COP26 has seen a set of headline pledges and agreements made between many of the world’s capitalist nations. Sadly, and expectedly, none of them will come close to resolving the climate crisis, even if the promises are kept.
The fossil fuel industry has the biggest delegation at the summit, more than from any individual country. That sets the tone straight away. The industry’s giants are there plainly to pretend to be sincere about climate change.
In recent months we’ve seen them continue decades of work stalling and amending legislation and reports on climate change. Even weeks before COP26, coal and oil producers tried to water down an assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The agreements that come out of this event will have been subject to approval by the same bosses and bankers who are still subsidising the destruction of the planet.
The summit’s first major deal was 110 leaders promising their nations would end and reverse deforestation by 2030. It’s an important goal to fight climate change as trees absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide, but it’s been tried before.
A 2014 declaration promised to halve forest loss by 2020; it failed to deliver that goal and deforestation has increased since. Far more countries have signed this new agreement including Brazil, whose far-right leader Bolsonaro has been no friend of the environment. His rule has led to a sharp rise in the destruction of the rainforest, reaching a twelve-year high last year. Why is he so keen to sign such a dramatic deforestation pledge?
The main factors are probably the chance to get a share of $19.2 billion riding with the pledge, and the fact that, like other pledges at COP26, it is unenforceable.
But funders have no easy way to tell if deforestation is actually being reduced. Without being able to verify that countries are keeping their pledges, funders are likely to part with less money. Despite all the pledges, deforestation remains profitable to both legal businesses and illegal loggers who operate in the biggest forests. Signing up doesn’t actually commit Brazil and other countries to anything.
The next big headline out of COP26 was a ludicrous commitment from India’s Narendra Modi, another right-wing leader trying to act green. He proclaimed that India will have net zero emissions – by 2070. That’s 20 years after the demand made by the IPCC to ensure global temperatures don’t go over 1.5 degrees.
He also pledged to install 500 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2030, but India already had a target of 175 GW renewable energy production by 2022. It is currently at around 100 GW, putting it behind its existing target. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says 20% of India’s energy currently comes from renewables, disputing India’s official figure of 39%. So we can’t expect the third biggest emitter of CO2 to get near its targets. The outcomes of COP26 are looking grim at this point.
India wasn’t among the 40 countries that signed the summit’s coal pledge neither were the other two biggest CO2 contributors China and the United States. This pledge seeks to all but end coal power by 2040. India and China burn two-thirds of the world’s coal, so the pledge looks pretty redundant even if those that did sign reach their goals.
The IEA says we should phase out ‘unabated’ coal plants (plants without carbon-capture or other measures to slash CO2 emissions) by 2030 in advanced economies, with all unabated coal and oil plants gone by 2040. The technology exists, but in the US the only coal plant with carbon capture shut down last year after failing and burning $1 billion in the process (including $190 million of public money).
Methane has been the other headline fossil fuel as the second most harmful greenhouse gas. The Global Methane Pledge is a US-EU initiative and has not been signed by China, Russia or India, who are the three biggest contributors to methane emissions. Russia’s emissions rose 32% last year. The pledge itself only asks for a 30% reduction in emissions, so there’s a question over if it will lower methane emissions at all!
The IEA has stated that even if all the pledges made are met, we will still reach 1.8 degrees which will have a far bigger impact on life than 1.5 degrees. With the biggest and boldest pledges seemingly done already, COP26 has failed.
Failure of capitalism
The unenforceable pledges and deals made at COP26 rely on finance flowing round the world to spend and invest in a gigantic economic shift. The fact is, capitalism isn’t up to the task.
Globally, the wealth and technology exists to seriously fight climate change and to help deal with its effects already underway. But capitalism cannot make the necessary changes because investment is made to maximise profit, in competition with other capitalists, at the expense of all else. Governments internationally, representing the interests of their own capitalist class, are unprepared to make decisions that hit bosses’ profits. The global collaboration necessary to save the planet is not possible under capitalism.
Therefore, socialist change internationally is vital. Public ownership and democratic control of the banks and biggest polluters would give the working class itself the power to put the planet before profit. Investment could then be planned to develop new technology to improve people’s lives and the environment. Only a socialist world can save the planet from climate catastrophe.
Thousands protest over climate change
As well as the tens of thousands who marched last weekend in Scotland (see the reports of the Glasgow demos) many thousands took part in protests across England and Wales. Socialist Party (CWI) members report from some of the demonstrations:
Well over 1,000 marched from Cardiff City Hall to the Senedd, and in Swansea over 300 gathered in Castle Square. Socialist Party Wales and Socialist Students had large and lively contingents shouting “Our planet is not for sale” and “Socialist change, not climate change”.
Being the only organisation involved, literally flying the flag, for the need for socialist change clearly set us apart from other groups, and this was reflected when several young people, upon seeing our material, handed back other placards to take up our own.
At the Cardiff rally, there were many good speeches, but it was Socialist Party member Katrine Williams, speaking on behalf of Cardiff Trades Council, who put forward the clearest course of action to avoid climate change: “We need to nationalise all the energy companies so that we transition to fossil-free energy production, insulate our homes and transition to heat pumps instead of gas boilers.
“We need to nationalise steel so we can safeguard jobs in Port Talbot and transition to hydrogen-powered steel production.
“We need the Welsh government to nationalise public transport. Instead of subsidising the profits of Stagecoach, Arriva and First who then charge sky-high fares, we should use those subsidies to provide free public transport.”
Roughly 10,000 marched in London, and the Socialist Party had a strong contingent alongside young socialists and the Tamil Solidarity campaign. While the demonstration was mainly made up of an activist layer, we successfully put forward a socialist programme.
Our chant, “When they cut back and privatise, we fight back and nationalise” went down well among the marchers because, despite what the Tories and Blairite Labour try to say, people want to fight for nationalisation and fully funded public services. People want to fight for socialist change to end climate change.
Maggie Fricker, health worker, trade unionist and Socialist Party member was cheered by the 500 who rallied in Southampton when she said: “We have a saying in the labour movement, you can’t control what you don’t own. We can’t trust the multinationals. It’s time we took them over and ran them under workers’ control and management.
“We the 99% need to organise for socialist change, so we can harness the world’s resources and plan to feed and take care of everyone and our planet.”
A couple of thousand people joined the COP26 protest in Leeds. It was noticeable that important sections of the trade union movement had mobilised for the demonstration, with noticeable delegations from Unite, NEU, PCS and local trades councils on the march. Militant trade unionists, such as Bakers’ union general secretary Sarah Woolley, spoke.
Unfortunately, other speakers included those who are not friends of the workers’ movement or the environment. Labour West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin, was heckled by some attendees over her support for the expansion of Leeds-Bradford airport. Leeds Labour council, despite adopting a ‘climate emergency’, has supported the project with funding for an airport road link! Brabin has also failed to act so far on her election pledge to bring public transport in West Yorkshire back under public control.
Around 1,000 people marched around Plymouth city centre before a rally. RMT regional organiser Barry West spoke about the importance of expanded rail services, and ended by saying we need a revolution to avoid climate change.
Over 1,000 protesters marched through the city centre to Temple Row, joining the ever-growing cry for immediate action against climate change. Representatives from Youth Fight for Jobs and the PCS Union delivered powerful speeches once the march returned for the main rally.
More than 600 people gathered at Forest Recreation Ground for the opening rally of the march for climate justice. The Nottingham COP26 Coalition, which the Socialist Party participated in, had worked for two months to organise the event.
Despite talks, the Labour city council refused to close the road for the march. It was far too big to fit on the pavement and we were determined to march on the road. XR Rebels blocked the junctions so we could march safely and explain the protest to drivers as they did so.
Socialist Students stood out among the crowd at the Brighton climate protest. It was a huge coming together of climate and socialist activists with a common goal of a system that needs to change. A favoured sign by a Socialist Students activist read ‘Capitalism is burning our children’, and this is why we fight!