Copenhagen fiasco promises increased carbon emissions
Officially, the “global community” has been committed to keeping average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees above 1990 levels.
A United Nations Environment Program report in September showed that even if every government fulfilled each climate pledge it has so far made, the 2 degree threshold will be breached within 15 years, and temperatures will rise by over 6 degrees by the end of the century.
Humanity will only be able to survive, if at all, in small pockets of the earth.
Governments of the world are preparing to meet in Copenhagen for the final time before the current Kyoto treaty expires. The original aim of the summit was to reach a binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions. A momentous historical occasion?
Tragically, it is widely expected to be a complete shambles.
Just 80 days out from Copenhagen, the President of the European Commission had this sober appraisal: “The draft text contains some two hundred pages. A feast of alternative options. A forest of square brackets. If we don’t sort this out, it risks becoming the longest global suicide note in history.”
The competitive, profit-driven logic of capitalism has allowed environmental disaster to threaten us. “Remember, what we’re looking at is large-scale-systemic market failure.”
This quite accurate description of climate change is from none other than Kevin Rudd. Yet he will undoubtedly smile and shake hands with the other climate killers at Copenhagen, as they mouth empty platitudes and let the world burn.
What is being proposed by governments?
His failure to endorse the Kyoto Protocol is one of the many reasons why George W. Bush will be remembered as evil.
Less well-known is that Barack Obama also opposed it: as Senator for Illinois, he voted for a motion pushed by the coal lobby which condemned the Kyoto treaty and prohibited regulation of greenhouse gases in Illinois.
Now, as US President, Obama is proposing something far worse than the inadequate Kyoto target.
Kyoto called for a 7 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2010. The Obama administration is promising to reduce US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
So even though vast quantities of additional CO2 will have entered the atmosphere from US industry in the intervening years, we will end up with a higher yearly emission rate 10 years after Kyoto was to expire!
This is why it is so galling to hear so much of the media in the West blame rising industrial powers like China and India for the continuing threat of climate change.
The argument runs that developed countries like Australia would be unfairly burdened if they heavily reduced emissions without India and China committing to the same reductions. This is a weak and hypocritical excuse.
After all, developed nations like the US and Australia have been responsible for 70 per cent of all historical carbon emissions.
This is not to say that China and India are particularly better than any other capitalist country. Both governments are arguing that they should be given targets for reducing carbon intensity rather than total carbon emissions.
In other words, they are pledging to reduce the amount of carbon emitted per unit of economic activity – which usually happens automatically anyway as new technology is introduced in industry. Under this proposal, these growing economies could meet their “targets” while potentially increasing the amount of CO2 they emit.
As for Australia, Rudd’s CPRS emission trading scheme is an appalling fraud. For one thing, the reduction target is a measly 5 per cent by 2012, with a possible 25 per cent by 2020 depending on what other nations commit to at Copenhagen.
Emissions trading schemes have failed in the European Union. Market volatility and widespread rorting has meant that carbon credits have become ridiculously cheap, and therefore provide no incentive for business to change its habits.
Our cretinous Environment Minister Peter Garrett has acknowledged that “market failures will be likely to persist through the early years of the CPRS”.
The real centrepiece of CPRS is the easy loophole it provides for any company that does not want to reduce its carbon output: they can purchase unlimited “carbon offsets” from overseas.
This involves, for instance, paying a nominal amount to someone who owns a stretch of forest in Papua New Guinea if they pledge to refrain from cutting it down (even if they had no intention of doing so in the first place). The “target” could be met using such offsets, even though carbon emissions might not fall at all.
Instead of seriously trying to reduce C02 levels, governments of the biggest polluting nations have developed creative accounting techniques that mask their inaction.
The Copenhagen process is a game whereby these governments seek ratification for these accounting techniques, be it offsets or the concept of reduced carbon intensity.
What could be done?
We have the technology, means and knowledge to prevent abrupt climate change. Massive public works programs should begin immediately, which would also be massive job creators.
We need a comprehensive system of public transport. In particular we need large-scale railway expansion for both freight and intercity travel. Trains are cheaper and more environmentally sound than trucks and cars.
We need to cover the planet with wind farms and solar panels. The government should hire and train an army of workers to install solar panels on all new homes as well as hundreds of thousands of existing homes over the next few years.
All homes should have proper insulation installed by a publicly-funded agency. More energy-efficient appliances should be produced en masse, and provided below cost to anyone wishing to replace their inefficient appliances.
Whenever a particular industry becomes outmoded, workers in that sector risk losing their jobs. The archaic coal power station at Hazelwood in Victoria is Australia’s biggest polluter and needs to be switched off.
But its workers must be paid full wages until they are able to find work with comparable pay, or be given jobs associated with the new green sector.
A number of major British unions have backed a proposal for the government to create a million green jobs. The plan would cost £15 billion – less than Britain has spent on the brutal and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why don’t they act?
All of these proposals are completely achievable provided there is the political will. When governments deem something to be an urgent priority they can muster immense resources.
When the global financial crisis hit, governments forgot about balanced budgets and immediately gave massive bail-out packages to the banks and engaged in substantial stimulus spending.
This has so far amounted to over $US3 trillion spent and over $US11 trillion pledged by the US government alone! If comparable amounts had been given to renewable energy, Copenhagen could really have served its stated purpose.
This issue could not be more important or urgent, yet our governments are failing massively. The stalling is not about protecting jobs, as real action on climate change would create jobs.
Governments are stalling to protect capital: the trillions of dollars already invested in the fossil fuel industry.
The capitalist ruling class, whose interests each government serves, are not keen to be taxed to raise money for major public works.
They consider property rights and the right to make a profit as paramount. So they eschew talk of nationalising private energy companies, even though this is required to rapidly implement a new energy production system.
The cost of adhering to the dictates of capitalism may be life on this planet.
This article, by Patrick Weiniger, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.