g8: G8 can’t save the planet

The discussions on climate change at the G8 summit in Gleneagles seem doomed before they have even started.

"The boat is sinking…we have roughly 45 years. And if we start now, not in ten or fifteen years time, we have a chance of hitting those targets. But we’ve got to start now. We have no time to lose." These are the words of Lord Ron Oxburgh, chairman of Shell. Global warming is now a generally accepted phenomenon, but will the G8 be able to reach agreement over lowering carbon dioxide emissions? And if they do, will they actually hit the agreed targets? Ken Douglas looks at the prospects for a solution to the coming catastrophe.


G8 can’t save the planet

The US has already altered the proposals to be discussed in a bid to undermine any action being taken.

The words "our world is warming" appear in square brackets, showing that at least one country disagrees with the statement. They have removed any reference to the fact that climate change is a ’serious threat to human health and to ecosystems’ and deleted any suggestion that global warming has already started and that human activity is to blame.

Ex-oil man Bush used a White House official who had previously worked for the American Petroleum Institute to water down research showing the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change – he has now gone on to work for Exxon-Mobil. The appointment of a leading climatologist to the Panel on Climate Change has also been blocked. Ex-oil company executive, Dick Cheney, packed an ’Energy Task Force’ full of other oil industry executives to engineer new legislation.

Why does the US refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and attempt to block any moves towards limiting its own CO2 emissions?

Whatever agreement is made, US capitalism sees this as the thin end of the wedge. Since the US produces 25% of all greenhouse gases (5,800 million tonnes every year), roughly twice as much as Europe, then its profits would be disproportionately hit by any real cuts made. This will make US industry less competitive – the world’s dominant miltary and economic power will not put itself in the position of being the biggest loser.

The "fatal flaw" in the treaty according to Bush is that there are no limits put on the carbon emissions from the so-called ’transition’ countries, who are rapidly developing industrial economies – India, China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa.

China is intending to build 550 fossil fuel power stations over the next 25 years (opening them at the rate of one every two weeks), coal consumption is increasing at 20% a year and car ownership in Bejing has doubled in five years. Between 1990 and 2002 carbon emissions rose 33% and by 2040 it will have overtaken the US.

India is the fifth biggest producer of carbon emissions and Russia, which has seen a catastrophic collapse in its industry, is the third. Moreover any country which undercuts its Kyoto targets can then sell ’emissions credits’ to countries who are unable to hit their targets.

So the chances of any real action against climate change emerging from the G8 summit appear very slim indeed. Carbon emissions in Britain, which is at least paying lip service to the treaty, actually rose 1.5% between 2003 and 2004. In 1997 Labour pledged to reduce carbon emissions 20% by 2010 and Tony Blair has already admitted that they won’t reach that and may miss the Kyoto target of 12.5% below 1990 levels.

It is clear that the US will seek to protect the short term profits of its own industry, although Bush is beginning to come under pressure, with some states agreeing voluntary reduction programmes.

There seems to be consensus in the scientific community on global warming. Sections of the capitalists clearly do see the necessity of trying to take action, as can be seen by the stark warning of Lord Ron Oxburgh.

However, they lack the control over the system, and the means to overcome the competing interests of the multinationals and the different nation states, necessary to effect real change.

Climate change is already affecting Africa

The Bush administration has also pulled out of commitments to fund a network of regional climate centres throughout Africa which were designed to monitor the impact of global warming.

Nothing better illustrates the real attitude of big business to the situation of Africa, despite all the platitudes about ending poverty leading up to the G8 summit.

70% of Africans are dependent on rain-fed, small-scale agriculture. This makes them extremely vulnerable to any climate changes which may affect the nature and frquency of rainfall.

According to the report Africa – Up In Smoke?, the issues of climate change and poverty in Africa are inextricably linked. In the next 25 years there will be water scarcity in 25 African countries (rainfall is predicted to fall by as much as 10% in the Horn of Africa), while temperatures may increase by 2¡C (double the rate of anywhere else). The sea level is projected to rise by 25cm by 2050

According to Nicola Saltman of the World Wide Fund for Nature: "All the aid we pour into Africa will be inconsequential if we don’t tackle climate change."

Most of the G8 countries have so far pledged little and paid nothing to a special climate change fund for the ex-colonial countries (the so-called ’third world’).

Following a meeting at Downing Street, the lead author of the report expressed despair at the failure of Blair’s officials to grasp the necessity of taking global warning into account, for example by improving sea defences in Africa. "Unless they match their aid plans with more action on global warning, it will blow their words to the winds. You cannot make poverty history."

Socialism – the only solution to environmental crisis

SOME ENVIRONMENTALISTS argue that the only way to deal with global warming, and other environmental problems, is to halt industrial development, putting a limit on the production of goods, and at the same time limiting the growth of the population.

They call for state regulation of industry, import and export controls, the imposition of tariffs against polluting countries etc. in order to try and control economic growth.

However, this then poses the question of whether by doing so they will bar the ex-colonial countries from the sort of economic development enjoyed by the G8 countries. Moreover, it ignores the realities of the capitalist system.

500 companies dominate the world economy, fighting for as large a share of the market as possible.

The market system as a whole is out of the control of any company or single government, even the US. No nation state is going to voluntarily damage its own economic interests and the strongest and biggest countries are always going to try and protect their own interests. That is the reason that the US is currently refusing to ratify the Kyoto Agreement.

Shell have just announced that they will be raising oil output by 40% over the next ten years, taking advantage of the high price of oil to make as much profit as possible. They may try and portray themselves as concerned about global warming – they have decided to appoint a "Mr and Mrs CO2" to showcase their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – but profits come first. For example, Shell has spent only $1 billion so far on developing alternatives to fossil fuels, compared to the average cost of $10 billion to develop one oil field.

The Socialist Party stood candidates in the 2005 general election as part of the Socialist Green Unity Coalition. We argue that it is impossible to effectively deal with the major global environmental problems without first changing the capitalist system.

Socialism – common ownership and democratic control and planning on a national, regional and world basis would transform society. Wasteful production, planned obsolescence and pollution, the destruction of plant and factories would be eliminated. It is in the interests of the working class to do so – they work in the dangerous conditions caused by polluting industrial processes and live in the areas subject to pollution.

There could be genuine international co-operation of scientists. For instance, the huge technological resources of the arms industry and the $1 trillion that’s spent on the production of arms could be used to develop methods of production which minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing greenhouse gases through energy conservation, say by making buildings energy efficient and developing comprehensive public transport systems, to reduce car use, could become a reality.

Resources could be devoted to the development of alternative energy sources, such as fuel cell technology, solar, wind and wave power.

Above all the barriers would be removed for humanity to co-operate on a world scale to address all the major problems facing it.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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July 2005