REEL News have just published an excellent video of the Free Public Transport protest at the Glasgow COP last November. Well worth watching.
Mike Downham reflects on the impact of Covid, the aftermath of COP26 and what we might do differently in future. This article was first published in Scottish Socialist Voice.
It’s nearly two long years since we began to become aware of the potential scale and danger of the new virus. At that point some prescient people suggested that how we reacted to the pandemic would be a rehearsal for our performance in the forthcoming big show of climate breakdown.
This wasn’t the first time ‘rehearsal’ had been used for how we organise on the left. John Berger described every act of resistance as a rehearsal. Colin Barker called his 1987 book about the uprisings in France, Chile, Portugal, Iran and Poland between 1968 and 1980 Revolutionary Rehearsals. And he used this title again in his subsequent book Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age, written jointly with Gareth Dale and Neil Davidson published this year – posthumously for both Colin and Neil – which describes the uprisings in Eastern Europe, South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt since 1989.
It’s reasonable I think to say that we’ve made a right mess of the Covid rehearsal. Had we known two years ago what we know today, we would have learnt our lines and our cues more thoroughly. What we know today is that 9,634 people in Scotland have died; that the majority of these snuffed-out lives have been among the poor, the disabled and the marginalised; that 99,000 people in Scotland are living with Long Covid; that about 10% of children who catch the virus go on to have disabling poor health for weeks or months; and that the NHS has broken down.
That the NHS has actually broken down, no longer something we just fear might happen, was brought home to me this week by hearing about a middle-aged woman in the Paisley area with an 18-month history of severe neck pain who waited so long for surgery that she’s been forced to give up her job as a care-worker, then lost her home because she couldn’t keep up with her mortgage repayments. Not that this is the only tragic story about NHS failure we could tell between us.
Now the omicron variant (whether or not it turns out to be as bad as feared – we’ll have to wait a week or so before we know) is shouting at us from the wings, telling us that if we allow the virus to spread, whether in Scotland’s communities, schools and workplaces in an incompletely vaccinated population, or in largely unvaccinated countries sent to the back of the queue because they can’t pay, sooner or later we’re going to get a variant which will evade current vaccines.
And yet the cues were there in the script from the beginning. If we’d read it and learned it we’d have known we couldn’t trust the governments of wealthy counties, including Scotland, to not rely so heavily on vaccines, or to prioritise supply and reduce the cost of vaccines for poor countries, because these governments are locked into a system where profit trumps health. Yesterday’s top news was about Pfizer rubbing its hands as it suggested that annual vaccination was likely to be necessary – without mention of the financial and logistical implications of vaccinating eight billion people annually. Pfizer is relishing not only the prospect of a limitless market but also that it has outcompeted AstraZeneca both technically and in its propaganda.
Just as profit trumps health, so that the ruling classes allow the Covid virus to spread, it also trumps the devastating impacts of global heating which are unfolding for all humanity. COP26 has finally made it clear that neither wealthy governments nor the oil and gas corporations are going to take effective action in relation to global heating, despite being fully aware of and no longer denying the scale of the impacts which will result from their inactivity.
How can it be that one small fraction of human beings can inflict such suffering on the rest of their species? Andreas Malm and colleagues, in their new book White Skin, Black Fuel try to explain:
They are not perturbed by the smell from the blazing trees. They do not worry at the site of islands sinking; they do not run from the roar of approaching hurricanes; their fingers never need to touch the stalks from withered harvests; their mouths do not become sticky and dry after a day with nothing to drink … After the past three decades, there can be no doubt that the ruling classes are constitutionally incapable of responding to the catastrophe in any other way than by expediting it; of their own accord, under their inner compulsion, they can do nothing but burn their way to the end.
As we get our last call to take the stage in the climate crisis, what have we learned from the Covid rehearsal? What are our lines and what are our most critical cues?
The best approach to these questions may be to ask first what mistakes we made in the rehearsal, to avoid making them again. We should perhaps beware of:
- Knocking politely on town-hall and parliament doors asking the politicians to do things few of them can even contemplate doing
- One-off marches and protests which aren’t part of a charted programme of resistance
- Loosely knit coalitions, which dilute militancy with compromise
- Hoping to build a social democratic party which could win at the ballot-box
- Organising strictly within our political silos, whether parliamentary parties, or revolutionary groups, or single-issue institutions
- Underestimating the extent to which the ruling classes have stifled trade union power so that collective withdrawal of labour is no longer the readily available weapon it used to be
How then can we organise, if not in these ways? First, the Covid pandemic is far from over – in fact it can be said to be at a critical point, with the prospect that vaccines may not protect us, and that relying on vaccines alone is not sustainable. We’ll only be able to overcome this pandemic through traditional public health measures, delivered through a greatly expanded and well-resourced public health service. This is what we can start turning our attention to and fighting for. Covid is offering us the experience of another rehearsal, the key changes needed to address both Covid and climate becoming more clearly the same – rolling out and investing heavily in existing technologies instead of switching to uncertain ones. Vaccination on its own becomes the equivalent of Carbon Capture and Storage, both of them profitable for the ruling classes but disastrous for the rest of us.
Second, COP26 has shown us that targeted and sustained direct action works. The Indian farmers, after a year’s disruptive presence in Delhi, during which 700 of them died at the hands of the police, have won a historic victory. The first thing Modi did when he returned from Glasgow was to announce that he was going to withdraw the three laws against which the farmers had been protesting. Two weeks later Shell announced that they are giving up their ten-year plan to extract oil and gas from the Cambo field. This is a huge victory for the Stop Cambo! campaign – a direct result of its persistent visibility in Westminster over the last year, then its strong performance at the COP in Glasgow.
But in the midst of our celebrations of these two wins, we can see that the farmers are continuing to swamp Delhi. They want to see the three laws actually withdrawn, not just hear a promise. It’s probable that even then they will continue their protest for further, more systemic changes. Stop Cambo! knows too that it must not relax. There’s still Siccar Point Energy to unseat (the majority partner in the development of the Cambo field), and there’s the UK Government to force into a decision that no extraction license will be granted. A win is the cue to increasing the strength of a protest, not to ending it.
Third, we would do well at this point to start discussing what so far we’ve shunned: how are we to oppose the state oppression which is bound to escalate in relation to increased direct action? Is XR right to remain adamant about non-violence? Or did Mandela have a point when he said “The attacks of the wild beast cannot be averted with only bare hands”?
Another contribution to our ongoing thread of debate about ‘what next after COP26’. This post from Sara Bennet, Raymond Morrell and Pete Cannell, based on a revised and updated version of an article originally published on the rs21 and Conter websites, is intended as a contribution to that debate. It looks the rising level of industrial militancy in the UK and discusses the importance of this for developing a movement that has the power to force the kind of system change that we need to avert climate catastrophe.
The imperative for the COP 26 conference was to agree actions that ensure that greenhouse gas emissions (mainly CO2 and methane) are cut rapidly to restrict average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade. It failed to do that. This is the latest in a long line of failures. Carbon emissions have increased almost every year that COP talks have taken place since the first conference in Berlin in 1995. In 2020, despite reduced economic activity because of lockdown, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose faster than the average for the previous decade. 2021 is set to see the second biggest ever increase in CO2 emissions. The aggregate increase in parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere since 1995 exceeds the total increase over the previous 200 years. A staggering lack of impact that is pushing humanity close to the edge of runaway global heating.
Nevertheless, despite the failure of the COP, there are reasons to be hopeful. Glasgow was the focus for a diverse and dynamic series of protests that took place in more than 300 locations around the world. There has been a convergence in understanding of the science and economics of the crisis between climate activists and scientists and researchers. So for example, the IPCC reports are produced by consensus among scientists from around the world. The physical science section of the latest report was published in August 2021. It highlights the chasm between the reductions in greenhouse gases that need to happen and the reality of continuing increases. Increases that reflect the fact that while investments in renewables have grown, that growth is outstripped by new investments in fossil fuels. The second and third sections of the report were not due for release until 2022 but, in an unprecedented move, scientists have leaked drafts of the texts. Essentially the message is that restricting the average rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century is only possible if there are fundamental changes to the way economic and social activity is organised around the world. Quite simply the message is that business as usual, based on the assumption that the market will drive a transition to a low carbon economy, is just not an option.
But in essence COP26 stuck with business as usual. So how do we build a movement that is powerful enough to drive through system change in the face of opposition from the rich and powerful?
Part of the story of the Glasgow COP is the strikes and threats of strikes by Scottish workers. The industrial action by ScotRail workers that would have paralysed Scotland’s rail network while the COP took place was called off after the RMT union reached a settlement over a one-year agreement. But in a separate dispute strikes by workers on the night sleeper trains from Scotland to England went ahead as did action by Glasgow refuse workers, members of the GMB union. It was important that the COP coalition that brought together activists to protest and demonstrate at the COP provided open and consistent support for the strikers.
For too long the demand for a worker-led just transition has been abstract and disconnected from any sense of working-class agency. While climate activists have promoted the idea, concrete examples of class action have been lacking. So, whilst climate change has moved up the agenda of most trade unions in Britain, the disconnect between economics and broader politics continues to exert an influence over trade union engagement in the climate question. For example, the GMB has turned its back on meaningful action with its support for fracking. It also supports an approach to mixed-energy provision which may appear like a step in the right direction but allows the status quo to continue under the guise of sounding more balanced. Meanwhile Unite, which represents members working in some of the key ecologically damaging sectors, opposes fracking. However, it has often passed sensible-sounding policies around supporting climate jobs while simultaneously limiting their effectiveness by being unable to think beyond the immediacy of job provision, such as its position in favour of Gatwick airport expansion position.
Trade unions’ main role, of course, is to defend workers, their jobs and working conditions. However, this has too often led to a narrow focus, and a determination to defend the climate-damaging jobs that in time will simply undermine the very existence of such jobs in the future. Jobs in these polluting sectors have often also tended to be more highly skilled with a history of organisation. They also wield some power within the union structure. Due to their importance in terms of UK manufacturing and output, they have also been some of the worst affected by partnership arrangements, which basically attempt to convince workers that their interests align with their bosses.
When climate activists see unions acting in this way, it can breed a sense of cynicism, and to regarding the those working in these sectors as part of the problem, rather than as key to the solution. However, workers are right to insist that there will be meaningful and sustainable jobs for them and future generations. What’s more, increasing numbers of workers within and outside these sectors realise that time is up. These are workers that could and should be at the heart of planning what a real just transition would look like: which skills it could retain and build on, how to transfer them to building a viable future.
Things are changing. Four decades of neo-liberalism have resulted in grotesque levels of inequality. So, for example lorry drivers pay has remained stagnant while working conditions declined, and workloads grew. This is mirrored across society. The accumulated impact of these trends, compounded by the pandemic, is reflected in staff shortages in key sectors from transport to care. In this context workers are starting to organise, take action and win.
Whether or not the anger that these actions represent, and the confidence they engender, can generalise beyond immediate economic demands to grapple with the need for system change depends on the way in which political ideas develop in both the trade union and climate movements. Not least, a worker-led transition requires new forms of organisation at the base and a rejection of employer partnership.
Objectively the conditions are favourable for this to develop. Marxist Ecologist John Bellamy Foster argues that the existential threat posed by the climate crisis can create a revolutionary situation in which the struggle for freedom (from oppression, poverty and more) and the struggle for necessity (survival in the face of climate chaos) coincide. Such a formulation may seem like an impossible step from the action of rail workers and council workers in Scotland – yet building a movement that can achieve system change (necessity) will be one of many steps and reversals – sometimes slow – sometimes rapid.
For many, perhaps most climate activists, the IPCC’s conclusions are old news. It is precisely because of the way in which, year on year, world leaders have jetted into the latest COP and made decisions predicated on the assumption that the market is sacrosanct that so many have concluded that system change is the only answer. The slogan ‘System Change Not Climate Change’ is ever present on climate protests worldwide. But what the slogan means and how the change is achieved is less clear. Will capitalist enterprises respond to ethical imperatives or is state regulation required to force changed behaviour? Can a system driven by profit and capital accumulation ever coexist with a sustainable zero carbon economy? Or do we need a much more fundamental reorganisation of society? And at the same time, given the strength of fossil capital – structured through a century of exploitation of coal and oil and resting on vast resources of wealth and power – where is the power to make this happen?
The beginnings of the answer to that question of the power to change the system are evident in the rise of the school student strike movement around the world, the mass demonstrations that preceded the global pandemic and on the streets in Glasgow this month. But, apart from a moment two decades ago when the turtles and the teamsters marched together, organised workers have largely been absent from the stage. This why the industrial action around the Glasgow COP is so important.
In the aftermath of the COP a priority for climate activists must be to actively lend their support to striking workers, whether it be the refuse collectors in Glasgow and Brighton, the HGV drivers nationally or bus and rail workers. Supporting road haulage might on the surface seem contradictory to the fight against climate change but ultimately the change we need will come from below, with unity across the struggles being of paramount importance. Likewise, we need to see trade unionists march with their banners alongside climate activists at COP26 and beyond. The fights for decent jobs and a decent environment are not in opposition: they are one and the same.
Writing about how neo-liberalism and its consequences can be overturned, Panagiotis Sotiris talks about “productive reconstruction”.
We must think of “productive reconstruction” not as “a return to growth” but as a process of transformation and intense confrontation with capital, based upon public ownership, self-management, and forms of workers’ control. It has to be a process of experimentation and learning.
This seems like a pretty good agenda for both the climate and workers’ movements.
Thanks to Gus Woody for permission to adapt and share this brief summary of outcomes from the Glasgow COP
The run up – C19 and access
- Delegate passes – limited, for the rich
- Covid Red list restricted access from global south – borders and racism made this the least accessible COP for a long time
- The ‘Leaders Summit’ at the start is new at COP – performance art rather than substance
- There had only been one formal ‘Leaders’ meeting since Madrid 2019, all others informal
The run up – NDCs and the framework
- Ratchet mechanism – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
- Most nations submitted new NDCs in advance of COP26.
- Around 40 nations did not submit.
- Next round of NDCs covers the 2030s so this was effectively the last chance for setting policy on emissions reductions prior to 2030M
Major Policy Outcomes
- Glasgow Climate Pact – this was a new development
- Requests review by end of 2022. Australia has already announced that it won’t do this.
- Requests greater adaptation, climate, and loss and damage finance.
- Requests coal phasedown.
- Various other features.
- Article 6 finally agreed – system of carbon markets and other forms of cooperation (6 years late). Major issues remain on how emissions are counted and attributed.
- Similarly, finally agreed transparency rules.
Climate Colonialism continues
- Refusal to agree a Loss and Damage Facility. Refusal to therefore plan for climate impacts on the Global South.
- Failure to even cough up $100bn promised to developing countries. (Serco Test and Trace £37bn ~ $50bn). African group suggest $1.3tr.
- Adaptation, similar failure, calls to double finance in Glasgow Pact, but from low base. ($40bn in 2025)Warming Amounts
‘Current policies in place today will lead to a best-estimate of around 2.6C to 2.7C warming by 2100 (with an uncertainty range of around 2C-3.6C). If countries meet both conditional and unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for the near-term target of 2030, projected warming by 2100 falls to 2.4C (1.8C-3.3C).’ Carbon Brief
- Not enough, money and fossil fuels absent.
- Climate colonialism and imperialism continues.
- Too much faith in tech and markets.
- COP increasingly spectacular, inaccessible, and uneven.
Signs of life
- The COP26 Marches centred calls for reparations and involved trade unionists.
- Life outside COP26
- Neurath Coal Plant – Blockaded 5th November
- Lützerath Opencast Coal mine – Invaded by hundreds on 31st October/1st November
Over the next few days we are keen to publish posts that reflect on COP 26. We’re particularly interested in articles that look at the challenge of movement building in the wake of COP. To kick things off we republish this article by Brendan Montague the editor of the Ecologist which was first published online under a CC BY 4.0 license in that magazine on 12th November. Send articles or ideas for articles to email@example.com
The COP26 conference has failed to usher in a new era where capital is constrained to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown.
The future was supposed to be copitalism: a new global economic paradigm where national governments work together through the United Nations (UN) Conference of the Parties (COP) process to limit emissions and prevent runaway climate breakdown – while leaving capitalism otherwise intact.
The climate conferences have taken place annually for a quarter of a century. The aim is to negotiate global emissions targets that will be translated into national policies. The high-water mark was the Paris Agreement of COP21 when the worlds’ leaders agreed to limit global heating to 1.5C.
The mechanism agreed was “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). This means national governments are responsible for submitting commitments to cut emissions to the UN. The COP process is also supposed to include a “ratchet mechanism” where those government commitments are made increasingly ambitious.
In order to deliver on the NDCs each country would have to use a combination of carrot – investment, incentives, tax cuts – and stick – regulation and taxation – to move capital away from fossil fuels and towards “green” technology and infrastructure. The most obvious and effective means of reducing emissions is a limit or stop on the exploitation of coal, oil and gas.
Thus, “copitalism” is designed to maintain the status quo except where specific economic activity drives us towards climate breakdown. Capital accumulation remains the logic of our economies. Economic growth is maintained, or profit is delivered by the distribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest. Corporations continue to deliver profits for shareholders. Social inequality deepens. Poverty grinds.
The Glasgow conference, COP26, was the first deadline for presidents and prime ministers to hand in their Paris Agreement homework. The problem is, reducing fossil fuel exploitation involves a confrontation with the wealthiest, most entrenched monopoly corporations in human history.
And even on its own terms, the outcomes from the COP process over the last two weeks are catastrophic. As Climate Action Tracker (CAT) reported during the conference: “The projected warming from current policies – not proposals, what countries are actually doing – is…at 2.7 ̊C with only a 0.2 ̊C improvement over the last year and nearly one degree above the net-zero announcements governments have made.”
The distressing truth is Copitalism should be a dystopian nightmare.
Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, a CAT partner organisation, has said: “It’s all very well for leaders to claim they have a net zero target, but if they have no plans as to how to get there, and their 2030 targets are as low as so many of them are, then frankly, these net zero targets are just lip service to real climate action. Glasgow has a serious credibility gap.”
The new promises emanating from Glasgow would reduce this warming by just 0.1C. As Climate Action Tracker has established, there is a “very big credibility gap” when it comes to net-zero policy. Life under such conditions will not be worth living for millions, if not billions, of people.
The primary weakness of the COP process is that even the best outcomes are, by design, not action but words. The conferences are focused on national governments setting out new commitments, always framed by deadlines years into the future. The politicians and their parties may not even be in power when those chickens come home to roost.
Those members of civil society paying the most attention – concerned citizens, protesters, charities and NGOs and the thousands of journalists – feel duty bound to celebrate and amplify the smallest successes from the COP process. There is a deep concern that the general public will become disheartened, climate anxiety will intensify and campaigners will switch off.
And so one of the major successes being touted at the conference is an agreement signed by 40 countries to phase out coal power by the 2030s for the coloniser economies and 2040s for the colonised, and to end all investment in new coal power generation. China has not agreed to reduce coal production and burning at home.
There has also been much fanfare about the surprise agreement between the United States – historically the largest contributor to climate breakdown – and China – currently the largest national contributor. But even here the response of many at COP26 has been characterised thus: “This was a stage-managed nothingburger. There was nothing new bar words, nothing on coal, finance or loss and damage.”
The problem is, climate breakdown is a physical reality.
A total of 88m barrels of oil were produced globally in 2020. The historically unprecedented international shutdown of production as a result of the global pandemic did not come close to reducing our use of oil by the levels necessary to prevent climate breakdown. Indeed, production was at a historic high of 95m barrels in 2019. There is no reason to believe it will not return to these suicidal levels in the coming years.
Further, a total of 159,610,000 tonnes of coal were produced globally in 2020. Again, the pandemic slowdown resulted in a dip in mining. But, even so, coal production globally is higher today than when the gavel was struck to mark the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016. And bear in mind that there remains 1,074,108,000,000 tonnes of proven coal reserves around the world.
The actual introduction of a copitalist economy would inevitably result in coal, oil and gas becoming stranded assets. Those companies that hold these assets would not be able to exploit them, turning assets into sales into profits into dividends for shareholders. The share prices might not collapse, but they would certainly move. If capitalism works on any level, then it is that those with capital will only invest in companies that deliver a return on that investment.
The share prices of the major energy companies tell the same story. ExxonMobil currently has a market capitalisation of $281 billion. A share in the company today is worth $64 – indistinguishable from the price on the opening day of COP26 and well above the $35 price from this time last year. ExxonMobil shareholders do not fear copitalism.
Likewise, the share price of the Peabody Energy Corporation – the world’s largest private coal company – remains steady at $11, almost three times its value last year. Closer to home, shares in BP have risen from £2.36 each to £3.41 in the course of the last year, as the company recovers from the pandemic.
The justification for this political project is that the need to avert climate breakdown is so urgent and critical, and the likelihood of a wider and deeper political transformation of our societies and our economies is so remote, that the capitalists must be appeased while being persuaded that climate mitigation is in their interests as much as anyone else’s.
The problem with the capitalist project is that capitalists are not running the capitalist system, but perversely the capitalist system runs the capitalists. The corporate leadership of any country does not choose what or how it produces but instead is the flotsam of our societies willing to do anything to ride the wave of capitalist wealth-making at any cost.
Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Shell, is a moral vacuum. But this is not a personal failing of a human being who just happens to have risen through the ranks of his corporation through hard work and diligence.
A capitalist logic has promoted those executives who deliver results, deliver profits, precisely by grinding the most out of the human and natural resources they control. No amount of evidence or hectoring can change van Beurden’s mind. And if it does, he will be out of a job.
The assembled delegates, the surrounding banks of NGO campaigners and exhausted journalists try to understand the daily shocks and disappointments of the COP process. It is assumed that a failure of understanding on the part of a particular leader – usually someone else’s leader – is the cause of failure at the conference. We are wedded to the idea of human agency, of powerful saviours, of national leaders.
The delegates of COP26 negotiating our collective future are hidden away in a cordoned off zone within the Blue Zone. More than 500 of those delegates are either directly within the employ of fossil fuel companies or delegates for government departments working with Big Coal, Oil and Gas. The NGOs and the journalists accredited to the zone are locked out of the real discussions, relying on press conferences for any crumbs of information.
The Blue Zone itself feels like a military encampment on the banks of the River Clyde. The fences tower overhead with delegates rushing through turnstiles guarded by security. The Green Zone along the road is entirely separate, but here the pavilions are dominated by National Grid, Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Microsoft. The message – that corporations are the solution – is not subtle. The Green Zone is open to the public, and school children tour the science museum styled displays.
Civil society is represented in Glasgow. But the COP26 Coalition is both physically and metaphorically cast into the hinterland in venues scattered across the living centre of the city of Glasgow. Here the science of climate change is understood and accepted, and the reality of the actual change needed to prevent calamity is discussed. The attendees are actual people from Glasgow.
The discussions at the venue in Adelaide Place were wide ranging and meaningful, taking in the Green New Deal, degrowth, Indigenous traditions, the threat of green colonialism, food sovereignty, international trade, and more. But the event seemed only to coincide with the COP negotiations happening less than two miles away. There seemed no possibility of these debates influencing the proceedings.
Copitalism should be a dystopian nightmare. The COP26 conferences are a political project aimed at maintaining as much as possible of our current global economic system. The billionaires will continue to make gargantuan profits, fuelling their intergalactic fantasies. At the same time, 15 million people have likely died from coronavirus and billions are denied a cheap vaccine to maintain the profits of the pharmaceutical industry.
But the experience of COP26 during the last few days suggests that copitalism itself is an unachievable utopian dream, as vacuous as Charles Fourier’s vision of the oceans turning to lemonade. There is, alas, no real need for a neologism. Capitalism cannot allow copitalism to exist, such is its rapacious need for mountains and oceans of coal, oil and gas.
Barack Obama when president of the United States was instrumental in defusing the Paris Agreement and now calls on young people to protest for climate action. During his speech on Monday he made the following confession: “There are times where the future seems somewhat bleak. There are times where I am doubtful that humanity can get its act together before it’s too late, and images of dystopia start creeping into my dreams.”
The reality is that COP26 is failing because capitalism cannot allow copitalism to supersede. We cannot postpone the work of ending capitalism until after we have moved to avert climate breakdown. Because capitalism is climate breakdown. Ta’Kaiya Blaney of the Tla A’min Nation, the Indigenous activist told People’s Plenary meeting before a walkout today: “Cop26 is a performance. It is an illusion constructed to save the capitalist economy rooted in resource extraction and colonialism. I didn’t come here to fix the agenda – I came here to disrupt it.”
This argument does not have to be simplified for the public. We already know. As Cora, a 15-year-old member of Fridays For Future from Edinburgh said so eloquently this week: “Letting that kind of capitalist theatre run every COP? We are never going to see the change that we need now.”
But if copitalism is now an impossible utopia, is capitalism really the only game in town? Is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the billionaire? Or is now the time for the climate movement to merge fully into the environment movement, the social justice movement, the (dare I say it) anti-capitalist movement so that we can aggregate our traumas, our grievances, our hopes, into something with the force and multitude that can begin to challenge the capitalist machine at the core of our misfortunes?
The famous quote from the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci also seems apposite right now. “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.
Despite wind and heavy rain one hundred thousand people marched in Glasgow yesterday. They were joined by hundreds of thousands more at over 300 locations around the world. Here’s a visual record of the Glasgow march. Thanks to Graham Checkley for the pictures and video.
And here’s an overview of the whole march from our friends at REEL News
This article by Scot.E3 activists Brian Parkin and Pete Cannell was first published in the newsletter of the Scottish United Left. United Left is a self funded organisation for UNITE members, with the principal aim of promoting a socialist agenda within the Union
For the better part of a century Scotland has been energy self-sufficient. Since the end of World War 2 an ‘energy mix’ of coal, hydro, natural gas and nuclear provided an embarrassment of riches as far as power generation was concerned. Not only was Scotland power generation self-sufficient but it was also a net exporter of power to England and Northern Ireland via inter-connecter cables. But over the past decade, the picture has been changing radically.
Firstly, much of Scotland’s ‘thermal’ power plant- coal and nuclear has been retired– and the one gas-fired plant at Peterhead has been down-loaded; and without the fitting of carbon capture plant- it too, will be closed by 2025. Also, by 2030 Scotland’s remaining nuclear station at Torness should have closed. And despite a considerable investment programme in wind turbine construction it is conceivable that Scotland will be unable to meet its peak winter demand at times.
The November COP 26 Climate summit in Glasgow will present evidence showing a worsening picture of runaway climate change due to the failure to control and reduce CO2 and other greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. But even before the summit begins, many scientists and environmental activists have expressed doubts about any targets on greenhouse gasses being met. This is bad news which suggest that fundamental political changes are required in order to bring the world economy in line in order to prevent a global catastrophe. But rather than just await a solution from upon high, it is essential that wherever possible, climate crisis abatement strategies are undertaken now.
Relative to much of the rest of Europe, Scotland is endowed with a combination of natural assets- which if harnessed responsibly- could turn the country into a showcase green energy economy. Scotland has one of the longest coastlines of any country in Europe- along with some of the most reliable wind resources- both on and off shore. Another exemplary energy resource is the Pentland Firth- the tidal stream straits between Northern Caithness and the Orkney Islands. It has been calculated that if a mere 20% of the straits energy could be captured then the power needs of Scotland could be met.
The social dimensions
Any radical shift in the economy is not possible without the jobs to achieve it and the democratic consensus to make it possible. But no such programme is possible unless there is a clear understanding that the status quo can no longer prevail. It is a status quo that is driven by a profit motive that denies both environmental responsibility and social justice. So while the planet overheats, the elderly and poor shiver. Therefore, we will need a Just Transition that will transfer and retrain workers from old sectors into building and maintaining the various component sectors of the green economy. There will be houses to upgrade to new thermal standards and new houses to build that incorporate those standards. New smart power distribution and supply systems will have to be built and maintained. Also the design and manufacture of new wind, tidal, wave technologies and supply systems will require a new generation of workers.
A truly green economy must also take into account the wider built environment- issues like clean free public transport and the redesign of energy efficient public amenities and enhanced cultural facilities. And Scotland which beyond its central belt has a dispersed population dependent on road transport- which raises the prospect of non-fossil fuel powered vehicles.
These and many other issues will present themselves as the transition towards a green energy economy nears. But it is essential that every stage of these transitions are the subject of truly democratic discussion that will at each stage raise the question of whether Scotland will remain part of a dire global problem- or a leading part of its solution.
Brian Parkin and Pete Cannell for Scot.E3
As the climate talks were starting in Glasgow, the Edinburgh COP26 Coalition and Edinburgh XR held a march of around 400 people from the Meadows to the Scottish Parliament – ending with a rally at the parliament. Speakers included a young activist from Kenya, Friends of the Earth, the Edinburgh Muslim Women’s Association and many more. Ex oil worker Neil Rothnie spoke for Scot.E3.
Scot.E3 is collaborating with other climate jobs campaigns to organise this event at 415pm on November 9th at COP26
There are currently over a dozen national climate jobs campaigns around the world, as well as further green new deal proposals. The articulation between the climate justice movement and the labour movement is, at this moment, still in its early steps and the pandemic has not promoted any sort of coalescence. The Corona Crisis is not an external event, but part of capitalist over-consumption of nature. Climate jobs are therefore one of the key components of any programatic and political alliance between climate and workers movements. Capitalism has no plan but collapse, so we need a plan from below. To overcome the climate crisis we need a political program for society, and workers in all sectors need to be involved in shaping a livable future for humanity, which will take a lot of work!
4:15 pm UTC+0
Albany Centre. 44 Ashley Street, Glasgow, G3 6DS United Kingdom
Emma Cockburn (Scot3E – Scotland),
Nuria Blázquez (Ecologistas en Acción – Spain),
Jonathan Neale (One Million Climate Jobs – UK),
João Camargo (Global Climate Jobs / Empregos para o Clima – Portugal)
Josua Mata (Sentro – Philippines)
Julia Kaiser (Students for Future, TV N 2020 – Germany)
Jean-Claude Simon (Transform Europe! – Denmark)
Ditthi Bhattacharya (New Trade Union Initiative – India)
This post by Ian Campbell was first published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in response to a joint editorial published by the BMJ and other journals on the climate emergency. There was no coverage of carbon budgets (to show the urgency) or of the problem of widespread self-censoring that has been identified by Scientists for Global Responsibility. We repost it here with permission from Ian and from the BMJ.
The UK’s share of the Paris-compliant global carbon budget will be used up in 3.3 years
How urgent is an “emergency”? The word usually implies that immediate action is needed, but in the two years since the declarations of a climate emergency by many national and local administrations following the 2019 street protests, there has been little effective action. In some countries, e.g. the UK, fossil fuel use has even been encouraged by measures such as further road building. It is all a long way from the “rapid and far-reaching transitions”, taking just a few years, that was envisaged by the IPCC SR15 report of 2018, which sparked the street protests.
We can quantify the urgency of the climate emergency in terms of the residual carbon budget – i.e. how much more CO2 can be dumped into the atmosphere without a major risk of exceeding 1.5°C global warming – and how soon this budget will be used up at current emission rates. It turns out that the UK’s fair share of the global carbon budget will be used up in 3.3 years. The maths are simple, but this timescale of 3.3 years is so far from what is being discussed, even in your editorial, that it is worth explaining the calculations in detail, as follows, so that readers can check for themselves.
The 2021 IPCC AR6 report (Table SPM.2 p38) gives 400 billion tonnes CO2 as the global carbon budget to keep global warming to less than 1.5°C with 67% confidence. This is from the start of 2020. With a world population close to 8 billion, and using an assumption of global equity, this is 50 tonnes per person on the planet as a lifetime limit. The UK’s current CO2emissions are around 10 tonnes per person per year, according to a WWF report (Figure 21, p46). So the UK’s 50 tonnes per person will be used up in 5 years from January 2020, i.e. in December 2024, which is 3.3 years from now.
This should not come as a surprise to people in the UK since similar calculations were done by the Tyndall Centre after the 2018 SR15 report, and are readily available for each UK local authority. These typically give a fair share of the global carbon budget as running out in 7 years from 2020 at current emission rates – the period is 7 rather than 5 years since the local authority data provided by BEIS is incomplete in not including emissions that are embedded in imports. Despite being so readily available, these reports have been almost completely ignored.
Why is the need for radical change (emission cuts of double digit percentages per year) not common knowledge? Firstly, the UK Government promotes its Net Zero 2050 plan as a satisfactory solution, but the Government is not being sufficiently transparent that emissions from aviation, shipping and imports are excluded, or about the implications of the commitment to global equity, or about the feasibility of the implied technological solutions. Many commentators repeat the Government’s claims without challenge, but youth climate activists see through them and are speaking up about the deceits. Secondly, for various reasons, many climate scientists and many NGOs are self-censoring about the size and urgency of the changes needed – it is easier to campaign against the expansion of a particular airport than to explain the blunt truth that any leisure flying using fossil fuels is incompatible with a lifetime personal carbon budget of 50 tonnes CO2, since a reliable food supply and keeping warm are much higher priorities.
Yet another COP may help, but what is really needed is for everyone to tell the truth about the climate emergency so that it is treated as an emergency, and to call out misinformation and deceits whoever makes them (however uncomfortable that is), as is advocated by Scientists for Global Responsibility in their Science Oath. It is clear that we cannot rely on governments to take the right decisions by themselves, however much they are urged to. It is up to citizens to be much more involved in policy making, and health professionals with their independence and their experience in making and explaining tough choices are well placed to make a major contribution to this.