The Global Red-Green New Deal

CC BY-SA 3.0, Oceancetaceen/ Alice Chodura

We need a feminist, decolonial, and transformative approach

In addition to the climate crisis, in political discussions around the world the coronavirus pandemic has placed the focus on another field of action that urgently requires long-term answers. In stark contrast to the last decades, dominated as they were by neoliberal thinking and austerity politics, it is becoming apparent that massive state intervention and investment are possible responses to crisis situations. This is adding fuel to the discussions that have taken place in recent years about a Green New Deal (GND), because both the climate and the coronavirus crises are exacerbating social divisions worldwide.

The GND concept relates historically to Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in the United States during the 1930s, which was a reaction to the Great Depression. Following on from this, the GND takes up the idea of combining state intervention in crisis situations with progressive political approaches. The concept is particularly popular in North America and Europe. In February 2019, US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez introduced a resolution entitled “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”, fuelling discussions in the United States. In the UK In September of the same year, the concept became known with the Labour Party in Brighton. Adopted by a clear majority and supported equally by parties, trade unions, and social movements, it gained acceptance there as a left-wing response to the climate crisis.

A Comprehensive Proposal for a Social-Ecological Utopia 

The GND approach is popular primarily because it can be used as a comprehensive idea for a social-ecological utopia while also framing very concrete proposals for investments and infrastructural measures in the respective countries. In addition, it proposes a partial departure from austerity, and from endless growth and competition. The concept addresses in equal measure the financial markets, the ecological crisis, and questions to do with labour and employment. This clearly distinguishes the GND from “green capitalism”. The central feature of current GND variants is that they combine the demand for a rapid reduction of CO2 emissions in order to meet the target of 1.5 degrees of warming with demands for an increase in social welfare and justice. The concept envisions massive public investments for this purpose. These are to be financed in particular by taxes on large corporations and financial transactions.

The GND is also popular because it allows for mechanisms of understanding between parties, social movements, and trade unions. It is quite deliberately a matter of “doable” policymaking or, as author Ann Pettifor puts it in the first sentence of her book The Case for the Green New Deal: “We can afford what we can do.”

The Green New Deal Needs a Global and Decolonial Makeover

However, the GND approach has also been subject to criticism: it is primarily a plan for “western” industrialized nations. For critics of the Green New Deal, especially as outlined by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders in the United States, it has not been made sufficiently clear that such a plan will also require changes in the lifestyle of the well-off middle class. Instead, emphasis has been placed on the notion that new, smart technologies will make it possible to continue using energy and resources at current levels while reducing emissions at the same time.

In particular, the GND concepts originating in the Anglo-American world are criticized for mainly limiting themselves to models of nation-state welfare policy for western industrialized nations. Even though the international policy dimension is taken into account, this is largely within the framework of existing multilateral systems. In her vision for a post-GND world, for example, Ocasio-Cortez imagines prosperity going hand in hand with energy transition and job security; but at the same time, policing and the military continue to exist as viable “careers”.

What is missing here are the global and historical dimensions: the overcoming of (neo-)colonial conditions in terms of resource consumption and theft, and hence of the resulting oppression suffered by many people in the colonized regions of the world. If we look at the GND proposal through the lens of climate justice and global social justice, it becomes clear that these transformational projects must also always keep in view the question of planetary limits, and the fair contribution to be made by industrialized nations to saving the climate. A first step towards this would be the admission that the prosperity of a country like Germany, for example, has only been made possible by colonialism and the exploitation of resources, especially in other parts of the world. A Green New Deal must be decolonial and consistently supplemented by a multilateral dimension.

Likewise, a left-wing, progressive GND has to include questions about compensation for ecological debts and about the origins of the multiple crises of our era. What is needed is a “Global Green New Deal”, or GGND for short. There are already some initial steps being taken in this direction: the discussions about a “Red Deal” in the USA link the anti-colonial struggle of the Native Americans (and their allies) with intersectional demands, going so far as to demand an end to capitalism-colonialism on a global scale. Calls for a post-growth paradigm also form part of this. The potential for GND proposals to be expanded to include decolonial demands is also made clear by the discussions that are being had on other continents. In Latin America, for example, the Green New Deal approach has been incorporated into the conversations about the Pacto Ecosocial del Sur. In South Africa and Tunisia, too, larger groups of key players are invoking the idea of a Green New Deal.

Proponents of the post-growth debate like Elena Hofferberth and Matthias Schmelzer also see red-green GND programmes as containing the potential for a fundamental critique of global power structures. They argue that some GND proposals place the current economic system and its corresponding power relations in a causal relationship with the global, ecological, and social crises, and are thus more accessible and popular than much of the post-growth discourse. According to this argument, a Green New Deal formulated in terms of a critique of growth could initiate the needed socio-ecological transformation. It is true that Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution contains only a single reference to growth. However, the proposals from Great Britain explicitly draw on the post-growth debates.

A Feminist Green New Deal

A feminist perspective for a Green New Deal remains to be elaborated. Yet the necessity to develop an ecological economy grounded in gender justice is felt with equal urgency around the world. Apart from some exceedingly tentative beginnings in Iceland and Finland, nowhere in the world are financial, economic and/or social policies being pursued with an orientation towards gender justice.

Nevertheless, the coronavirus pandemic has led to an increased discussion of the feminist dimensions of political economy. In the United States, for example, a collective has been founded around the demand for a feminist GND, calling for a consistently intersectional approach. This tendency also considers ending the privatization and commodification of natural resources and public services as being indispensable. The transformation towards a just society and economy, based in gender justice and respect for human rights, is also linked to struggles against the oppression of indigenous groups as well as struggles against racism and patriarchal and anti-LGBTIQ political structures. In Spain and Haiwaii, too, parties of government have introduced explicitly feminist approaches to addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, most GND approaches have focused on achieving full employment. This is to be reached above all by expanding jobs in the renewable energy sector. More than this will be needed, however. The GND must also integrate new concepts for dealing with care work. The multiple pressures of raising children, domestic labour, and care, financial insecurity and the burden of underfunded health care systems, are largely borne by women. In addition, violence against women has increased during the pandemic, while the recession accompanying the latter is expected to result in an as yet incalculable wave of poverty. All of the crisis phenomena that can be observed worldwide have their origin in the idea of an economy that exploits labour and natural resources. The protests calling for a different global climate policy and the worldwide demands for a different economy, that would ensure the secure survival of all on the basis of smaller value chains, offer the possibility to renegotiate both theoretical and practical approaches to feminist economics.

In short, the various GND proposals currently under discussion around the world offer a positive and, above all, a hopeful approach that goes beyond the typical left-wing critique of what exists. It has the potential to reformulate the discussions towards the transformation of global systems. Towards a progressive conception of globalization or internationalism, and also towards decolonization as the real goal.

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The author

Johanna Bussemer is head of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s Europe Unit and an advisor on Great Britain and Greece. Nadja Charaby is head of the International Politics and North America units at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung and an advisor on climate policy.