At the end of October, the UN published its 13th annual report on emissions targets, yet again stating that we are reaching another tipping point in greenhouse gas emissions. As expected, current commitments from countries to tackle this crisis are woefully inadequate. The deliberate malice of governments and corporations when it comes to climate change is staggeringly obvious to most, but as ever, what gets missed is just how imminent disaster is.
To halt global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to preindustrial levels, which the report warns is the maximum level of warming where there won’t be permanent runaway devastation, it requires a global emission reduction of 45% by 2030. That’s in seven years. The drastic changes across the world that would need to be implemented to reach that target are ludicrous in the extreme –– equivalent to getting nearly every internal combustion engine off the road, every jet out of the sky and replacing almost every power plant with a renewable source. Even a fully united socialist world economy would be hard pressed to undertake such an endeavour in such a short timeframe. We don’t have one.
The UN estimates that it would take 6 trillion dollars (2% of global financial assets) annually to meet the target. Capitalism is fundamentally incapable of organising economic activity on such a scale. In my last article I dismissed the 1.5 degree warming scenario as one where essentially a wizard fixes everything, and I hope this article illustrates why. The window for global capitalism to act has closed, and likely did over a decade ago.
Instead, we’re left with the bottom of the barrel ‘commitments’ the ruling class threw together after piling into Glasgow in their private jets last year. If the COP26 commitments are fulfilled, we will see a 2.5 degree Celsius increase by the end of the century. This would be disastrous. The above rate of warming will result in a near-complete breakdown of ocean ecosystems by the 2040s, with cascade impacts on land-based ecosystems, the displacement of a billion people, and the starvation of half the planet. Furthermore, once we reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will have passed a plethora of climate tipping points, including the total collapse of Greenland’s ice sheets (increasing sea levels) and the thawing of permafrost (releasing enormous amounts of CO2).
Most of these commitments aren’t being followed, and we are set to hit at least 4 degrees of warming by the end of the century.
Only five G20 nations are even projected to have a chance of meeting their COP26 pledges, which is mostly attributable to theirs being particularly abysmal, with Russia and Turkey’s pledges actually allowing for more emissions than they were even putting out. Despite the fact that the Ukraine crisis provides a tangible incentive for the West to abandon fossil fuels, the capitalist class has chosen to double down. Oil companies’ global profits more than doubled this year, with the UK government bending over backwards to give them free reign over the North Sea.
Sunak’s laughable windfall tax policy from May hands companies a 91% refund on all money they invest in new north sea projects, and Shell- whose global profits tripled this year- ended up paying no windfall tax because their UK operation spent all of their staggering would-be profits on building more oil rigs. It’s clear the British establishment has no interest in pretending to care –– Sunak couldn’t even be arsed to attend COP27 before he reluctantly decided he had nothing else on a mere 4 days before it started.
As the Ukraine war rages, the US military (the world’s largest polluter) has had its budget balloon to 773 billion dollars, the highest in history and greater than the world’s next nine largest military budgets combined. As the empire drags the world to the brink of nuclear armageddon for its strategic interests, it pushes us ever closer to climate apocalypse.
That’s not to say the ruling class doesn’t believe in climate change, it’s just that, as a story published in the Guardian this September reported, their priorities tend to involve constructing underground bunkers, and their concerns are more along the lines of “New Zealand or Alaska? Which region would be less affected by the coming climate crisis?” or “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”
The task of saving the environment is monumental, but not insurmountable. Though the UN report lays bare the fact that we’re going to rocket past 1.5 degrees, we don’t have to settle for the pitiful targets of COP26. Mass mobilisation of the working class around the world and especially in the imperial core can force the hands of governments. Keeping warming below 2 degrees is incredibly viable through sustained effort that we can make our governments exert, and would stave off the worst excesses of the climate collapse.
Chris Lickley, is a member of the YCL’s Glasgow branch