Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Failure Guaranteed

More than four fifths of the world’s largest companies are unlikely to meet the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement by 2050, according to fresh analysis of their climate disclosures. A study of almost 3,000 publicly listed companies found that just 18% have disclosed plans that are aligned with goals to limit rising temperatures to 1.5C of pre-industrialised levels by the middle of the century. A third of the world’s top 200 companies still do not disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, despite rising concern that urgent action is needed to avert dangerous levels of global heating. Many are choosing to keep the full scale of their emissions under wraps to avoid losing investment.

The analysis shows only a fifth of these companies will remain on track by 2050 and more than a quarter are likely to push temperatures up by at least 2.7C. This trend is more pronounced in the world’s 200 largest listed companies. Almost two-thirds of the G20 are expected to be on track to limit global heating to 1.5C by 2030, but – without drastic steps to reduce emissions – this number will plummet to 18% by 2050.

Avoiding the climate emergency is no longer a plausible policy. The climate crisis is already upon us. If we want to stop and reverse the catastrophe we are heading towards, we need to know its causes.

Politicians as individuals may understand the situation well enough. But the governments in which they hold office are not free agents. A government of a country exists primarily to ensure optimal conditions for the accumulation of national capital – the wealth (value) owned by that country’s corporate and state capitalists – in competition with other national capitals. A government that defies the imperative of capital accumulation in any significant way immediately comes under pressure so intense that it is forced either to change course or to resign.

The international climate negotiations may fail, but is that in itself cause for regret? So far these negotiations have achieved little of substance, apart from raising false hopes and creating new financial instruments for speculative profiteering. If talks break down because governments cannot accept measures that their own scientific experts tell them are necessary, that will starkly demonstrate that it has become impossible to reconcile the imperative of capital accumulation with the requirements of human survival.

We have a world to save and there is no saving it without ending capitalism. That is the bottom line.

We often hear that “we” or “human activity” are responsible. These phrases are used to explain that global warming is not a result of natural processes. Yet it is not humanity as a whole which is responsible for the crisis. The climate crisis is caused by capitalism as an economic system based on wage labour, private ownership of the means of production (land, factories, machinery, offices), and production for exchange and profit. Today, production is not based on needs of most people on the planet. Capitalism pushes the planet faster and faster towards a global disaster. Describing the cause as “human activity” can lead to erroneous notions that if we change “our” consumerist behaviour (and if the government makes a few reforms), everything will be just fine.

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