November 07, 2021

Change Capitalism to Slow Climate Change

B Arjun

COP26 - the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is currently underway at Glasgow, United Kingdom. It is considered to have the most important climate talks since this signing of the Paris agreement in 2015. Climate catastrophe continues to haunt the world despite intense negotiations, since the ratification of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. 

COP26 aspires to rejuvenate faith in global carbon markets; support sustainable development in poorer countries and devise ways to deliver fully on a promised climate finance fund and help developing countries to kickstart their so-called green transition goals. But according to critics this years session in Glasgow (which was supposed to be held in 2020) is not expected to bring any substantial change in halting the negative trajectory resulting from 75 years of unmet goals and broken promises since the 1947 United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The report of the International Panel on Climate Change released in August confirmed that effects are “widespread, rapid and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible.” Climate disasters – wildfires, floods and heat waves have become more menacing with every passing year. The global leadership can no longer afford to remain oblivious to the dangers posed by consequences of extreme weather. There is ample scientific evidence available to convince humankind that environmental concerns can no longer be ignored. 

The world is nowhere near the stated goal of limiting temperature increase to 2.0 C, let alone the target urged by scientists of 1.5 C.  Therefore, revision of the greenhouse gas emissions targets each nation committed to after the Paris agreement in 2015 tops the agenda at Glasgow discussions.  According to experts, if countries continue to pursue their current environmental policies, the world will likely experience “3 C of warming by 2100, a magnitude of change that calls into question the future of civilisation”.

The world is warming fast and the climate crisis is real demanding a quick concerted response. However, the leaders continue to indulge in dishing out fake promises to achieve net zero emissions in the next 50 odd years, while simultaneously finding ways to circumvent the targets to reduce carbon pollution through cynical accounting tricks. 

The United States, responsible for more carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere than any other nation, continues to dither on making commitments backed by finances. At Glasgow, President Biden promised to reduce greenhouse gas releases to half of 2005 levels by the end of the decade and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. However, the reality is Biden has just $550 billion available to spend over 10 years to address climate change.

This level of funding is a small change in comparison to the US empire's annual defence budget which amounts to about $700 billion. Major portion of the climate funding goes as tax giveaways to US businesses. The fact is that major powers of the world are preoccupied with destroying the planet rather than preserving it. After ending the “forever wars” in Afghanistan the US has shifted focus on the Indo-Pacific. According to a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Washington is heightening tensions and increasing the risk of an avoidable conflict through its overly militarised approach to Asia. Behind the posturing to save the planet are national rivalries that permeate the Glasgow summit.

The Biden administration may have reversed Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, but it is relentless in pursuing the path to retain US primacy in global affairs and intensifying the geopolitical rivalry with China. Speaking at the Glasgow summit, Biden stated that he intended to “turn the climate crisis into an opportunity to put us on a path not only to compete but to win the economic competition of the 21st century against China and every other country in the world.” According to China's revised plan, Beijing promised its carbon dioxide emissions would peak before 2030, and that it would aim for carbon neutrality” – or no net emissions of CO2. China, the world's biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, was represented by its lead climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua at COP26, as President Xi Jinping kept away from traveling to Scotland due to political reasons. These geopolitical tensions are likely to rise as the competition to set the global norms and standards for use of clean energy technologies becomes more intense. 

Another issue that is likely to plague the global efforts to tackle climate change is money. Poor countries are demanding the rich nations to adequately compensate them for achieving a clean energy transition, as the energy sector accounts for three-quarters of global carbon emissions. Poor countries have to be saved. Climate change will have a direct impact on the internal conflict situation. According to a study, changing climate patterns are likely to drive up to 50 per cent increase in conflict in sub-Saharan Africa alone.  Sea-level rise,  a direct consequence of climate warming,  is going to be another destabilising factor.  Populations in Bangladesh and Myanmar which have large parts of their agricultural land in low-lying areas are vulnerable to rising sea levels. 

To achieve a net-zero global energy sector by 2050, some hard decisions have to be taken in the coming decade. For example, an embargo needs to be imposed on fresh approvals for new oil and gas fields and coal mines have to be ceased; the share of renewables in electricity has to be increased to 60 per cent. The global political economy, based on capitalist ideas of competition and growth, is unable to make such bold changes. The result is that the chasm between promises and implementation continues to widen and the environment continues to suffer due to corporate greed.  It is a well known fact that the capitalist system of production and consumption is clearly the main culprit responsible for environmental destruction, yet the world refuses to think afresh and explore alternatives.

The few super rich that control global wealth are fully aware of the problem but instead of solving it to save human civilization, their chief concern is to save their tiny community. No wonder Elon Musk is planning to immigrate the rich to his new colony on Mars in the event of a climate catastrophe.

There is never any dearth of money to support frivolous wars and bankrupt businesses.  Coffers of central banks are never short of cash when it comes to banks and finance houses. However when it comes to climate change a plethora of problems are cited to ensure that things remain the same. According to Daniel de Vries, “At its root, climate change is fundamentally a class question. In whose interests does society operate?… The urgent task is to turn to the working class, the social force whose fundamental interests align with reconstructing society so as to fulfill social needs, not generate private profit”.