The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report in April has predicted climate catastrophe if the world does not dramatically cut its carbon emissions by 2025, against a predicted increase by 2030. Despite these dire predictions, the UK Labour Party has not yet mentioned the IPCC report either on its website or on social networks.
The conversely, party’s main Twitter account condemned the actions of Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion – who are asking the government for new fossil fuel licences to be halted immediately in light of the crisis – by calling on the government to “impose injunctions to put a stop to this disruption”. Many saw this as an attack on civil disobedience groups.
While the party may be angling itself as the new party of ‘law and order’, coming out against a protest movement that is driven by fear of climate collapse and an unliveable planet may push young people look elsewhere. In the first quarter 2022, YouGov reported that XR was most likely to be popular with millennials18% expressed a positive view about the charity. This could be higher among Generation Z, which was not identified as a separate group in the survey, but is the generation most likely the suffer the devastating effects of the climate crisis. It is still unknown if the British people feel more worried about climate change after the IPCC report was published.
XR is not popular even among millennials. However, many voters across all political spectrums want to see climate action. Another YouGov report from March this year (also prior to the IPCC report publication) said 49 per cent feel that the government is not doing or spending enough to combat carbon emissions – compared to just 19 per cent who thought they are doing or spending too much, and 14 per cent who thought that the balance was about right. Even 33% of Conservative voters feel the UK government is not doing enough. This is a promising territory for Labour Party. It must be seen as prioritising climate-friendly policies along with its economic and social policies to avoid alienating potential supporters.
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The reality is that Labour supports a variety of policies that are favorable to climate action. The party has been vocal in the media on home insulation, which – despite the unpopularity of the Insulate Britain protests in 2021 – has become a key battleground. There are increasing concerns that many people in the UK will have to choose between freezing and starving as energy prices continue to rise. A recent study by Stack Data Strategy revealed that one in ten parents are likely to need a food bank within three months. As inflation rises, these pressures will only get worse. The lack of any provision for home insulation in the most recent government’s energy strategy risks seeing the climate crisis and the impending social crisis unite. Labour has highlighted the need for insulation in its response to the government’s energy strategy,declaring that they would ensure that “19 million homes are warm and well-insulated, saving households an average of £400 a year on bills”. This should be a popular policy for both those who want to see their bills go down and those who care about the environment.
However, the party’s position on XR may well damage its green credentials and may result in a loss of support from its young base. This policy was announced on Twitter with much less attention than its condemnation for protestors. At the time of writing, 58 people had quoted the tweet, while 1,892 had tweeted about injunctions. Similarly, these green policies are poorly highlighted on the party’s website, which, coupled with the complete silence on the IPCC report, may lead voters to consider Labour’s climate policies non-existent.
By contrast, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats – both of whom have highly visible climate-friendly policies on their website and on their social media channels – have not condemned the protesters, so they may offer an alternative political home to those who want to see climate action prioritised. They are also a risk for the Labour Party, as they have made gains in the past from both the Labour Party and The Conservative Party in the 2021 local elections. The Labour leader of Sheffield’s council, who was elected by a Green candidate, was ousted and the council has lost its overall control. Labour must ensure those who want climate action don’t turn towards those who say more.
Labour’s condemnation against the protestors may distract from its truly climate-friendly policies. Instead, it should ensure that its policies are adapted to the key demographics and acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis. The Labour Party are currently performing well in the polls for the upcoming local elections, but inadequate communication on climate may risk losing support to those smaller parties who embed climate action in their brand – and whose position on climate issues are easy to find.