Environment: 2012 earth summit

Why Rio+20 will cut no ice

Every day an update of the extent of the ice in the arctic sea is posted on the National Snow and Ice Data Centre website. On 10 June, this update showed that the polar ice cap had shrunk below the previous record-setting year of 2007.

The Northern Sea Route round the ice cap (the Northeast passage), became ice-free for the first time in the satellite record in August 2005. This year it is almost ice-free already.

The earth’s ice cap faces the sun and its white surface reflects back sunlight like a gigantic sunshade. That ice is thinning four times faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models predict.

Despite clear evidence of rapid warming, the forthcoming United Nations Rio+20 Earth summit, to be attended by 120 world leaders, will once again show that the capitalist nations are incapable of doing any more than fiddling while the planet burns.

Already negotiations have fallen into "disarray" in advance of the summit – this despite no legally binding commitments even being requested.

National Snow and Ice Data Center daily image 20 June 2012

The Guardian (6 June) points out the central capitalist contradiction: "G77 [neocolonial] countries have argued that while the goal [of low carbon economies] is acceptable, they risk being at a competitive disadvantage in the race for future global markets and are suspicious that the green economy is a pretence for rich countries to erect ’green’ trade barriers on developing country exports."


There is every reason to be suspicious. As long as the world economy’s mainspring is capitalist competition, the so-called free market, a collective effort to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide is continually undermined.

Even the International Energy Agency (IEA), formed by the OECD to defend the oil-based profits of the multinationals against the Middle East-based oil cartel OPEC, has a number of reports and statements by leading officials warning about the dangers of climate change.

"A technological transformation of the energy system is still possible, despite current trends" which are "failing to meet the deployment objectives needed," its latest Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 executive summary says: "Low-carbon electricity is at the core of a sustainable energy system. Renewable energy technologies play a crucial role in this respect."

Yet the "share of energy-related investment in public research, development and demonstration (RD&D) has fallen by two-thirds since the 1980s" painting a "bleak picture": the "window of opportunity is closing rapidly" the report says. The technology to achieve that goal is available. Natural gas is no solution. Coal use must be reduced.

Ultimately the IEA will defend its paymasters, and cannot draw the necessary conclusion: That investment in R&D has plummeted and deployment has failed because capitalist Big Oil still pulls the strings of government.

A socialist solution, which starts from the nationalisation under democratic workers’ control of the energy and transport multinationals, is the only answer.

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July 2012