by Róisín McLaren, SSP national co-spokesperson
· This November, the biggest talking shop in the professional conference circuit comes to Glasgow, the UN Conference of Parties (COP26). COP is the body that reviews the implementation of UN international agreements on climate change.
The latest of which was the Paris Agreement, in which countries agreed to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to the point that global average temperature will only increase by 2ºC.
When I was studying climate change as an undergraduate, we were told we would never reach 1ºC, let alone 2ºC. Global average temperature is now at 0.8ºC.
The Paris Agreement received a lot of coverage in 2016 because it was the first agreement signed by both America, China and India—the three biggest emitters.
Getting all of the big three to sign the same deal was considered a major breakthrough.
A breakthrough 25 years in the making. Yet after 25 years, still the only way to get America on board was to allow them a loophole.
America’s military was exempt from inclusion in their emission reporting statistics despite, as I have pointed out in the Voice in previous issues, the US military is the world’s single biggest emitter aside from entire countries.
So, what was heralded as a major breakthrough contained gaping holes, America made absolutely no attempt to meet its deadlines and Trump has now pulled out of the agreement all together.
COP26 in Glasgow will be yet another attempt to get all these countries back on board. Perhaps they will sign a new agreement, perhaps they won’t, but I suspect what won’t happen is any meaningful action to stop the world from burning.
The entire premise of the conference is flawed, it’s not nation states that control whether we halt climate change, it’s the fossil fuel industry.
The top five biggest emitters on earth are, unsurprisingly: Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gazprom, ExxonMobil and the Iranian Oil Co. The petrochemical industry is at the heart of ensuring we have an economy which is reliant on their products at every level of production. Real power is held in the board rooms of these multinationals, not in parliaments.
Halting climate change will require a complete transformation of the economy. It will require mass infringement of private property rights, a huge loss of profit and entire industries to dismantle themselves.
If the environmental movement is serious about preventing climate crisis then it will quickly end up in a direct confrontation with capital.
The environmental movement will then be faced with a choice; it can either embrace this confrontation, join forces with the socialist movement build mass popular support and push for revolutionary change… or it can stick to reforming our current system.
I sometimes hear environmental activists argued that environmental sustainability and capitalism are irreconcilable, that preventing climate change inevitably involves ending capitalism.
I think this is incorrect. The post-war period shows the capitalism can accommodate left social democracy, it can tolerate Keynesianism, contain public ownership and massive state intervention.
No parasite wants to kill its host. Wages under capitalism are kept at subsistence levels, subsistence i.e. enough to survive, if not ‘live’. The same may be true for capitalism’s response to climate change.
Even the bosses need the planet to kept habitable, not necessarily luscious and diverse but at least habitable.
Therefore, it is possible that the response to a growing social pressure for climate reforms results in the end of neoliberalism and the start of a green neo-Keynesianism period.
I suspect that this would be enough to satisfy most of the environmental movement.
However, there is the glimmer of another possibility, climate change highlights with such startling clarity the contradiction in capitalism.
Anyone getting interested in the environmental question very quickly stumbles onto questions about value, profit, ownership and the need to expand democracy into the economic sphere. Bread and butter socialist issues.
The left should be able to take the awareness of these issues in their relation to climate change and generalise them.
Three Extinction Rebellion activists recently scaled a gas drilling rig in Dundee. Messages from these activists in their video were heartening. They understood that climate change is a systematic problem caused, in their words, by multinational corporation’s profits. They also talked of need to create new green jobs to replace those in the fossil fuel industry.
Climate change represents an opportunity for the left to take these activist’s awareness of capitalism’s systematic failures, in relation to the climate, and show how these failures are also replicated in the relationship between labour and capital.
Crucially however we must go further with the argument than being merely anti-capitalist, that leaves the enviable question of: we know what you’re against, what are you for?
COP26 in Glasgow is an opportunity to make those links with the environmental movement. Thirty thousand delegates will descend on Glasgow, camera crews and journalists. Even those who do not routinely follow the goings on of the UN Conference of Parties will notice this summit.
The SSP must be at the heart of organising an alternative summit. The STUC Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group are planning such an event, Extinction Rebellion will undoubtedly intervene in COP26, the SSP should link with such groups to ensure that COP26 isn’t just another stop on the professional conference-goers’ circuit.