For the first time in 14 years, Labour is back in power after UK voters took to the polls last week in a historic landslide election. While recent electoral results across the EU and world have seen voters shift to the right, the UK bucked the trend and voted out the Conservative-led Tory government in favor of the center-left Labour party. 

With the future of global development and climate action policy in doubt, Labour has the chance — and the popular mandate — to reclaim Britain’s position as a global leader. If Labour head Keir Starmer has his way, the UK will be “back” on the world stage with reinvigorated relationships with countries across the Global South (including Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean). 

There are at least three ways Labour can make good on its promises and make progress right away. Read on to find out how. 

First, How Labour Got Here:

Since 2010, the Tories have presided over a tumultuous era in UK politics. We’ll spare you an exhaustive rundown, but to refresh your memory, here are some of the highlights:

It all left Britons itching for a change in leadership. 

Former prime minister Rishi Sunak failed to give voters a compelling case to keep his party in power. Under his leadership, the UK rolled back some of Britain’s emission-reduction targets, citing their high cost while approving new oil and drilling projects in the North Sea. Meanwhile, he made hardline border control policies a key part of his party’s platform (see, for example, the passage of an inhumane policy that would put asylum seekers on one-way tickets to Rwanda, a plan even King Charles reportedly called “appalling”). The Conservatives meanwhile also found themselves battling the new far-right, anti-immigration Reform Party, which siphoned voters away from their candidates. 

On the flip side, Labour rallied around a clear message: Tory leadership has left the UK in shambles. Labour politicians argued that severe budget cuts decimated the country’s National Health Service, while Britain’s formal departure from the EU stagnated trade and economic growth. This strategy clearly resonated with voters — in polls, Labour led the Conservatives by double digits for more than 18 months before the election. 

Now that the results are officially in, how can Labour change course and reclaim the UK’s title as a leader on the world stage after years of shying away from the spotlight? We break it all down for you here. 

Reinvigorate Domestic Climate Policies

In the run-up to the election, Labour carefully distinguished itself from its Tory predecessors while scaling back some of its most ambitious policies to reel in centrist voters. For example, it initially announced a green investment plan worth £28 billion (roughly $35 billion) annually, but abandoned these spending targets until Britain’s public finances improve and the cost of living crisis abates. 

However, British voters and concerned citizens around the world alike are clamoring for bold action to address the climate crisis. On this front, Starmer has pledged to build an international clean power alliance to accelerate the renewable energy transition, aligning with the party’s goals of creating green jobs and lowering energy bills. The UK Labour manifesto already laid the groundwork for this by committing to banning new fossil fuel production, a drastic U-turn from Tory leadership. 

And Labour has already taken quick action — on Starmer’s second day in office, the new government reversed the UK’s course on renewable energy by lifting a cumbersome de-facto ban on onshore wind projects put in place under the Conservatives in 2015. It’s an important and encouraging step forward, demonstrating the government’s newfound commitment towards a clean energy future. But Labour can go further by having the UK become the first G20 country to sign onto the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty or initiatives such as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, which provide equitable roadmaps to phase out fossil fuels by reorienting domestic policy away from oil and gas projects in favor of substantial new investments in renewable energy.

The public supports this plan, as proven repeatedly in polls. In the 2023 Global Solidarity Report, more than twice as many Britons agreed that their country should keep oil in the ground compared to those who disagreed.

Strengthen the UK’s Global Climate Leadership

In addition to what it can accomplish at home, there’s much the UK can — and must — do within the international arena to stop the worst effects of climate change. As the elections took place, Hurricane Beryl made landfall in the Caribbean, bringing storm surges and flash floods that devastated small island states like Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica (countries which just so happen to be former colonies of the British Empire). 

Extreme weather events like these and climate change are intimately linked. The credibility of the UK’s leadership credentials will hinge on its willingness to pick up the mantle in the fight against climate change, particularly as one of the greatest contributors of carbon emissions historically. 

At COP28 last year in Dubai, Starmer promised to fulfill Britain’s climate financing pledge in a meeting with Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados. To keep his word, the Labour government will need to double the UK’s contributions over the next five years to £11.6 billion (roughly $14.9 billion) by 2025. 

Public support and Labour’s resounding electoral victory indicates Starmer has the momentum he needs to drive forward bold climate financing. Research from Glocalities has found that more than two-thirds of Britons would support higher taxes on highly polluting and undertaxed industries and individuals, such as the fossil fuel industry. These new taxes could then go towards helping vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

Champion International Financing Streams and Partners in the Global South

If Starmer is serious about making the UK a global leader again, he has the chance to prove it by leading on radical international financial reforms. It’s the only viable way to unlock the money needed to address world challenges such as extreme poverty, food security, and vaccine access. 

Britain has shied away from such global responsibilities in recent years: Since 2019, the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the world’s least developed countries has dropped by a staggering 55%. The UK has traditionally played a key role within global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These institutions are marking their 80th anniversary this summer, and with the UK in line to chair the G20 in 2026, the timing is perfect to help usher in new reforms and galvanize action abroad that will benefit the world collectively. 

Here are a few urgent actions the UK can take to lead on global financial reform:

  • SDRs. Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) are a type of international monetary asset issued by the IMF designed to supplement member countries’ reserves, particularly during economic downturns. As Spain has done before, the UK could rechannel more of its SDRs to others and even become the first country to redistribute them through multilateral development banks, thereby increasing its ability to cover costs (such as funding the clean energy transition) by 4 times. 
  • IDA. The UK should also increase its contributions to the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), one of the absolute best tools to eradicate poverty because it provides low-cost loans or interest-free grants to the world’s 75 poorest countries. The UK was one of the most important donors to IDA until 2021, when the government decided to cut its contribution by 54%. The UK should step up its IDA support and influence other donors to boost theirs as well (for instance, at the Global Citizen Festival in New York in September).
  • Gavi. The UK has a critical chance to help bolster worldwide vaccine access. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has helped distribute 1 billion vaccines over the last 20 years and aims to dole out another billion in the next ten. Historically, the UK has supported Gavi by hosting their replenishment twice, and significantly supporting its efforts now will be an important litmus test for Starmer’s commitment to global leadership. The right moment to announce they’re taking action on this issue could be as early as at the Economic Development Assembly in Abidjan this October. 

Labour may have won the election, but there’s no time to rest on its laurels. We’ll all have to keep a close eye on the new government to ensure it sticks to its pledges and campaigns for bolder action on international development and climate policy. By taking the steps outlined above, this new government could not only instill hope and confidence among voters at home, but also offer some much-needed direction on the world stage (as elections in the US and France leave room for doubt over the state of future global leadership). 

As Starmer himself stated, “Changing a country is not like flipping a switch. It’s hard work. Patient, determined work, and we will have to get moving immediately.” We couldn’t agree more.

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