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COVID And Climate Change – The Lessons

The coronavirus crisis is far from over, but it is already teaching us lessons about how to tackle that other global crisis – climate change.

The cardinal sin is ignoring the warnings and failing to act with speed and resolution. As the UK’s death toll climbs above 40,000, when you add together hospital, care home and community fatalities, the government looks guilty of that charge. 

We also know that tackling a global crisis demands action at both a global and national level. The community spirit demonstrated by the national response to the crisis must inspire us to translate that into an international drive to persuade governments and people around the world to implement carbon reduction strategies. 

Although we are sadly in opposition, Labour as the largest political party in Western Europe has a key role to play. 

In the short run, the government clearly has to suspend the Brexit process (or implement a temporary UK ‘bespoke’ Norway-style agreement, whichever is politically easiest) so it can focus on COVID-19.

Our European neighbours are also keeping us fed, as we saw on the news last week when the government created an exemption for a flight with 150 Romanian farmworkers, following a failed recruitment campaign to get Britons to help on farms. Priti Patel’s view that these jobs could be done by Brits was shown to be unfounded. 

Would these workers have the points under Priti Patel’s immigration policy? Of course not. Without these Romanian heroes, much-needed home grown fruit and vegetables would simply be left to rot. The UK has relied on the EU to bring family and friends home, and access vital medical supplies. 

So many of our much-needed essential workers – the doctors and nurses that Boris owed his life to ‘no question’- are from continental Europe.

All opinion polls, except one, showed that by the time we left the EU at the end of January, the majority of Brits wanted to Remain in the EU. Many people simply felt so ‘bored of Brexit’ in December that they voted to ‘get Brexit done’. Most soft Brexiteers have surely worked out that any no-deal/hard Brexit requires massive Civil Service resources - resources that will be required to rebuild the UK after corona has ravaged all aspects of our economy. Do people really want more ‘how to implement Brexit’ debate when so many are jobless and the society we once knew is collapsing all around us?

Listening to experts and acting internationally can save lives and there could well be the same public support for drastic action on climate change. Even the current British government, which has done too little too late, now wants to be seen to be following expert advice on COVID-19, and the public respect for medical expertise has surely not gone unnoticed. 

Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, and chair of the commission of the social determinants of health at the World Health Organisation, recently pointed out “the COVID-19 crisis has revealed what governments are capable of doing and shone a new light on the motivation for past policies and their outcomes.

“With COVID-19, everything went out of the window. It turns out austerity was a choice,” he said. “The government can spend anything [in the context of the coronavirus crisis], and they have socialised the economy.”

“The urgency with which the government had acted showed that the response to an emergency could be swift and decisive, he said. But the climate crisis has been viewed as a “slow-burn” issue and had not elicited such a response. “Coronavirus exposes that we can do things differently,” Marmot added. “We must not go back to the status quo ante.”

These are the international socialist themes that can and should fire up our party.

By David Poyser - Labour Movement for Europe Treasurer

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