John Barry: Last summer the influential think and do tank, the new economics foundation, published what turned out to be a prescient report. Called A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices, it analysed the interlocking crises of climate change, peak oil and the credit crisis. This report demonstrated that the urgency of making the transition towards a post-carbon economy, i.e. an energy economy not based on declining and volatile fossil fuels, could also promote secure jobs and investment, jobs that cannot be off-shored, but that managing our planned retreat from fossil fuels not only demands clear government leadership but also requires re-regulating and re-structuring the financial sector to ensure it does not undermine the ‘real’ economy. Its predictions have proved not only prescient but prophetic, in that it predicted the current credit and banking crisis and pointed out the reasons in the de-regulated, complex and high-risk strategies that the majority of banking and financial institutions were engaged with.
Then, in October, the United Nations Environment Program, together with the International Labor Organisation and the International Organisation of Employers, launched a major report: Green Jobs: Towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world.
This report pointed out the millions of secure, well-paid jobs available across the world – but especially in the developing world – in the sustainable, green economy, especially renewable energy production and installation, waste management, water management, building construction, food, agriculture, forestry, transport and and other sectors. As the report states, “It now appears that a green economy can generate more and better jobs everywhere and that these can be decent jobs”.
The election of Barack Obama was based, in part, on his promise of a Roosevelt-style ‘new deal’ for America to help its ailing economy and prevent the haemorrhaging of jobs. The stimulus package just agreed by Congress is a ‘Green New Deal’ in that the infrastructural investment focus is on energy conservation, renewable energy projects, jobs and training. Across the media, economic commentators and political parties, there is a growing acceptance that a Green New Deal is what major economies in the world need: forms of Green Keynesianism and greater public investment and management of the economy. A Green New Deal tackles the issues that global and national economies face in relation to rising unemployment, reducing our addiction to and dependence upon fossil fuels, and also dealing with the threat of climate change. However, there are differences within this emerging agreement around a ‘Green New Deal’.
Those, like most governments including the UK, who see this as part of a temporary ‘blip’ in the global economy and believe that ‘normal service will be resumed’ in a couple of years; and those like the European Green Parties who are campaigning on a common platform in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, based on viewing the current ‘triple crisis’ as an opportunity which should not be wated to re-design global and national economies in the transition to sustainable, green and less inequitable economies focused on quality of life and economic security – rather than orthodox economic growth.
Across the UK there have been meetings and conferences, as well as media and other commentary, on the outlines of a Green New Deal. In Wales, for example, there was a conference on the Green New Deal entitled ‘A Prosperous Way Down?: Exploring Green Economic Futures for Wales’, while in Northern Ireland, Friends of the Earth held a workshop on the Green Economy in late January, followed up with another in March with contributions from the Northern Ireland trades union movement and Northern Ireland employer representatives. An initial meeting around a Green New Deal for the Republic was held at the end of April.
The Green New Deal is, I strongly believe, one that the unions should get fully behind. I also believe that universities, in particular, should explore the possibilities of providing the space, time and support for workshops and think-ins etc about how to design policies and programmes for the inevitable greening of the economy. At the same time, universities have a unique role and opportunity in this time of crisis to provide expert knowledge and advice on a whole range of issues confronting politicians, policy-makers, businesses and communities. Academics (unionised or not) should be urging their universities to ‘do their bit’ in this time of crisis, and to offer their knowledge, expertise, space and support for genuine dialogue and innovative problem-solving to help our societies get out of this current economic and environmental mess.
Dr. John Barry is Policy Advisor to the Northern Ireland Region of the Green Party. He lectures in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queen’s University, Belfast, and is Assistant Director of the Institute for a Sustainable World, QUB