- Created: Wednesday, 16 December 2009 16:57
- Written by David Hetfield
‘It is necessary to point out that the consumer societies are those fundamentally responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment... A just international economic order must be applied. Pay the ecological debt instead of the foreign debt. Eradicate hunger and not humanity... Tomorrow will be too late for what we should have done a long time ago.’
Fidel Castro at the Rio Earth Summit 1992
Seventeen years after Fidel Castro spoke those words, the imperialists have largely forgone outright denial of the science of climate change, instead preferring economics to justify doing very little to halt the process. DAVID HETFIELD reports.
At present, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen to around 385ppm (parts per mil lion) from 280ppm before the industrial revolution, resulting in an increase of 0.74C in the period 1906-2005.1 Further warming cannot be predicted exactly due to positive feedback systems (ice caps and glaciers melting, therefore reducing the amount of heat reflected away from the earth; increases in temperature increasing water evaporation, which itself creates a greenhouse gas, therefore increasing temperatures further; as greenhouse gases increase, the earth and oceans cannot absorb as much of them which can lead to ‘tipping points’ etc), so the bourgeoisie concentrate on the conservative predictions.
When Gordon Brown was Chancellor, the Treasury commissioned a report by Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank, on the economics of climate change.2 The Stern Review proposes a climate stabilisation regime in which greenhouse gas emissions would peak by 2015 and then drop 1 per cent per year after that, so as to stabilise CO2 equivalents at 550ppm, leading to an estimated average global temperature increase of 3C. The report itself admits this may be enough to trigger a collapse of the Gulf Stream, leading to Siberian-like conditions in Western Europe. Most climatologists argue for the stabilisation of CO2 equivalents at 450ppm or less, but for Stern, ‘Paths requiring very rapid emissions cuts are unlikely to be economically viable.’
Hence, Labour’s response to climate change is technology and cap and trade. The technology fix is mainly nuclear power and the unproven carbon capture for coal power stations. Massive burning of coal in the industrial revolution was a technological fix for the depletion of woods and peat, previously used for burning. Nuclear power, like coal, leaves a time bomb for future generations, but just like our toxic waste shipped to Africa it is a problem for others to deal with the consequences. To enable nuclear power to be profitable, a carbon tariff will be set, forcing up the price of electricity generated by coal and gas, pushing increasing numbers of the working class into fuel poverty. Biofuels used as fuel for vehicles was also dressed up as a green technology fix, which caused big rises in world food prices, making more of the world’s poor hungry to feed the cars of the wealthy. Cap and trade is to set limits on carbon emissions, where the wealthy can pay extra to exceed limits. It is proposed that half of Britain’s ‘cuts’ in emissions by 2050 will be through the purchase of permits, meaning Britain will only reduce its emissions by 50% of what it says. Only imperialist arrogance could come up with a solution that keeps the majority of the world under-developed.
So it is with this background we approach the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen, which will be attended by top government officials from the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, Australia, Brazil and Indonesia. US President Obama will pass through early on, en route to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, but has not indicated whether he will attend for the last two days alongside other world leaders. China is sending Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who is head of the climate group in the state council.
The aim of the summit is to produce an agreement to replace the Kyoto agreement which runs out in 2012. The Kyoto agreement set legally binding targets for emission reductions for the world’s richest countries acknowledging that it was their responsibility for creating the vast majority of the greenhouse gases. Eventually, 182 countries ratified the Kyoto treaty; the US refused. The Copenhagen summit has set a very limited framework for discussion:
1. How much are the industrialised 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?
Preliminary discussions suggest that no agreement will be reached, African nations walked out of a UN meeting in Barcelona, supported by the G77 group of 130 nations, in disgust at targets proposed by the imperialist nations. Bruno Sekoli, chair of the Least Developed Countries group, said: ‘Africa and Africans are dying now while those who are historically responsible are not taking actions.’ The US is proposing they cut emissions by 4% on 1990 figures (dressed up as a 17% cut on 2005), and the aggregate for all industrialised countries’ proposals amounts to only 10% by 2020, whilst the G77 demand 40% cuts. Climate scientists say overall emissions need to be reduced by 25-40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
Whilst doing very little to change their emissions, the imperialists are trying to put the blame on the major developing countries, especially China and India. China has become the biggest emitter of CO2 by nation, but on a per capita basis emits less than a quarter of the US and half the UK amount. Out of all the G7 and EU countries, only Latvia and Romania emit less than China on a per capita basis. Historically, over the period 1906-2005 (which excludes the industrialisation of Britain, US, France and Germany, but includes years when China was occupied by Japan and India occupied by Britain), China’s emissions were 16% of the G7. India’s per capita emissions were around an eighth of the UK’s.3 Even these figures have an imperialist bias; while China produces cheap consumer goods for the West, the energy emissions needed to produce these goods are blamed on China. Gas flaring by companies exporting oil from Nigeria, led by Shell, has produced more greenhouse gases than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa put together, excluding South Africa.4 They count as Nigeria’s emissions. China has announced it will cut emissions by 40-45% on 2005 levels by 2020.5 President Obama has announced the rather more modest target of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020.
The imperialist nations have caused climate change, grown rich in the process, and made the poor of the world suffer. Therefore the rest of the world demands they pay to allow poorer nations to adapt to the impact of climate change and to reduce their own emissions while developing. Gordon Brown, who likes to champion the poor in rhetoric, suggested the fund for poor nations reach £100bn a year by 2020, administered by the World Bank. An insignificant amount compared to the debt of under-developed nations (over $2.9 trillion for the poorest 144 countries),6 and also compared to the gains made by the imperialists in their plunder of the earth. The ‘ecological debt’ owed by the imperialists has been calculated at $13trillion a year.7
The publication of the UN Population Fund’s report State of World Population 20098 was used by some news agencies and organisations like the Optimum Population Trust to blame climate change on rapid population increases, ie blaming poor countries, the rise in the middle classes in China and India, and immigration. The report does not reach that conclusion. In fact, in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1980 and 2005, the population growth was 18.5% and growth in CO2 emissions was 2.4%, whereas US population grew by 4% with an increase in emissions of 14%.9 Population growth is just one of the red herrings about climate change, to avoid the fact that it is capitalist development that is unsustainable, causing poverty, destruction and climate change.
It seems no coincidence that as the Copenhagen summit approaches, thousands of emails and documents have been hacked from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, selectively published around the world on websites, and used by climate change sceptics in an attempt to rubbish the science. These defenders of imperialist waste and destruction have used phrases in informal emails between scientists in an attempt to sow doubt about global warming science. It is part of what an unnamed EU diplomat called ‘managing people’s expectations’ in the event of no deal being reached in Copenhagen. However, they are unable to challenge the real science, which is showing that climate change and its effects are happening now at a faster rate than anticipated by the last IPCC report published in 2007.10
A world to win
‘From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].’ (Karl Marx)11
Whilst the planet is divided into imperialist and exploited nations, the only deal on climate change will be an imperialist deal. These people who defend war criminals and torturers, promote racism with their immigration controls and wars of terror, allow children to die of curable diseases, feed cars while people starve and destroy forests to grow plants for the cosmetic industries, are not going to make the planet a clean and healthy place for all to live and develop in. If you want to halt climate change you have to follow Cuba, the only nation in the entire world that has achieved a high level of human development, with a human development index greater than 0.8, while also having a per capita ecological footprint below the world’s average.12 Join Cuba, fight imperialism, build socialism!
1 International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Methane, nitrous oxide and the three types of industrial gases – sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs and PFCs are also greenhouse gases. For the sake of ease, carbon dioxide (CO2) is used as a standard, and the remaining gases are converted to their CO2 equivalents. Present concentration of CO2 equivalents is 430ppm.
2 Referred to as the Stern Review. Details of the Stern Review from The Ecological Revolution by John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review Press.
7 Quoted in The Ecological Revolution by John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review Press.
11 Karl Marx. Capital Vol. 3. Quoted in The Ecological Revolution by John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review Press.
12 World Wild.life Fund’s Living Planet Report.
FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010