World has 12 years to solve climate change

RCG comrades at the Extinction Rebellion event, 17 November 2018

On 8 October 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists warned in a report for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that there are only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5ºC – the target limit agreed at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference – beyond which even half a degree will ‘substantially’ worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Brian Henry reports.

Previously it had been thought that a 2°C rise would be safe. This would have required a cut in carbon pollution of 20% by 2030 and then to zero by 2075. To keep to 1.5°C, however, carbon pollution must be cut by 45% by 2030 and then to zero by 2050. The report says this would require carbon prices three to four times higher than for a 2°C target, but that the economic costs of doing nothing would be far higher.

According to the report, achieving the half-degree difference could:

  • prevent coral reefs from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic;
  • reduce the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress by 50%;
  • reduce food scarcity for hundreds of millions of people;
  • reduce the severity of extremely hot days which have already, at 1°C, seen an increase in heat-related deaths and forest fires;
  • halve the risk of massive habitat loss for insects and plants;

The failure to achieve this would see rising sea levels affecting 10 million more people by 2100, with a half-degree extra warming bringing a forecast 10cm additional rise.The number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to ‘locked-in’ ice melt. Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity. One model shows marine fisheries would lose 3 million tonnes at 2°C, twice the decline at 1.5°C.

Conservative estimate

Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, said the final document was ‘incredibly conservative’ because it did not mention the likely rise in climate-driven refugees or the danger of ‘points of no return’ that could push the world on to an irreversible path of extreme warming.

Much has been made of the fact that Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris accord, but even pro-Paris nations continue to act against the spirit of their commitments. Britain is pushing ahead with fracking, Norway with Arctic oil exploration, and Germany wants to tear down Ham­bach Forest to dig for coal. As we said at the time, the Paris accord was in fact a trade deal.1

Apart from its conservative estimates, the report does not identify the root cause of environmental crisis: under capitalism, production has to continue expanding indefinitely, mean­ing more natural resources have to be turned into commodities every year. The point at which consumption exceeds the annual capacity of nature to regenerate was reached in just 212 days in 2018.2 The report therefore cannot identify the solution to the crisis: socialism and central planning to meet the needs of humanity instead of profit.

A new movement

However, the report has inspired a new movement which is prepared to take direct action. On 17 November, 85 people were arrested after hundreds of protestors blocked five of London’s main bridges. Some people locked themselves together, while others linked arms and sang songs. The action was led by an international organisation called Extinction Rebel­lion.

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Extinction Rebellion has made three demands:

  • The government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  • The government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  • A national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

This new movement appears to be a serious one and should be seen as a positive step in Britain, where acts of mass civil disobedience have been few and far between in recent decades. The Revolutionary Communist Group was the only socialist organisation to actively participate. In a show of non-sectarianism, the RCG was offered the platform, where we stated: ‘Climate change is a class issue. There is no such thing as green capitalism.’ This was a welcome change from our usual experience with the opportunist left who cannot countenance anyone or­ganising outside the Labour Party. Novara Media, a Labour left platform, went so far as to publish a dismissal of Extinction Rebellion on the day of the protest, arguing that ‘Winning solutions to climate breakdown will come from mass movements building popular power through trade unions, the Labour party and deep community organising.’

But the claim that the Labour Party is part of the solution to the crisis is more idealistic than anything Ex­tinction Rebellion has to offer. Rather than giving sectarian lectures from a safe distance, socialists must engage with this movement, many of whose participants are new to activism – and must convince them that the fight for humanity’s future is a fight for socialism.

1. See ‘Paris Climate Conference: World leaders commit to crimes against humanity’

2. See ‘Discussion article: Why technological determinism, “degrowth” and “green populism” cannot stop capitalism’s runaway destruction of nature’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 267 December 2018/January 2019


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