Sunday 11 October 2020

Will COP26 Achieve anything Meaningful for the Ecological Crisis?

The next United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), delayed by the Covid 19 pandemic, will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, next year from 1 to 12 November 2021. It is the first time that the UK has hosted the conference, which will likely open against a backdrop of grim evidence that the planet’s ecology is under serious threat. Currently, the facts detail the scale of the looming disaster:

·        A global temperature increase of 0.85C against a 1951-1980 baseline, whilst being on course for global warming of an expected 4.1°C – 4.8°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

·       Atmospheric CO2 at 412.75 parts per million, when CO2 needs to kept to no more 350 ppm to avoid drastically rising temperatures.

·       The Greenland ice mass reduced by -4040 Giga Tonnes since 1992.

·       Arctic ice cover reduced by 2 million square metres since 1979.

·       A rise in sea levels of +69.21 mm since 1992.

Figures above supplied by The Guardian.

·       90% of the global population breathes air exceeding World Health Organisation exposure targets.

·       There are now close to 500 dead marine zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom, caused by various pollutants.

·       The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, since 1900.

These statistics point to ecocatastrophe and possibly extinction for humanity and all other species on the planet. And all of this after 25 previous world conferences on these matters, so the chances of anything positive being agreed appear to be slim in the extreme, even with the stakes being so high.

The much heralded COP21 held in Paris in 2015, which was meant reduce CO2 emissions and so keep global temperatures below 2C, was largely a fraud. The Trump administration in the US has now pulled out of the agreement, but even if the US had remained committed to the actions agreed in Paris, it would have had little effect on rising emissions.

Some of the pledges included non-existent (on any large scale) technological fixes, like carbon sequestration, which are entirely meaningless.  

A report written by climate scientists in 2019, “The Truth Behind the Paris Agreement Climate Pledges,” concluded:

“Countries need to double and triple their 2030 reduction commitments to be aligned with the Paris target,” said Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-author of the report that closely examined the 184 voluntary pledges under the Paris Agreement.   

The report’s analysis of the 184 pledges found that almost 75 percent were insufficient. In fact, the world’s first and fourth biggest emitters, China and India, will have higher emissions in 2030. The US is the second largest and its pledge was too low. Russia, the fifth largest emitter, hasn’t even bothered to make a pledge. The European Union is likely to exceed its pledges, but not by the margin required for it to be effective.

Given the seriousness of the situation, why is there such reluctance to take the necessary mitigating actions from the worst offenders? And secondly, why do environmental campaigners, especially the large NGOs put so much effort into these useless conferences?

The industrial capitalist states and their corporations that produce most CO2 emissions in their production processes, make a lot money out of the status quo. These processes require huge energy inputs, which mostly comes from burning fossil fuels, as it is the cheapest and most reliable source of this energy.

Fossil fuel produced energy can be produced close to where it is needed too, reducing transmission losses, unlike renewable sources, which in the main need to be produced further away from the point of use, and will lose power on the way, even if enough could be produced for the system’s ever expanding needs. The imperative to grow, or die is inherent to the capitalist system.

As for the environmental campaigners, they really can’t see the wood for the trees, if you will forgive the pun, when it comes to inadequate pledges on emissions reduction, and buy into false techno solutions and ‘market based’ solutions like carbon trading, which have failed wherever they have been tried. The 100% clean energy movement led by the US based Sierra Club with a $80 million donation by billionaire capitalist Michael Bloomberg, has created a renewable front for natural gas.

In the UK, the prime minister, Boris Johnson last week announced a plan to power all UK homes from off-shore wind farms by 2030. It is not clear whether this means replacing natural gas for heating, as well as current electrical demand, but it seems a tall order if it does. Not to mention, other buildings, transport, industry and farming power supplies. At the same time, his government has made fracking licences easier to obtain by businesses that extract shale gas.

All demand for power will grow as it does inevitably under a system that requires ever expanding markets to survive. All those new gadgets and those to come, need energy to operate them, as well that used to produce them.

The problem to a large extent is that people just can’t imagine a world run other than by capitalism. This is what Joel Kovel, the ecosocialist writer refers to as the ‘force-field’ of the system, and so all attempted solutions to climate change and other ecological ills, have to fit with capitalism. Which in turn means they will not be effective, and tend to be piecemeal or green washing fantasies.

Perhaps another recent announcement by the UK government reveals that the ruling classes are only too well aware of this. Government tells English schools not to use anti-capitalist material for teaching leaves me with the impression that they don’t want the young, who are most likely to have ecological concerns, to join up the dots and reveal the truth about how the world is run. Censorship never works, especially in these days of the world wide web. These dots will be joined, or we will have no future worth living.  

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