Monday, December 03, 2018

Change the system, not the climate

COP24 or to give it its official name the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is upon us from December 3rd to 14th in Katowice, Poland, with the purpose of ensuring the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The ambition is to adopt rules and tools that will create a systemic solution for the whole world, replacing the fragmented objectives, which doesn’t allow for a comprehensive approach to all important areas of emissions (such as transport, energy, buildings, agriculture), removals balancing emissions (forests, soils), implementation measures (including financing) and measures to adapt economies to expected changes in the future (the so-called adaptation measures). The success of Katowice will be to make progress in the mechanisms without which the Paris Agreement will not be able to function in real terms. Also crucial is constituting a financial framework for climate protection and assessing progress the developed countries' commitment to mobilise $100 billion annually for developing and undeveloped nations to combat climate change.

 The position of the Socialist Party is clear. There is very little chance of a deal in Poland that will make a significant difference to the climate crisis. The talks will follow the same pattern we see every year: two weeks of deadlock and backroom talks excluding critical voices and marginised organisations, followed by a final flurry of amendments to the "agreed" text so that a last-minute compromise deal “rescues” the summit at the expense of actually taking any real effective action. The need to sign a deal that includes hard-line climate laggards like the US and Australia will mean an unambitious agreement. Those NGOs who enthused their supporters into campaigns to believe they can apply pressure on governments to come up with a deal will feel compelled to pretend that the lobbying has worked and progress has been made. Those quasi-pledges won’t really add up to much.  Katowice is not going to save the world. And those who pretend that it will are deluded at best, and downright dangerous at worst. Dangerous because while we continue to waste time hoping for a miracle, the resulting inaction risks becoming a death sentence for a number of countries, especially small island nations like Kiribati which will disappear under rising sea levels. Other countries will see falling crop yields and rising drought, which promise to kill millions of people.  People around the world are suffering the consequences of some of the most extreme patterns of storms, droughts, wildfires, and floods ever experienced.

The capitalist class’s drive for profits has created a world where we are all dependent on fossil fuels in our everyday lives. As soon as we begin to consider climate change, two things become apparent. The first is that, by its very nature, the problem is global and no national solution is possible. The second is that the development of economic and social life, cannot be considered outside of mankind’s relationship to nature. Or, to put it another way, there is no separation between the activities of mankind, a part, and product of nature, and the rest of nature, upon which mankind depends. Mankind’s productive activity must be carried out, not independent of, but in accordance with, the laws of nature. In considering these questions, however, we run headlong into the very foundations of the global capitalist order. Take the problem of nation-states and the contradiction between the development of the global economy under capitalism and the division of the world into conflicting nation states. The expansion of the world economy has given rise to a conflict between the major capitalist powers for markets, profits and resources. Now it has emerged to the surface once again as each of the major powers attempts to shove off the costs of climate change onto its rivals, minimise its own costs and secure the maximum benefits from any emissions trading system that may be established.

The social relations of capitalism are based, in the final analysis, on the buying and selling. Overcoming the threat to human civilisation posed by global warming is inseparably bound up with the struggle for socialism, that is, the overthrow of the system of private ownership and the ending of national states. The dictates of profit must be overturned and the laws of reason applied to social and economic relationships. Confronted with this perspective, the apologists of the present order rush to its defence. But the rational democratic control of the economy, ending the domination of the blind workings of the market, is not a matter of preference. It is a necessity to protect the planet. Humanity is threatened by the outcome of its own economic activity, over which it has no control. Let us assume, for argument’s sake, that all those assembled at the COP24 in Katowice genuinely want to achieve an agreement to reduce global warming. They are unable to do so, because of the structure of the economic system over which they preside. This capitalist system has become the greatest danger to the continuation of human civilisation and we must change it.

The Socialist Party has no easy answer to the problem of climate change and offers no reforms to mitigate its effects because climate change is wedded to the operation of the capitalist system. However, surely now, when faced with what will be yet another disappointment, environmentalists must come to realise that the time has come to consider that climate change will not be solved until the question of who controls our future is resolved. The world will continue to wait for meaningful action by those in power. Our ruling class are in fact unable to alter their way of doing things even when they want to.  Some say the corporations will invest in the future (alternative energy) meanwhile others say corporations will hold on to the past (fossil fuels.) Ending capitalism and its over-riding priority of making profits is, in fact, our only hope and our only solution. The outcome of COP 24 will reveal how the planet remains subordinated to the institutions of profit.

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