Politically, the climate change agenda has so far been presented as a major opportunity for progressive policymakers. However, there are also those who have identified major obstacles that social democrats will encounter in overcoming climate change and orchestrating a low-carbon transition; obstacles which are both philosophical and practical in scope. For instance, the principles of localism and mutualism of the “green” movement do not always sit easily alongside those of positive freedom and collective prosperity in social democracy.
It is now widely accepted that low-carbon transition is essential for the progress and sustainability of our societies and our citizens’ heterogeneous lifestyles. Yet it seems increasingly likely that the cost of this overall progress will be the impact of regressive measures (if only initially) on the levels of choice and consumption accrued by the most disadvantaged in western societies and beyond. This is especially the case in the industrial heartlands of the developed world; the infrastructural change necessitated by a low-carbon transition will render some forms of industrial labour obsolete, while the creation of new technologies will require further re-training of workforces and see a diminished role for manual skills.
New growth models, taxation, energy prices, access to transport, global governance and the implications for social justice are only some of key issues at stake. In the wake of Copenhagen's failure and as public support for dramatic emissions cuts wanes, the progressive reaction must be to sharpen our policy and political arguments in order to create a new, legitimate climate politics.