Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Not ‘bunnyhugger’ but a serious agenda

This weekend saw the launch of Haringey 40:20 by our council – a membership organisation bringing together businesses, community groups, and all those living and working in Haringey to support and drive action to deliver on our promise to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.

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Haringey was the first UK authority to sign this pledge and the launch of Haringey 40:20 marks the start of a new chapter in both our environmental and, more importantly, our economic story.

Climate change is sparking media interest once again. The announcement by the International Energy Agency that in 2010 carbon emissions had grown by 5 per cent since 2008 to reach record levels, despite predicted respite from the economic downturn, is alarming. Hopes for limiting global rises in temperature to 2°C are fading, which is why the move by UN climate chief Christiana Figueres to get governments to lower the agreed level of temperature rise to 1.5°C is commendable.

While more pessimistic/realistic climatologists suggest we are heading for a catastrophic 4°C rise, a warmer future of 2°C makes for grim enough reading. In the UK alone we will see an increase in mortality rates, a sharp rise in poverty as food and fuel prices soar, and the emergence of new diseases.

That’s why the days of dismissing climate change as the niche obsession of a few ‘bunnyhuggers’ are over. I am a latecomer to the green agenda, but I recognise it is a pivotal social, political and ultimately economic challenge of our time.

To suggest otherwise is to engage in ‘deficit denial’ and to ignore the real unsustainable level of debt on which our economy is built. While carbon might not be visible, consuming these ‘fuels from hell’ at current rates is borrowing consumption from a future we can’t afford.

Stern makes the choice clear: pay now or pay later. Not just in lives and land, but in cash. Unchecked, climate change will cost the global economy £1.85 trillion at today’s prices – £272 for every person on the planet – equivalent to approximately five per cent of the global economy. This compares to the banking crisis where the the global economy shrank by one per cent. Such analysis make claims that the fiscal deficit makes tackling climate change unaffordable simply risible.

As with any crisis, whether you look at it globally, nationally or locally, the shocks are rarely distributed evenly. Those with greatest wealth will be more able to adapt as they buy their way out of a mess which they are disproportionately responsible for creating.

If this sounds extreme, look at New Orleans post-Katrina. In 2011 unemployment is only held in check because much of the middle classes have left, leaving a population at 80 per cent of 2005 levels – with half of those who live in the poorest districts unable to find work.

True, Haringey – population 225,300 – is not even a foothill in this Himalayan task for humanity, but it is the impact of climate change on inequality that makes us an ideal laboratory for solving this global challenge.

The Joseph Rowntree trust identified Haringey as the most unequal borough in the country. This inequality manifests itself in a stark divide between Highgate in the West and Northumberland Park – Europe’s eighth poorest ward – in the east.

That’s why our 2010 manifesto, One Borough, One Future put inequality at the forefront of our policy agenda. Inequality hurts us all and there are few areas as the environment to which this applies more

The disproportionate impact of the coalition’s austerity measures on the poorest has been felt in councils such as Haringey, where cuts of £84m represent a savaging 16 times larger than those of Richmond-upon-Thames. It is essential that as Labour councils we reassert our activism, and correct the dual market failures of inequality and climate change.

Our role in Haringey is not just to address the different capacity of our populations to cope with the impacts of climate change, but to address the inequality that creates this scenario in the first place. We will do so through regeneration and economic growth.

The issue is that we know lifting people out of poverty and reducing inequality will bring a massive increase in carbon consumption. While we know what to do to achieve our 40:20 ambitions in terms of energy measures and transport, we don’t yet know how to drive economic growth without growing carbon emissions, because nobody does. And we certainly don’t know how we will get to 2050 on 80 per cent less emissions.

But we have to start somewhere. By 2020, we will have seen the installation of 20,000 micro-technologies and the retrofitting of one in four homes. Hot water will be pumped from more efficient electricity-generating community boilers into 30,000 homes, the first of which are being installed at Hale Village and Broadwater Farm Estate. We know it will take at least £400m investment, but set against fuel prices will pay for itself. With the sums involved, the opportunity to create jobs and deliver on our aspirations for the local economy is not wasted on us.

But we need to go further and deal with indirect emissions from consumption, because while emissions from production can be offshored, the impacts on our climate cannot. This is why we created Haringey 40:20, alongside our Carbon Commission of experts, to identify how we can generate economic growth fuelled on something other than carbon. This is one of those almost impossible challenges, but as Hillary Clinton famously said, the art of politics is making what appears impossible seem possible.

Haringey 40:20 recognises the council cannot deliver the borough aspirations alone. As progressives this confirms the limited nature of statism and models of governance that rely on both steering and rowing.

Instead we are setting the vision and ambition for our borough, for the future lives of the people who live and work here, and putting in place the mechanisms to create that future with those people.

Some might say we are hopelessly ambitious, but if we as Labour cannot be hopeful then the future for our country, and our party is bleak indeed. Councils have long prided themselves on being centres of innovation and progress. Now is the time to prove it.

Joe Goldberg serves in the Haringey cabinet as lead member for finance and sustainability

Haringey 40:20 can be found at


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Joe Goldberg

is a Labour councillor for Seven Sisters ward in Haringey

1 comment

  • This is the kind of initiative and ideas that we have to do around the whole of London. There’s scope for decentralised energy and more energy efficiency throughout London

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