new political realignment that sustained greater social and economic equality and environmental protection until the rise of monetarism in the 1970’s.
In partnership with Labour MP Clive Lewis, Caroline Lucas has today presented a Green New Deal bill to Parliament which aims to move our economy away from its harmful dependence on carbon, at the scale and speed demanded by the science, and to build a society that lives within its ecological limits while reversing social and economic inequality.
She said: “The climate emergency requires a new economic approach. One that is no longer centred on growth or unsustainable consumption but on a circular and green economy.”
“The South West was once the beating heart of the industrial revolution. It can now become the centre of a green industrial revolution. The region has huge potential to be a beacon for the rest of the country – and the rest of Europe.”
“Crucially, a Green New Deal also offers the prospect of thousands of new jobs and seeks to tackle inequality and improve health and well-being.”
Representatives of Fridays for Future Exeter will also be on the panel.