The COP26 conference in Glasgow last November proved to be another predictable failure to address the climate crisis.
The pledges to limit greenhouse gas emissions, in order to keep the temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees as explained within the proposed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), are a complete fantasy. According to the 2021 Emissions Gap Report, the current plans within the NDCs will, at best, limit temperature rise to a catastrophic 2.5 degrees. The COP26’s biggest failure is yet another empty request of nations to put forward viable greenhouse emission schemes to limit temperature increases to the 1.5 degree goal set by the Paris Climate Conference 7 years ago. Both the current rate of increase and the historic trend suggest this will not happen, but the insufficient NDCs that came out of the Glasgow conference are the final proof that the issue is still not being tackled seriously.
Hence the question arises as to why exactly these conferences, and capitalist society as whole, are fundamentally unable to find viable solutions to the climate crisis. Put simply, their solutions are intrinsically limited to the framework of capital. Any real solutions will either be swept aside due to their incompatibility with capitalist society and its tendency of continued profits and growth in favour of plans that do align with such tendencies. Any “solutions” that are adopted, will have to continue to generate profits and growth which will ultimately lead them back to the very position that necessitated such “solutions” in the first place. Whether the ruling class actively knows this, or not, is besides the point.
The Capitalist Framework
All across the world we can find examples which serve to highlight why capitalist states are unable to provide any real meaningful solutions to the climate crisis: they exist to uphold capitalist property and ensure the continued accumulation of capital.
The suggestion of electric batteries replacing internal combustion engines within cars is one of them. Initially this idea was a way to move away from the increased greenhouse gas emissions that were a result of combustion engines and fossil fuels. Yet however many cars and other machines that rely on fossil fuels are changed to the electric alternative, the way in which it is done still requires massive amounts of rapid resource extraction needed from already vulnerable places of the world, which brings up similar issues regarding greenhouse gas emissions. Metal resource extraction itself made up 26% of global carbon emissions in 2019 and is likely to increase as more precious metals are required for such a transition.
Another example is the EU – which sees sustainable development as one of its core principles – undermining its own targets by the continued support for many of the driving forces of climate change. Subsidies under the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) are easily abused by fishing companies, which along with other fishing policies are one of the core reasons that EU deadlines to reduce overfishing are continually missed. Fossil fuel subsidies are given to already massive polluting sectors such as the transport sector, which gets nearly 50 billion euros each year whilst 2 billion euros a year to support coal power plants. The EU’s continued support of climate intensive sectors can also be seen in its large support of the livestock farms across Europe, which get 25 billion euros every year. This contributes large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 17% of EU’s total emissions, which match, or even surpass, many of the emissions caused by cars that are directly reliant on fossil fuels.
The capitalist state, just like the ruling class that it ultimately is an organ of, has no interest in upsetting the foundations on which it has been built.
Is There No Alternative?
Looking for solutions to the climate crisis, some may point to the Green Party, Extinction Rebellion or various “Green New Deal” proposals. But the issue is not that the capitalist state is currently acting in this manner due to having a “bad batch” of politicians in power, as something that can simply be put in different hands and then provide a radically different outcome. Rather this growing climate crisis is the perfect product of capitalist society as a whole. Many different sets of politicians, parties and governments have come and gone over the past few decades yet fundamentally nothing has changed in regards to the climate crisis. The capitalist state cannot be reformed or moulded into anything else other than a tool for upholding capitalist society and exploitation of humans and nature from which its wealth stems.
The capitalist state needs to be smashed and not just replaced with another ruling clique (as Stalinists and others have done in the past), but rather one in which the working class has seized political and economic power to then embark upon dismantling capitalism and hence the very basis from which it was born, resulting in a society in which human need, not profit, is the guiding motive. One in which humanity is able to fully realise its relationship with nature without the shackles of alienation that are present within capitalist society. As Marx put it in his 1844 Manuscripts,
"This communism … is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man [sic] and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution."
In this society and within the process by which we get there are the real solutions to climate change. Otherwise we are staring at a future of economic crises, climate disasters, pandemics and all out imperialist wars.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 58) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.