This is the local economies election

Preston bus station

This is a defining election for the economic destiny of people and local communities across the UK. From major cities to coastal towns, it’s now impossible to ignore that our local economies are failing to achieve social, economic, and environmental justice for the vast majority of people.

We hear much about how this is the “Brexit election”, with a major dividing line supposedly drawn between Leave and Remain. But the truth is that this is a local economies election. From Huyton to Hackney, it is now clearer than ever that we need a new social contract to achieve local economies that work for all.

In our manifesto, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) offers a suite of policies that, if implemented, would start to put a broken Britain and its local economies back together again. 

Covering wealth, power, public services and climate emergency, the manifesto is rooted in our 34 years of thinking and practical doing across the UK.  It reflects a fact that major parties are only now starting to wake up to: after years of austerity and tinkering around the edges, this country needs to transform our underlying political economy on a scale not seen since 1979, or even 1945.  

How can we start to replace Britain’s economic model with one that is more democratic, sustainable, and prosperous? First, we need an immediate response to the climate emergency. CLES endorses the transformative potential of the Green New Deal, and calls for every local and combined authority to produce mandatory variations, framed by both a new future generations and wellbeing act, and an end to GDP as the defining measure of economic success.

Secondly, it is time to scale up the community wealth building movement that is already helping to transform dozens of local areas such as Preston, Islington and North Ayrshire.  The much talked about Preston model has been stymied by significant practical and national policy barriers that could be assuaged with what we’ve called a community wealth building act. This landmark piece of legislation would set out how the government could utilise the full weight of its resources and power to build an inclusive economy based on community wealth building principles.

The act would strengthen democratic trade unions and introduce a land value tax in every locality.  In particular, we call for the introduction of a revolution in government procurement by introducing a social license to operate, a national accredited scheme for all existing and potential suppliers to the public sector. This would ensure that living wages, local jobs, zero carbon and responsible activity and supply is embedded in our public sector spending.

Beyond community wealth building, we must get serious about devolution. It’s time to end the imperfect English devolution process and the deep-rooted imbalances of power and wealth. CLES is advocating a wholescale constitutional shake up, including a new national redistribution process with new fiscal devolution for local areas.

Finally, we must end the attack on our public services after a decade of austerity and three decades of neoliberal economic policies. Over the last three decades, our local public services have fallen far. Thirty years of outsourcing and marketisation have combined with almost a decade of austerity to eviscerate our public services, with private sector management techniques and values imported into much of the UK public sector. Let’s end austerity, properly fund our local public services, and explore options for local municipal ownership of key assets

At CLES, we believe this is the most significant election in our history. With rampant poverty, growing inequality, and the climate emergency confronting us all, now is the time for radical action. Our manifesto offers policy solutions and pointers that will accelerate the green transformation and create inclusive local economies for all. We call upon the next government to take bold steps; the hour is too late, and too urgent, for anything less.

Neil McInroy is chief executive of CLES, the national organisation for local economies, developing progressive economics for people, planet and place. We work by thinking and doing, to achieve social justice and effective public services.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.