A Labour government would put the fight against climate change at the heart of its international relations, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has told The Independent, ahead of a speech committing the party to “a foreign policy with a green dimension”.
The pledge is a deliberate echo of Blair-era predecessor Robin Cook’s “foreign policy with an ethical dimension”, which marked a profound shift in UK priorities to include rights and values in assessments of the national interest.
Mr Lammy’s pledge will come in a speech to Labour’s annual conference, where Sir Keir Starmer’s party aims to set down clear dividing lines with Liz Truss’s Conservatives ahead of a general election expected in little more than 18 months.
And it follows Sir Keir’s unveiling of a plan to counter the Tory government’s tax-cutting agenda by slashing greenhouse gas emissions through doubling onshore wind energy, tripling solar power and more than quadrupling offshore wind production to create a net zero carbon, self-sufficient electricity network.
Mr Lammy’s pledge is a dividing line that he believes will resonate with voters across the political spectrum, concerned by Ms Truss’s “backsliding” on the environment, following Tory cuts to aid for climate mitigation in the developing world and the revival of fracking and oil licensing in the UK.
The appointment of climate sceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg as business secretary with responsibility for energy policy sent “shudders down the spines” of many, with even Tory MPs seen frowning in concern on the backbenches as he declared the end of the fracking ban, said Mr Lammy.
“They know that we will pursue them very hard on fracking,” he said. “There are seats in Yorkshire, in the red wall, in the Midlands, there are seats in the southwest where they know we will be going after them, and Conservative MPs are going to be turfed out of office if they go through with this.”
He said the Tory administration appeared to be rowing against the tide of increasing public awareness that action on climate change – and the restoration of the 0.7 per cent target for international aid as a proportion of GDP, which Labour has also committed to – should not be seen as a financial drain on the UK, but as an essential part of preserving living standards at home.
The Ukraine war has driven home Britain’s vulnerability to the whims of “fossil fuel autocrats” in countries such as Russia, massively bolstering the case for investment in home-grown, clean renewables, he said.
And he said that concern about global warming was now firmly in the mainstream, as seen in the unprecedented interest at last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
“Ordinary British families, pensioners, fifty-somethings, digging in their gardens, planting vegetables can see the effects of climate in their communities,” he said. “People recognise the connectivity between us having a hot summer and devastating floods in a country like Pakistan that are almost biblical in nature.”
In his speech to the conference in Liverpool on Tuesday, Mr Lammy will promise to make the climate crisis a standing item on the agenda of the prime minister’s National Security Council, to ensure that it is considered in any assessment of threats facing the UK.
He will pledge to throw Britain’s weight behind the drive for a new international law of “ecocide”, which could see states or companies prosecuted at the International Criminal Court for “large-scale, wanton and unlawful” destruction of the environment.
And he will vow to use the UK’s position as a permanent member of the Security Council to lead a push for climate action to be added as a fourth “pillar” to the United Nations’ three fundamental goals of peace, human rights and development.
“The climate crisis is the biggest challenge the world faces,” Mr Lammy will tell delegates.
“It is not a distant threat. It is here today, devastating the lives of millions of people. From the horrific wildfires in Australia and California to the suffocating sandstorms of Baghdad and the horrendous floods in Pakistan.
“While Liz Truss tries to row back on our net-zero commitments, Labour’s foreign policy will be green.
“Just as Robin Cook was right to introduce an ‘ethical dimension’ to our foreign policy in the 1990s, it is right that the next Labour government introduces a ‘green dimension’.”
Mr Lammy said that his visit to the UN general assembly last week drove home the extent to which international attention was focused on two subjects: the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis.
Conversations with leaders from the global South reflected deep concern about the impact of cuts in UK aid on poorer countries’ ability to fund programmes to reduce carbon emissions and to deal with extreme weather events.
“For them, the climate emergency remains the number one thing and they are really, really concerned about the UK cuts to aid and support for their climate plans,” he said.
This was reflected not only in the reduction in overall aid to 0.5 per cent of GDP, but in decisions to rebalance assistance away from international programmes and towards more transactional deals with individual countries, as well as taking the £3bn cost of resettling Ukrainian refugees from the aid budget.
“All of this has a significant effect on most of the global South because we have been global leaders in development for a generation,” he said.
“It’s hugely important at this time to double down on global commitments on the climate emergency, not retreat and suggest that there are now other global priorities.”
Mr Lammy reiterated Labour’s backing for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s resistance to the Russian invasion and said UK support would continue unabated in the case of a change of government in Westminster.
He roundly dismissed suggestions of talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to seek a peace deal.
“What we’ve seen is an effective counter-offensive that has seen Putin losing ground in Ukraine and having to mobilise the Russian public,” said Mr Lammy. “People are taking to the streets in Moscow and St Petersburg as a result of these actions.
“This is not the moment to capitulate.”
It was for president Zelensky, and not Western leaders, to set out the acceptable terms for any peace deal, he said. But he added: “Peace is best garnered by Russia pulling out its troops, putting down its weapons and stepping back from this occupation of huge swathes of the country.”
Ahead of a likely conference row with Labour’s strong anti-Brexit contingent, Mr Lammy made clear the party leadership had no intention of reopening the row about UK membership of the EU.
A Labour government would scrap Ms Truss’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill “on day one” and would not hesitate – as the PM did – to describe France as a “friend”, he said.
Labour would be ready to negotiate positively with the EU on vexed areas such as veterinary agreements, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, equivalency of financial regulation and scientific cooperation.
But on the question of rejoining the single market, the customs union or even the EU itself, he was blunt.
“The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again,” he said. “I was very prominent in campaigns against exiting the European Union. I lost. You do have to accept when you lose.
“I don’t think the British public would thank us for relitigating that very, very bitter period in our recent history. So we are outside of the European Union, we must make the most of the opportunities that gives us – and it does present opportunities – and, obviously, mitigate the bad deal that was struck by Boris Johnson.”
Labour’s conference will see the party, for the first time in years, joining in a rendition of the national anthem, in what many observers have seen as an attempt to shake off allegations of a lack of patriotism dating back to the Jeremy Corbyn years.
Mr Lammy told The Independent he would be singing along with gusto and laughed off suggestions that Labour needed to prove its patriotism.
“Of course, we’re a patriotic party,” he said. “I’m a former cathedral chorister; I’ve been singing the national anthem all my life.
“I think the Queen’s passing reminds us all of what unites us and I think that Keir feels that very keenly. I support him in that.
“We are the party that set up Nato after the Second World War. We are the party that gave the United Kingdom the National Health Service.
“I think it’s great to sing the national anthem at our party conference, and I’ll be singing wholeheartedly.”