This week, Ed Miliband launched Labour’s new green economic recovery report – a plan to create 400,000 new jobs, helping us to confront the challenges of the climate crisis and the spike of unemployment caused by the pandemic. One of these proposals called for the creation of a new National Nature Service.
The NNS is inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This public works relief programme put the green in the original New Deal, providing employment on environmental projects for young men – as well as shelter, clothing, food and a wage for them and their families — throughout the Great Depression. Between 1933 to 1942, CCC workers planted over three billion trees and paved the foundation for the USA’s national and state park systems.
At a time when unemployment is projected to reach between 10% and 14%, and when we face a twin climate and nature emergency, this is exactly the kind of thinking we need to kickstart our own green recovery. As Labour for a Green New Deal has rightly said, the “sheer scale of the climate crisis leaves no shortage of available work in the task of greening the economy”. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds argue that an NNS would provide a wide range of entry level-jobs across the country, particularly benefitting young and BAME people, delivering on-the-job training and providing them with vital skills and experience.
These new jobs must provide secure, unionised employment. Rather than putting public money into private hands, that means ensuring the NNS really is a national service. This is an opportunity to create public sector jobs with secure contracts and working conditions, and the real living wage – the bare minimum for those working to save our planet. A green jobs programme rooted in equality and diversity, specifically directed at benefitting the young, disadvantaged and those at-risk of long-term unemployment would contribute toward both recruiting our own ‘zero-carbon army’ and producing a stronger, more secure and more diverse conservation sector.
It would also ensure that our environment is maintained and its protection properly resourced. Only 39% of our sites of specific scientific interest are in a “favourable” condition, which is a symptom of under-investment. Since 2012, public spending on biodiversity has declined by 29%. The NNS would help to reverse this trend, creating the workforce needed to preserve these green spaces.
Our party has previously called for ten new national parks to improve public access to nature, the need for which has only grown over the course of the pandemic. Our green recovery is an opportunity to fundamentally reconsider how we relate to the land on which we live. The destructive practices of heather burning and shooting grouse on our moors must be stopped immediately. But we should go further, launching a programme of public investment in our precious peatlands to ensure their proper regulation and restoration.
It is not only our national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty or sites of specific scientific interest that need protecting. The pandemic has prompted important questions about how we all relate to public space, highlighting the rampant inequality caused by our unequal access to nature.
One in eight households in the UK have no garden, and that access to green space is often determined by race and class. The NNS has a vital role to play not only in maintaining and restoring existing public parks and community gardens, but also providing new green spaces in our most nature-deprived communities so that everyone can enjoy a healthier and more prosperous life.
A green recovery from the Covid pandemic will require transforming our fractured economy and restoring our broken ecosystems. If we are to meet the scale of the crises we face, we will need to be ambitious, calling for large-scale natural restoration and the rapid decarbonisation of our economy that will provide high-quality, public sector work for all those who’ve been made unemployed.
Just as the New Deal had its Civilian Conservation Corps, at the centre of our green recovery should be the NNS – a national service that will improve access to quality local green spaces up and down the country, and create a happier, healthier world.