"The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate.
And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe - a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable - can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course."
(Paul Krugman, last year’s Nobel Prize winner in economics, in the article Betraying the Planet, from the New York Times, 20th June 2009.)
In preparation for the Climate summit in Copenhagen, the so-called COP15, the Swedish government has initiated a petition for a new climate treaty with the goal of limiting the increase in global temperature to 2º Celsius by 2050, as compared to the 1990 temperature. This initiative is a cheap PR ploy before the looming fiasco of the Copenhagen climate summit aimed at propagating the myth that the EU, with the Swedish government to the fore, is a driving force for a real solution to the climate threat.
None of the recent top meetings where the climate issue has been discussed by the world’s ruling elites, at summits such as the G8, the UN climate conference in New York or the G20, have offered any real progress, apart from the US, Japan and Canada giving lip-service to 2ºC - a goal which, more and more, is regarded as insufficient by many scientists and at the same time all the more difficult to attain.
Reinforcing feedbacks leading towards tipping points, such as the more rapid warming of the oceans because of the melting Arctic ice and the increase in the release of methane gas from the thinning tundra, are already being observed today. Researchers warn that even 1ºC of warming can eat up the EU’s goal of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 92 million tonnes per year.
Barack Obama’s speech at the UN climate conference in New York stating that the US is "determined to take action" resounds of the same hollowness as his evermore diluted promises of universal health insurance or the Chinese president Hu Jintao’s word that China would reduce carbon dioxide emissions "significantly, per percent of economic growth." As even the Wall Street Journal commented, the meeting ended where it began because the "domestic industrial bases [of the two presidents] don’t want to, especially during a recession, sacrifice their global competitiveness for the sake of the environment."
That places the blame firmly where it belongs, on capitalism as an economic system, big business and their lobby groups. If the US Senate even decides that it has time to debate the issue before COP15 then it is likely that they, just as in the law proposal by the House of Representatives, will try to bargain for a reduction in the USA’s target. Representatives have already adopted the Waxman-Markey target of a 17% reduction in emissions by 2020, but not compared to 1990 levels as per the Kyoto protocol and the EU’s targets but compared to 2005 levels.
Compared to 1990 that is just a reduction in emissions of 3%. The Swedish environment minister Andreas Carlgren, who has been forced to admit that the preparations for Copenhagen are at a standstill, wrings his hands and assures that the EU has made not only the most far-reaching offers for its own reduction in emissions but also the most ambitious proposal for the support of emissions mitigation and adaptation to climate change by developing countries. None of that is true or even approaching what is required. As a matter of fact the world’s climate researchers are today unanimous that emissions have most probably been underestimated in the prognoses that compelled the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to demand emission cuts of 25-40% by the year 2020.
That means that even the EU’s emission reduction target of 20%, or 30% if more countries subscribe to an ambitious agreement, by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, is completely insufficient to stem the temperature to rise at just 2ºC. Especially since part of the reduction will not take place in the EU countries themselves. Even the targets of reducing global emissions by 50% by the year 2050, and by 80% for industrialised nations are totally insufficient.
China, India and the other "developing nations" in the so-called G77 are proposing even higher demands on the developed nations than the EU has until now been prepared to agree, with regard to the financing of climate mitigation and adaptation of the underdeveloped countries and demands for technology transfers that could speed up energy efficiency measures in those countries. While a UN report claims that several hundred billion dollars per year are required, the EU Commission has until now proposed that the EU as a whole pay Euro 2-15 billions per year.
The aid organisation Oxfam rightly calls Carlgren’s description of the EU as a ‘leader’ on the climate front as "a scandal" considering the EU’s unwillingness to compensate developing countries for the industrial nations’ "historical debt" for the global emissions. Furthermore, several EU states have plans to pinch from their foreign aid budgets in order to pay for the insufficient financing of the climate mitigation and adaptation of the so-called developing nations.
It is now most likely that the IPCC will be forced to admit that in 2007 they hugely underestimated both the greenhouse gas emissions and how they trigger self-reinforcing global warming mechanisms in Nature. That is particularly applicable to the accelerating effect that occurs when melting permafrost releases the methane gas of the tundra and Arctic sea bottoms, and the increasing inability of the rainforests and oceans to absorb more carbon dioxide.
The chairman of the IPCC Dr. R. Pachauri, in his September speech to the UN climate conference, also gave a stern warning that the accelerating rate of emissions over the last decade threatened to bring global warming to the upper level of the interval of 1.1-6.4° C that was predicted in 2007 for "business as usual" before the end of the 20th century, and even beyond 7ºC if the increase that has already taken place is included. He therefore underlined that the total emissions of greenhouse gases must begin to decrease by "2015 at the latest, i.e. within 6 years" if the temperature rise can be limited to just 2-2.4°C.
These are facts that have already led the Alliance of Small Island Nations, which are already hard-hit today, to propose a much greater target than the EU’s proposal, at 45% by 2020. Many of the world’s environmental organisations are now demanding, before COP15, that the developed industrialised nations should decrease their emissions by at least 40% by the year 2020.
2°C is enough for catastrophic impacts
The majority of the world’s rulers have agreed to the 2ºC target, not because it is desirable, but more because more ambitious targets have been deemed as politically unrealistic.
The World Bank’s new World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, that has been released ahead of COP15, warns of a 5ºC rise in temperature this century if current trends are not broken. According to the World Bank, even 2ºC will inevitably mean a shift to new and more turbulent global weather conditions and intense extreme weather events.
Between 100 and 400 million more people than today would run the risk of famine, whereas 1-2 billion more people would not have enough water for consumption, hygiene and food production. Moreover, 75-80% of the total cost would hit those who are already the poorest and most vulnerable in underdeveloped countries. Simultaneously the ocean volume increase at 2ºC of warming would mean a rise in sea-level of between 0.4 and 1.4 metres.
Together with the melting ice and snow from land areas in Antarctica, Greenland and glaciers, this would drown several small island nations in the Caribbean as well as the islands in the South Pacific and the Maldives. Oxfam estimates that the politically acceptable rise in temperature of 2ºC would mean a devastating future for 660 million people, whilst 375 million can be expect to be hit by weather catastrophes even by 2015. Within 30 years, 200 million people a year could be forced to move due to famine, environmental damage and loss of land.
Warming on the rise again
According to the UN’s environmental programme, emissions since the year 2000 have, at least until a small reduction during the deep crisis of 2008-2009, overshot the worst-case scenario predictions of the IPCC, which did not seem likely in 2007. Yet the "climate sceptics" have been able to point to the fact that the global temperature rises during this decade have flattened out since 1998, until now the warmest year ever, despite the increase in emissions.
That false hope will, according to US scientists, be short-lived. It is true that the temperature is not just influenced by the greenhouse effect. It is also dependent on natural phenomena like the 11-year cycle of sun activity, volcanic eruptions and water and air currents, such as when the current flip in the Pacific known as the El Niño effect take place. Just as a new El Niño has been confirmed, when warmer surface water begins to flow back eastwards towards America, an increase in solar activity is also being forecast for the next few years, which according to scientists will lead to a markedly higher increase in temperature than that foreseen by the IPCC.
Ahead of the climate meeting in Bangkok in October, the climate scientists at the British Met Office Hadley Centre published a new prognosis based on the IPCC’s computer models, updated with new emission trends and findings of self-reinforcing mechanisms leading towards "tipping points" where further emissions are released from the ground. According to this prognosis, if there are no powerful counter-measures, the temperature can rise by as much as 4ºC already by 2060, within the lifespan of many now living, with possible temperature rises of 10ºC by the Arctic and in Western and Southern Africa!
According to Paul Krugman, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have previously predicted an increase in the Earth’s temperature by 4ºC during this century if nothing is done, have raised this prognosis to 9ºC. Such a scenario would, according to the Met Office, mean a next-to unimaginable catastrophe which would threaten the water supply of half the world’s population, wipe out up to half of all species of plants and animals, and flood low-lying coastal areas.
One of the USA’s leading climate scientists and head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, physicist James Hansen, points to the alarming reports on the decline of Arctic ice and believes that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide cannot exceed 350 parts per million (PPM), i.e. far below the IPCC’s 2ºC target of a maximum of 450 PPM, "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted." Today’s concentration of 386 PPM is already considerably higher than this critical frontier, with an accelerating yearly increase during the 21st century before the financial crisis.
The leading climate scientist of Germany, Hans Joachim Schnellhuber, who is head of the Potsdam Institute and a key climate advisor to the German government, judges that a probable temperature rise of 5ºC by the year 2100 in the case of "business as usual" would lead to a point when the Earth could not support more than one billion people. This is a ninth of the 9 billion population estimated by 2050.
Climate economists raise objections
Despite the fact that the so-called climate sceptics among the scientists are becoming more and more silent, right-wing climate economists are still trying to raise economic objections towards tough climate targets. The most infamous one is probably William Nordhaus of Yale University in the USA, who claims that 25 per cent reduced emissions by 2050 and a tolerated concentration of 700 PPM carbon dioxide, would be an "optimal" target. He argues that warmer weather would benefit Northern countries and allow time for the market forces to come forward with the necessary technological advances.
The World Bank’s former chief economist, Briton Lord Stern, is probably the most well-known climate economist. In October 2006, he portrayed global warming as "the biggest market failure the world has ever seen". He went on to warn the world’s leaders of "damages on a scale larger than the two world wars of the last century", with a 20 per cent drop in the world’s production.
Now Stern admits that back in 2006 he underestimated the threatening costs to the world economy by 50 per cent, meaning that the drop could be 30 per cent if nothing is done. "What would the consequences of a 4 to 7ºC raised temperature during this century be, to a level the world has not seen for 30 to 50 million years, which would force billions of people to move?" he asks, and goes on predicting "drawn-out conflicts, social upheavals, basically war, in big parts of the world for several decades".
Despite this, in his latest book The Global Deal (2009) Lord Stern only wants to tighten up his own previous suggested limit to emissions to 500 PPM, down from 550, with a target of 3ºC and 50 per cent emission limitations by 2050. Fully aware that this involves catastrophic consequences and risks of galloping warming, Stern’s argument is that steeper targets would be more than the capitalist economy could cope with, "an abandonment or diminishment of growth and development."
We already have a silent climate crisis
The Global Humanitarian Forum, with the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as chair, states that we already have a silent crisis today. In a report ahead of Copenhagen, the organisation declares that the climate crisis is already here, with more than 90 per cent of the costs and 99 per cent of all deaths occurring in the so-called developing countries, despite the fact that only one per cent of the emissions up until now come from the 50 poorest countries.
Out of the 300,000 annual deaths that are already caused by the climate crisis, which is predicted to increase to at least half a million by 2050, nine out of ten die from indirect consequences, such as malnourishment, diarrhoea and malaria - the rest directly due to weather catastrophes.
Even now the report states that "half a million run the extreme risk of being affected, while six out of ten are vulnerable to climate change in a physical and socio-economic sense". But also rich countries such as Australia have been deeply affected by increasing heat, 10 years of drought, fires and storms.
In his latest book, Plan B 4.0, American climate and agriculture expert Lester R Brown argues for the necessity of reduced emissions by 80 per cent by 2020 in a war-like changeover of society. He warns that the food shortage crises, which otherwise will occur, could mean an end to today’s civilisation, like it did to the ancient Sumerian and Mayan civilisations.
The dramatic threefold increase of the world-market prices on wheat, rice and corn, that brought on hunger riots in at least 30 countries between mid-2006 and mid-2008, were, according to Lester Brown, only an early warning. It took the deepest crisis since the Great Depression to bring down prices - though only to a much higher price level than earlier. The devastating combination of raised food prices, economic crisis and climate change have since the mid-1990s increased the number of people affected by hunger and malnourishment from 825 million to 915 million in 2008, and over 1,000 million in 2009.
Prior to the G8 summit in July, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) wrote, "Estimated at 1,020 million, for the first time more than one billion people are suffering from malnourishment in the world. This is approximately 100 million more than last year and one sixth of all humanity."
Lester Brown predicts that this figure will increase to 1.2 billion in 2015, with the lack of food being the weakest link in the development. According to Plan B 4.0, the supply of food is being limited on the demand side by a rapid increase in the world’s population combined with an increased consumption of cereals and soy beans for meat production and fish farming, and an increased use of cereals for bio-fuel (ethanol). On the supply side, production is being made more difficult due to soil erosion, over-fishing, increasing lack of water and growth-limiting heat waves, as well as due to increased fuel costs and limited access to increasingly expensive oil, growing cities and shrinking farming areas.
Brown, who clearly realises the capitalist market’s inability to put a price on fossil fuels and correctly turns the focus towards the need to fight poverty and how the poor masses already today are affected by the climate crisis, at the same time tends to exaggerate the role of the population increase.
He therefore underestimates that the lack of food he speaks of, at least for the time being, is mostly a scarcity relative to the low purchasing power of the poor. The fact Brown himself mentions that 26 million (12 per cent) of the population of the USA, the richest country in the world, either starve or have an unsecure supply of food, is a telling argument for hunger in the midst of surplus. Three and a half million children under the age of five in the USA run the risk of being harmed due to malnourishment. The unimaginably rich in all parts of the world are rolling in an increasingly grotesque extravagance, while food for billions is being thrown away by store chains and a billion extremely poor people get by on a daily income of US $1.25 or less.
At the same time, the consumption of meat per capita in the world has doubled in 40 years through industrial farming where, according to some estimates, 95 per cent of all calories are "wasted" when cereals are used to produce meat and fish.
The crisis of the world’s farming is very much a consequence of capitalist mismanagement and increased rifts of wealth between classes, which are being reinforced by the latest decades’ neo-liberal "structural adjustment programmes" and the capitalist agro-industry’s ruthless exploitation of people, animals and nature.
For example, the neo-liberal "open market policies" in poor countries has often meant big-scale production of a few profitable crops for export at the cost of food production, while the soils are leeched of nutrients and poisoned by unbalanced cultivation, artificial fertilizers, and chemical pesticides and weed-killers.
The climate and provision crises are worsening
As long as the capitalist system’s mismanagement and uneven distribution of incomes and wealth remains, the World Bank’s prognosis of the need for doubled food production by 2050 will, of course, mean an increasing scarcity of food for the poor masses. This will be even more the case if the soil erosion, as Brown predicts, is allowed to keep deteriorating the original productivity of the world’s arable lands by 30 per cent, and if countries with half the population of the world are affected by falling levels of groundwater and wells running dry.
Global warming causes increasing droughts in large parts of the world, with falling levels of groundwater, heat waves, fires and soil erosion. Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), warns that 70 per cent of the world’s soils could be affected by drought as soon as 2025, if there are no adequate counter-measures. At the same time, the strength of tropical cyclones, typhoons and storms is increasing, with cloudbursts and floods washing away the fertile surface layer in previously dried-out areas. The whole of East Africa, including large parts of Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, are already facing a new emergency food crisis. On the World Bank’s blog it is reported that the harvest in Kenya has dropped down to only 28 per cent compared to the normal level after four absent rain periods. On 80 per cent of the land the supply of water has fallen to a tenth of normal levels. According to the Kenyan Minister for the Environment, 10 million Kenyans are now starving due to lack of water, and at the same time the access to water-powered electricity is being rationed.
But this is just the beginning. According to the World Bank, already today 175 million Indians and 130 million Chinese are being supported by cereals from areas with wells running dry. And it is getting worse. Many minor glaciers have already disappeared. "Nowhere is the melting more alarming than in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan plateau where the ice melt from glaciers sustains not only the dry-season flow of the Indus, Ganges, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers but also the irrigation systems that depend on them. Without these glaciers, many Asian rivers would cease to flow during the dry season," warns Lester Brown. He calls this "the most massive threat to food security the human race has ever faced". Today one billion people, a sixth of the world’s population, live in the area supplied with water from these shrinking glaciers. The areas below the Andes face the same threat.
A rise in the world sea level of up to a metre this century, in the wake of the accelerating ice melting on Greenland and Western Antarctica, also threatens a very large part of the rice production of Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta, for example.
According to Lester Brown, a decreasing yield in both genetically modified (GM) crops and conventional genetic development methods restricts the hopes of a considerably raised agricultural productivity. This view is shared by the World Bank when it comes to the developed countries. Focus is instead directed towards the difficult challenge of applying new methods and technologies when it comes to the maintenance of eco-systems, forests, agricultural areas and scarce water supplies for dry soils in developing countries where the population is growing the fastest, in order to increase the yields per drop of water.
The World Bank report recommends eco-agrarian landscapes, where the farmers can stabilise the land by creating mosaics of cultivated lands and nature areas, that can keep down emissions, help the survival of species, and strengthen the endurance and resistance of the land. New technologies, where seeds are injected straight into the soil instead of being sown after ploughing, have, combined with new methods to adjust more economical yet precise fertilisation and watering, been emphasized as positive experiences. The ability to make use of and develop several old methods used by indigenous people has also been emphasized as positive.
While private sector- and farmer-led processes to choose crops favour homogeneity that has been adjusted after previous or current conditions, the Bank’s report says that there is a need for plant breeding which can create a broader genetic pool.
Along with the needs of a more durable infrastructure, research resources and better education, this demands a democratically planned global economy, which is based on a common and long-term mobilisation of all parties concerned and therefore goes against the way capitalism works.
Increased struggle for resources
All this is also a recipe for ever-harder global struggles for land and natural resources. Already during the food price crisis 2007-2008, many countries halted their export of wheat and rice.
The ongoing crisis and fighting in Sudan, where the Darfur conflicts over scarce resources are also spilling into Chad, is an early example of how the lack of food and water also leads to violence and a stream of refugees.
Spectacularly, an increasing number of countries, such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Kuwait, Libya, India, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, are amongst over 50 known cases trying to buy or rent land abroad. This, on a big scale and in neo-colonial style for their own food needs, in countries that are experiencing their own supply crises.
In total, there has been an estimated sale of 20 million hectares of land since 2006, mostly in Africa. This is equivalent to twice the size of all farming areas of Germany. This takes place on a continent which as early as 2020 can lose half its arable land due to drought, and where 75 to 250 million people are being threatened by "water stress". Saudi Arabia, for example, has already leased land in 11 countries, of which two are Sudan and Ethiopia. According to the Financial Times, in March 2009 Saudi Arabia celebrated its first delivery of Ethiopian rice. Ethiopia is, at the same time, facing an acute food crisis and the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting 4.6 million people.
The sizes of these acquired lands are in many cases huge, as when South Korea signed a long-standing deal with Sudan to grow wheat for South Korea on an area of 690,000 hectares. This area is equivalent to three quarters of the area of 930,000 hectares South Korea uses to produce rice in its own country.
China, which so far has been able to support its growing urban population with domestic food production, is attempting to look after its own interests by making the biggest investments of this kind. According to Lester Brown, the Chinese company ZTE has, in a spectacular deal, secured the rights to 2.8 million Congolese hectares for the production of palm oil, which can be used as both food oil and bio-fuel. The area is one and a half times the size of Belgium, and 0.9 million hectares larger than the area Congo itself uses to produce corn for 66 million inhabitants.
China is also in negotiations with Zambia for 2 million hectares to grow an oil plant, as they already have or are negotiating with Algeria, Mozambique, Burma, Brazil, Australia, Russia and Kazakhstan.
State-owned and private companies alike, including American and British investment trusts, are participating in these deals. It is also clear that these kinds of deals will be met with massive protests and conflicts, maybe even uprisings and war.
When it became known that China had signed a deal to lease 1 million hectares of land in the Philippines, it led to such powerful protests from Philippine farmers that the deal was suspended. South Korean company Daewoo’s acquisition of 1 million hectares in Madagascar, equivalent to half the area of Belgium, was an important factor behind the rebellious atmosphere that led to the fall of the Government and the cancellation of the deal.
The awareness of the risk of severe safety problems has, also according to Lester Brown, pushed the Pakistani government to combine an offer to lease 400,000 hectares of farming land with the letting of 100,000 armed guards. The guards would have the duty to protect the foreign investors’ land and property. A challenging number of these land acquisitions are taking place in countries that are already poor and have a lack of food and water, or in rain forest areas that need to be protected for their important role as carbon dioxide sinks.
Half a century after the colonial uprisings and revolutions where new states were formed and the colonial powers were forced to give up, more focus is instead being directed at the decline of more and more states. "Failed states have made a remarkable journey, from the periphery to the centre of failed global policies itself," an article in the American magazine Foreign Policy comments. The magazine’s "Failed States Index" lists 60 countries that already are in, or run the risk of falling into, this category.
The growing climate and support crises in a growing number of developing countries are also in the process of being upgraded to the centre of both EU and US security plans, like the streams of refugees that such crises can cause. As the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, Spaniard Javier Solana, puts it, "Climate change is best viewed as a threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions and instability. The core challenge is that climate changes threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone. It is important to recognise that the risks are not just of a humanitarian nature; they also include political and security risks that directly affect European interests." According to the UN, as many as 6,000 Africans out of the approximately 31,000 who tried to get to Europe via the Canary Islands in 900 overfilled small boats, died or disappeared in 2008.
Fortress Europe’s iron wall is now being reinforced further through the Stockholm Programme’s reinforcement of border controls through the EU border security agency FRONTEX, even faster deportations of refugees, and more controlled refugee camps outside European borders. A growing number of African and other governments are also being bribed into signing agreements for a common "immigration pact" with the EU. At the same time, a reinforcement of the military resources of the EU is taking place, in order to be able to interfere in all kinds of conflict zones outside of Europe, with or without the assistance of the USA and the NATO. The Swedish right-wing government has, during its term as president of the EU, been urging the EU to send more troops to Afghanistan. The Swedish Government is also urging the EU to expand its military capacity to deploy troops quickly for interventions in for example Africa. They have for instance proposed that the EU should be able to use its standing Battle Groups even when no EU country is under immediate threat, and also that the EU should make it easier to decide to use its troops militarily through adopting majority decisions.
Even the Obama administration is about to make climate-related threats a central security policy focus. "Such climate-induced crisis (as storms, droughts, mass migrations and pandemics) can topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions," the New York Times has commented.
Other new climate related security concerns for the US military and intelligence agencies, as well as those of the EU and Russia, is the rivalry to control natural resources such as oil that will come within reach with the melting of the Arctic ice cap.
The December Climate change summit in Copenhagen has been organised with the aim to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol, since its first and unsuccessful phase that only comprised 37 developed industrial countries (with the important exception of the US) and expires in 2012, with a protocol that comprise all countries.
We share one planet, one small blue speck in space. As people, as nations, as a species: we sink or swim together," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon concluded in a speech at the University of Copenhagen before COP15.
This statement unfortunately ignores different class interests and the way capitalist competition works.
Faced with a prognosis of overwhelming crises for the planet and its dominating economic system within the next few decades, even the capitalist leaders will be compelled to act or at least react to the climate crisis. Even the World Bank has defined the climate crisis as "far more serious and protracted" than all financial crises, despite the fact that far less time and resources so far have been spent dealing with it.
Unfortunately, their ways of reacting will prove to be too little, too late and, even worse, directly counterproductive from the point of view of the planet and the long time interests of humanity, especially from that of the workers and the poor masses. This will be the case despite all the hypocritical statements about the need for sustainable and just development.
According to Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the four key issues in Copenhagen will be:
1) How much are industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?
2) How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth (!) of their emissions?
3) How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?
4) How is that money going to be managed?
Expectations about a successful summit in Copenhagen have fallen as no real progress has been made despite all the preparatory meetings.
1) The only "progress" at the UN September meeting in New York on the climate was a lip service from US President Obama about "a historic recognition on behalf of the American people and administration that we understand the seriousness of the climate threat" and that this is caused by human activity. Another lip service was made to 2°C, but without coming close to either methods or partial targets to guarantee this.
COP15 will probably agree to a 2°C target, despite objections from some scientists that this is now insufficient, supported by the proposal of a 1.5°C target made by the Alliance of Small Island States (OASIS). Beyond that there is no agreement.
There is no unity about the partial targets that will be required. While the IPCC has proposed 25-40 per cent reduced emissions by 2020 compared to 1990, the EU has made a binding promise to a 20 per cent reduction, and 30 per cent if others will be prepared to join. However, this is unlikely since the lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have watered down the US target of emission reductions to 17 per cent in 2020 compared to 2005. That would mean entirely inadequate US emission reductions with as little as 3 per cent compared to 1990. There is no sign that the US Senate will be able to deal with the issue ahead of the Copenhagen summit.
Republicans as well as Democrats in the US Congress remain under heavy pressure from US big business. The US Chamber of Commerce, including most of its 3,000 member companies although not all, even refuse to support the watered-down bill of Democratic Representatives Waxman and Markey if targets to reduce emissions will not be adopted by all CO2-emitting economies, such as China and India, from which they fear strong competition.
According to the Chamber of Commerce the law will "cost Americans their jobs and only shift greenhouse gas emissions abroad".
The actions of US politicians under pressure from big business underscores how the capitalist system itself is blocking the struggle to stop emissions. Not just because the capitalist economy is profit based but also because of the sharp competition between companies and national interests.
2) China’s president Hu Jintao has so far only pledged to reduce China’s so-called carbon intensity by "a notable margin", i.e. as a share of economic growth by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. But the rulers of China, which last year overtook the US as the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases although it only has one fifth of the emissions per capita compared to the USA, as well as the rulers of India (now the world’s fourth emitter, but with only five per cent of US emissions per capita), so far refuse to undertake any reduction of emissions.
This position of China and India will hardly change without a generous agreement in which the developed capitalist countries would recognise their historical debt and promise to share their best technological knowledge as well as provide substantial financial support in the order of hundreds of billions of dollars annually, with the aim of increasing the energy efficiency of developing countries (mitigation) and adapting to more extreme weather conditions.
There are sharp north-south divisions about the size of such support as well as the methods to be used, how much each country should contribute, and how it should be managed and supervised.
According to the UN top climate official Yvo de Boer, the preparatory negotiations in Bangkok reached some limited progress in secondary issues such as the role of the World Bank and the UN. Some movement was also claimed on the controversial issue of whether a deal in Copenhagen should build on the Kyoto Protocol with its principles of "common but differentiated responsibilities", as for example China insists, or incorporate parts of those in a new agreement, as the US negotiators have been pushing for. But, as de Boer commented: "At the end of the day, if you don’t have ambitious [emissions] targets from rich nations, and if you don’t have significant finance on the table, the whole thing falls apart."
While the UN and the World Bank have estimated that between 400 and 600 billion dollars will be needed annually until 2020 to support mitigation and adaptations, the EU has only agreed to contribute a "fair share" of a total target of 150 billion dollars.
3) The new proposals of the EU, just like the old Kyoto Protocol and the proposals of US law makers, are largely based on a further development of the obscene trade with emission rights ("cap and trade"), despite the wretched experiences with the ETS (European Emissions Trading Scheme). This technique is based on a pro-big business trade that allows the atmosphere to be privatised through turning rights to pollute it into a commodity (carbon credits), which can be bought and sold between companies and financial traders. Comparisons have been made to the old hypocritical letters of indulgence of the Catholic Church, where sinners could buy themselves free of sin.
When the model first was introduced by the EU in January 2005 the lobby organisations of big business, just as when a similar system was tried by ten states in the USA, were so successful in their efforts to achieve a high cap that it more or less failed to limit any companies’ rights to emit carbon dioxide. For the few companies that had to buy extra rights to pollute the price was so low that it could easily be passed on to the customers. Even oil companies like BP and Shell could sell carbon credits with a net profit of 30 billion Euros each before the prices on the emission rights crashed in March 2006. Nothing has stopped the Swedish state-owned energy giant Vattenfall (meaning waterfall), which received much more carbon credit than it needed for free, to use its huge profits in making massive investments in buying European coal-powered plants.
Even the EU´s later attempt to develop the cap and trade method has become another waste of effort, especially since the price on carbon credits collapsed once again because of the economic crisis.
Despite this, the foundation has been laid for a new financial industry with carbon traders, carbon exchanges and even a trade with derivatives that is based on the assurance to be able to buy carbon emission rights according to a certain price in the future. One fifth of the extra carbon emission rights that European companies or their carbon traders buy, according to the European ETS-trade, can be acquired through buying rights not to do anything themselves by compensating and replacing their own inaction with cheaper and, in theory, energy-saving projects (offsets) in developing countries. This is done through the so called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that was created by the Kyoto Protocol.
Half of these CDM offsets have so far been carried out in China and India. Not surprisingly, this trade stinks with corruption, and is, in reality, nearly impossible to control and value. One UN source estimates such non-existing or else falsified emission reductions to one fifth. A study at Stanford University estimates the proportion of offset projects without any real limits of emissions as between one third and two thirds.
How many energy efficiency projects that have been carried out but would have been made in any case is impossible to know. One of the bosses of the French energy giant EDF warns that the cap and trade with carbon credits will create another sub-prime crisis.
So far this trade with CDM offsets has often been carried out as small-scale projects, like often badly planned and questionable tree plantations, at the same time as more costly investments with larger long-term benefits in the advanced capitalist countries are pushed out. Exactly how far an agreement in Copenhagen or thereafter will go is at this stage difficult to know. But a global agreement based on large-scale cap and trade will without doubt become a counterproductive sabotage to the struggle to combat climate change and to achieve an environmentally sustained development.
The governments of China, India, Brazil and other developing countries refuse to agree to emission targets that in their view would damage their right to economic development, while possibly a majority of the US Congress will insist that even these countries must be included in order to protect the USA from a loss of "competitive power" as a precondition for their own participation. This disagreement, that so far has been a key obstacle to a deal in Copenhagen, lobbyists for an extended cap and trade-system want to "solve" through promises from the developing countries to participate with a certain minimum share of CDM offsets and the removal of limits to the share of such a CDM trade in a new climate agreement.
Not just indigenous peoples but also Interpol are warning of the consequences of a UN proposal to allow its programme to save the rain forests, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), becoming part of a 30 billion dollar cap and trade system. "Alarm bells are ringing.
It is simply too big to monitor. The potential for criminality is vast and has not been taken into account by the people who set it up...
Organised crime syndicates are eyeing the nascent forest carbon market. It will report to the bank that REDD schemes are open to wide abuse," Peter Younger, Interpol environment crimes specialist and author of a new report for the World Bank on illegal forestry, has said.
Neither the US nor the EU-states are prepared to adopt a binding international agreement about a carbon tax, something that, for example, Lester Brown proposes as an alternative to cap and trade in his new book Plan B 4.0. A proposal from the EU tax commissioner Laszlo Kovacs, supported by France and Sweden, to introduce an all-Europe carbon tax was rejected by Britain at the EU finance ministers’ last meeting in Gothenburg and will hardly receive the unanimous support needed. It is even less likely that the Obama administration in the USA would succeed in adopting European-style fuel taxes in a country that largely lacks collective traffic alternatives, or that the governments of developing countries, as the World Bank recommends, can cut fuel subsidies in the order of $300 billion without provoking social uprisings, even if these subsidies primarily are favourable for the wealthy and the middle classes. To compensate this with targeted subsidies to the poor masses is a recommendation that most governments would ignore.
A socialist alternative
The transition from fossil fuels and capitalist exploitation of people and nature to sustainable and just societies based on renewable energy is the most fateful issue of our time. It is an issue that, together with the associated humanitarian food and health crisis, will be tremendously worsened by climate change; it will increase global consciousness among the young peoples, workers and the poor masses of the world more than any other issue about the urgent need to replace the current short-sighted and profit-based capitalist world economy by a worldwide and democratically planned socialism, in order to guarantee the survival of mankind and its need to live in balance with nature. As even a UN report states: "To freeze present global injustices over the next half century or more would be economically, politically and ethically unacceptable."
With or without a new climate agreement in Copenhagen the sheer instinct of self-preservation will push even the capitalist governments and big business to act when they realise that even their future is threatened, even if their methods and actions will be too little, too late, wrong and with unfair consequences. Some actions can hopefully be forced on the capitalist governments by struggle from below, that at best can contribute to limit the damages and win some time.
A socialist programme must have as a point of departure scientific findings concluding it is necessary to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 50 per cent by the year 2020 and a minimum 90 per cent or as close to zero emissions as possible to year 2050 in order to have the possibility of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5-2ºC. Another central point of departure is the need to immediately aid all those worst affected by weather catastrophes and food crisis.
Above all in more developed countries, but also in several developing countries such as China, India and Brazil, efficient programmes for a rapid replacement of fossil fuels are needed, at the same time as all countries must get access to new and the most modern technology without consideration to old capitalist patent rules. Massive support efforts are also necessary to fight global poverty, to protect the rain forests, re-plant trees and for more ecological methods in all regions threatened by land erosion and drought.
In the light of this, what is needed is a deepened discussion of transitional programmes with global, national and local demands that can enthuse people and be a guide to struggle for concrete demands, building a socialist consciousness.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna rejects all proposals for trade with emission rights, all of them reactionary. Such a trade means a kind of privatisation of the air, giving the capitalists the right to buy themselves free to destroy it. Such a trade also creates a new and insane speculative finance market which inevitably leads to massive and uncontrollable corruption at all levels. We also reject all utopian proposals for individual carbon dioxide rationing, which not only would be impossible to control and establish, but also would be marked by the same kind of corrupt markets.
Trading emission rights only give more room for exactly the same capitalist market whose fundamental weaknesses create the problem and are defined like this by Lester Brown in Plan B 4.0: "It does not respect the sustainable yield thresholds of natural systems. It also favours near term over long term, showing little concern for future generations. In does not incorporate into the prices of goods the indirect costs of producing them.
As a result, it cannot provide the signals telling us that we are caught up in a Ponzi scheme."
Capitalist companies and governments are typically looking for all kind of supposedly easy "solutions", such as nuclear power, carbon dioxide capture and storage, genetically manipulated crops, etc.
A provocative example is how the Swedish government has given the green light to energy giant Vattenfall’s major investments in nuclear power and coal power stations, four times the size of the investments in renewable energy. The biggest investments, in German coal power, have been defended with reference to the company’s exploration of the possibility of carbon capture and storage in the ground. In other words, something that, if it ever becomes practically and financially possible, will take a very long time to develop. Socialists are, of course, not against such research or, for example, very long-term research in fusion power, but demand a freeze on coal power (and alternative jobs through other green investments) until such a way out has been proven.
Neither will the capitalist crisis offer any easing for the climate, although the present crisis is believed to lead to a temporary downturn in carbon dioxide emissions with 5.9 per cent in the US and 3 per cent globally. Unfortunately, global investments in renewable energy at the same time have been reduced by 40 per cent or more.
Tax increases can only give short-term results. Taxes on fuel and electricity help to explain why emissions in Europe are less than half per capita compared to the US. As the World Bank climate report explains, a swap of all American SUVs to cars that fulfil European emissions demands would save as much CO2 emission as it would cost to give electricity to the 1.6 billion people globally who don’t have it today.
But "green" taxes will hit the low paid hardest if they are not compensated with reduced taxes and fees that are most important for the low paid, for example free public transport and lower taxes on new apartment buildings. Green taxes on fossil fuels and large cars can, as congestion charges, be tolerated if they are combined with massive investments in alternative and subsidised collective transport. Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna stands for free public transport in all cities and towns.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna first and foremost wants to take on capitalism’s climate and supply crises as well as the economic crisis and mass unemployment, with a socialist plan for massive investments in all sectors of society for energy saving and renewable energy: in transport as well as industry, agriculture, forestry, and in housing, schools and buildings of all kinds.
Transformation should not only cover production but also consumption, such as public transport, energy saving in housing and urban planning, sharp taxation of wealth, inheritance and very high incomes for more equal incomes and patterns of consumption; probably also support for increased vegetarian diets.
A socialist plan to save the planet’s climate will, of necessity, have different emphases in different countries and regions.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna supports many of the views put forward from hundreds of climate activists, mainly from developing countries, who for example have signed the Statement on the Kyoto Protocol and Climate Change in favour of ideas like:
- The needs of peoples and the planet must come before global capital’s pursuit of profits (People’s Needs, Not Corporate Greed);
- The necessity of a paradigm shift from growth and development models based on transnational corporations’ exploitation of people and nature to popular sovereignty over natural resources;
- There are no simple technical or market solutions;
- The climate threat is not only an environmental question but has to be seen as an issue of social justice with roots in the plundering of natural resources by the Northern states and transnational companies;
- The pursuit of growth and profits is the basic reason for exploitation and structural poverty;
- There is an inherent contradiction between free trade areas and neo-liberal policies on one hand and the global struggle to reduce emissions on the other;
- The rich in the North, together with the elites of the South, are historically responsible and must carry the largest burden.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna at the same time explains that such a paradigm shift cannot be made without revolutionary transformations of societies and the building of a global movement for jobs, welfare and the climate as part of a socialist programme. At the same time, struggle and consciousness must be built in struggle for concrete transitional demands.
For socialists in Sweden, for example, this means:
- Supporting a target to reduce emissions by at least 50 per cent to 2020 (the government’s target is a reduction with 30 per cent compared to 2007, which for Sweden is the same as 40 per cent from 1990), with the aim of reducing emissions by at least 90 per cent or as close to zero emissions as possible by 2050.
- Massive investment in wind power, sun- and geothermal heating and in the longer term also wave power, together with a necessary renovation of the electricity grid.
- A speedy transformation of the transport sector must start as soon as possible; transport today is responsible for a quarter of energy consumption and a third of total emissions of fossil fuels.
Such a transformation demands:
- As rapid as possible conversion from fossil fuels to hybrid cars and electric cars through increased demands on emission reductions and subsidised green cars (also bio fuels that are based on waste, not ethanol that is based on food);
- National, regional and local plans for high-speed trains with low fares between Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, and along the northern coast, as well as a massively expanded network of regional shuttle trains and public transport in underground/trams, PRT and buses;
- Free public transport in cities and towns instead of gigantic highway projects such as the new Stockholm highway;
- Domestic flights in the south of Sweden should be replaced by high-speed trains, allowing a closure of Bromma airport (the city airport for domestic flights in Stockholm), to instead be used for housing;
- Terminals for smooth re-loading of goods from trucks using no-fossil fuels to trains and terminals for coordination of local truck transports;
- New city planning to use less energy demanding apartment buildings and more public transport;
- All public transport should immediately be retaken into state and council ownership;
- Nationalisation of the car industry and private energy companies under the control of the employees for a rapid conversion of production towards more public transports and production of new and electric cars, trucks and buses without fossil fuels;
- A plan for climate renovation of housing and buildings, including water, garbage, electricity, machinery and installations, which stand for a third of energy consumption although a lesser share of fossil fuels.
This demands a struggle for:
- Renovation of the large housing blocks built in the 1960s and 70s (the so-called "million programme"), to improve the standard under the control of the tenants, with the aim of becoming low-energy buildings with maximum energy efficiency;
- New houses must be built as low-energy houses or "passive" houses (no external heating) that together with solar cells and/or geothermal heating even can become "plus houses" with a surplus of energy;
- All oil and electricity for heating must be replaced with remote heating, garbage-based bio-fuels and heat pumps (or solar cells or geothermal heating);
- Today’s tax discrimination of apartment buildings must be replaced by a policy of housing for everyone and apartment buildings with low rents, where housing is a right and not a commodity;
- Building and housing costs should be limited through a state investment grant and cheap loans, alongside the nationalisation of banks and the big building companies and the big building material industry.
Plans for dramatically increased energy efficiency and gradual replacement of fossil fuels must be speeded up in all energy and manufacturing companies, under the control of the workers. These industries today stand for close to 40 per cent of energy consumption, of which the share of oil has been reduced from 50 to 12 per cent since the oil crisis of the 1970s. The biggest emissions, according to figures from 2008, are made in the iron and steel industry (6.6 million tonnes), electricity and remote heating (3.1 million tonnes), refineries (3.0 million tonnes), cement industry (2.2 million tonnes), chemical industry (1 million tonnes), the lime industry (0.8 million tonnes) and ore production (0.6 million).