Last chance for world leaders at Paris Climate Conference

Governments from 196 nations met at the Paris Climate Conference (COP) that began on 30 November with the urgent need to commit to global emissions reductions over the next decade and beyond. Climate scientists warn, unequivocally, that the global temperature must not exceed a rise of more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels to avoid irreversible ecological catastrophe. With 2015 set to be the hottest year on record, the planet is already more than halfway there. Despite over 20 years of alarm, negotiation and debate, projections based on current emissions put the Earth joyriding towards a rise of six degrees by the end of the century – a similar difference to that between today’s world and the last ice age. World leaders insist Paris will succeed where the debacles of Kyoto and Copenhagen failed. Barny Phillips reports.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says CO2 emissions must be eliminated by 2070 at the latest to prevent climate disaster. The same must happen to all greenhouse gas emissions – including methane, nitrous oxide and ozone – by 2100. Every excess tonne of carbon emitted between now and 2030 will bring those dates forward. These objectives are not new: they were established and agreed upon in theory at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. But instead of being curbed, carbon emissions have spiralled upwards from 23 billion tonnes in 1990 to 32.3 billion in 2014.

Much rests on the world’s biggest polluters. Estimates state that the US oil company Chevron has put ten times the amount of emissions into the atmosphere as all of sub-Saharan Africa combined (except South Africa). In 2013, though, fossil fuel subsidies totalled £550 billion, more than four times the subsidies for renewable energy. Without having contributed to climate change, poor countries below the equator are already experiencing increased aridity and escalations in hurricanes and monsoons.

The commitment and co-operation necessary to address this existential challenge has never come close to materialising. The US Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Copenhagen conference in 2009 was described by environmental organisations as a fiasco. Is there anything to suggest world leaders can be trusted to undergo a Damascene conversion in Paris?

COP organisers have avoided fundamental questions. As Le Monde Diplomatique reported: ‘The overall target for reductions, the definition of the global emissions peak and the monitoring mechanisms are still very vague. Taxing sea and air travel remain taboo. And the re-evaluation of a mode of production that is pushing humanity towards crisis has been postponed.’

Multinational corporations insist that the same anarchic free market laws will fix the crisis they created. This is fantasy. The vast majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must remain buried to prevent climate chaos, but the question remains: what is the incentive for powerful oil conglomerates to comply? They must, by their very nature, prioritise profit. The inherently wasteful capitalist system cannot achieve a radical shift to 100% clean energy production without emitting too much along the way.

The 148 countries responsible for 87% of emissions have presented their on-paper targets. The EU has set reductions of 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 and the US has committed to a 26% cut by 2025. But even if past failures go unrepeated and these targets are met, the global temperature would still be on course for a rise of nearly three degrees.

In the wake of November’s terrorist atrocities, France’s draconian state of emergency laws mean protests at the Paris conference have been banned.* But the world is watching.

* As we go to press, at least 24 climate activists have been placed under house arrest in France ahead of the Paris conference.

Exxon Mobil's climate change cover up

In a demonstration of capitalism’s incapacity to act beyond its vested interests – even with humanity itself at stake – the world’s biggest oil conglomerate, Exxon Mobil, has been exposed as having concealed proof from its own scientists that climate change was real and manmade since 1978.

Two investigations, one from the Pulitzer prize-winning website Inside Climate News and another from the Columbia Journalism School, both found that Exxon ignored warnings from its own scientists. Instead it used the information to buy oil leases in the areas where it knew ice would melt and waged a global marketing campaign to promote climate change denial.

The findings of Exxon’s scientists were validated in the early 1980s with concrete results from shipborne measurements of CO2 and computer models that predicted global temperatures would rise by 2-3°C this century – a figure that remains accurate by contemporary estimates. As the head of one key lab at Exxon Research wrote to his boardroom superiors, there was ‘unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere’.

The faux debate over the credibility of climate change theory has raged since 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen testified to congressional committees in the US. Now in 2015, the catastrophic collapse of the massive West Antarctic Ice sheet is underway; the illegal operations of third-party suppliers to transnational industries have inflicted devastating infernos on Indonesia and the Amazon, releasing seismic amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere; and unprecedented quantities of methane are erupting from the destabilising sea beds of the warming, rising Arctic Ocean.

Poor countries are not to blame for climate change, yet they are already bearing the brunt of the devastating consequences inflicted by what Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Marcelo Garcia Linera calls the oppressor nations’ ‘consumerist orgy’. Europe is already walling itself off from the migration it manufactured. Left-leaning liberals continue to blame ‘corporatism’, obscuring its inevitable rise from the system of capitalism. Indeed, Exxon’s decision to conceal the truth was quite obviously determined by its relentless drive to increase profits.

A recent UN report confirmed that the latest voluntary (and inevitably hollow) pledges of 146 countries to curtail emissions would have a negligible impact. Without the radical spread of an ecosocialism being fought for by the peoples of Latin American countries, the world will eventually plummet headlong into barbarism. It is clear that the only system capable of marshalling the level of organisation necessary to achieve a sustainable future is a planned socialist economy. If survival is in one’s material interests, then revolution is perhaps in the material interests of more people than ever before.

Barny Phillips

VW emissions scandal - capitalists falsify green reputations

Cheating and fraud have become an increasingly prevalent feature of capitalism in deep crisis, so it will have come as little surprise to readers of FRFI when German automotive giant Volkswagen (VW) was exposed in September to be using special software in its cars to cheat nitrogen oxide emissions tests. These ‘defeat devices’ were fitted to vehicles to keep costs low, and performance high, whilst appearing to comply with environmental legislation. VW, like other corporations, is fighting for market share in a deepening crisis of capitalism. Subsequent revelations about other companies across the automotive industry also cheating in emissions tests revealed the truth of the words of an anonymous investment banker on a secret banking chatroom for the coordination of market manipulation: ‘if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying’.

The VW scandal

In 2014 the irregularity of VW emissions became apparent to researchers at the University West of Virginia who informed US authorities. In May 2015 the California Air Resource Board (CARB) undertook tests and then informed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On 3 September, VW admitted to EPA and CARB that it had installed software to deliberately understate emissions in its vehicles. The EPA and CARB waited until 18 September before going public, coinciding with VW’s launch of its latest vehicle at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

VW is the world’s largest automotive company; it has several well-known brands as subsidiaries, including mass production car companies Audi, Seat and Skoda, and supercar companies Bugatti, Bentley, Lamborghini, and Porsche. The falsification has been identified across the diesel ranges of all of the mass production subsidiaries and some petrol models, including Porsche. The software enabled VW to programme the car’s engine management system to recognise when the wheels are turning but the car is stationary – the conditions in which a test is conducted. When this is detected, it will switch settings to produce results which comply with the regulatory amount. VW has admitted that it has been doing this since 2009 when Bosch first approached it with the software.

The attack on the German automotive industry by US environmental bodies prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to go on the defensive, saying on 8 October: ‘Anyone who tries to pillory the entire automobile industry because of this misconduct in one area will have to deal with the CDU [Merkel’s governing Christian Democratic Union]’. However, since the VW scandal broke, other automotive German, US and Japanese manufacturers (the three nations dominant in the sector) have been found to have ‘discrepancies’ in emission reports. All have denied wrongdoing, however in the words of Dominic O’Brien an analyst at the French investment bank Exane BNP Paribas: ‘every manufacturer has now officially denied the use of illegal software to diesel vehicles... But I would compare it to the debate over tax avoidance versus tax evasion’ (Financial Times, 14 November 2015).

Britain

The head of VW UK, Paul Willis, told MPs at Parliament’s Transport Committee on 12 October that the amendments to British vehicles would not include the fitting of a new pollution filter system as will be the case in the US because the US has tougher pollution standards. Norman Baker, the former Liberal Democrat Transport Minister, revealed on 26 September that David Cameron delayed a British emissions agreement at the expense of the environment and public health on the request of Merkel, as higher levels suit German manufacturers. The emissions test used in Britain is over 20 years old and has now been called into question by MPs who have launched an inquiry.

The fight for market share

The US is second to Germany in the automotive industry revenue standings; its top three automotive companies within the top ten trail Germany’s top three by more than $966m. This does not take into account the fact that the US’s third place company Fiat Chrysler is a merger with Italian giant Fiat. Following the scandal, VW’s shares have taken a nose dive, its reputation is tarnished and it is estimated to face lawsuits amounting to $20-60bn, though the true cost cannot yet be determined. The imperialist crisis is putting huge pressure on multinational companies to do whatever it takes to maintain or increase their market share in the face of competitors. The state plays a crucial role in backing them up. The tighter environmental standards of the EPA and CARB mean they can be used to weaken imperialist rivals by discrediting and fining some of their largest corporations. The VW scandal follows the British Petroleum (BP) lawsuit which concluded in a record fine of $20.4bn on 5 October 2015 for the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010. Inter-imperialist rivalry is increasingly being played out under the guise of environmental protection.

Cal Shaw

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016

 

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