To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
November 23, 2022
RE: The failure of the 2022 UN environmental conference

COP27: Greenwashing the road to disaster

by Joseph Green, Detroit Workers’ Voice

The UN climate conference, COP27, has come to an end. It has taken place during a year which has seen climate disasters that have affected entire regions, such as  the Pakistan floods that affected over 30 million people. It is taking place when many climate scientists are saying that considerable permanent damage is almost certainly inevitable, no matter what we do. The goal of the Paris Agreement of 2015 (COP21) of restricting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (almost 3 degrees Fahrenheit) is not going to be met.

Yet COP27 took it for granted that the world will proceed along the same path of market-oriented measures, a path that has gotten us to the present disastrous position. This path has proved incapable of making changes sufficiently fast. The path of voluntary national pledges, public-private partnerships, and market incentives has  failed. The pledges are insufficient, and they weren’t met anyway. But COP27 closed its eyes to this.

Instead, to accomplish anything serious in curbing global warming, it is essential to see why carbon emissions have kept going up despite 27 years of UN conferences. It is necessary to see what was wrong with the old measures, and what needs to be done now. Serious damage is now inevitable, but the world needs to limit how much damage is done.

But the world bourgeoisie is complacent; it is still doing business as usual. Indeed establishment news accounts even echo the UN saying that it was a “historic achievement” that COP27 established a fund for the richer countries to pay for some of the environmental “loss and damage” suffered by the poorer countries of the Global South.  But in fact there was only an agreement to negotiate further on how to set up the fund and who would pay for it. Meanwhile the damages are going to get worse and worse, and eventually affect rich and industrialized countries too, as the climate deteriorates.

Thus COP27 was a conference of greenwashers, who spout environmental words while continuing to let the situation decay, thus creating a “green” facade to hide the criminal failures of the world bourgeoisie while disasters mount. COP27 even claimed to maintain the goal of restricting global warming to 1.5 degrees C, although it wouldn’t even commit to dealing with all fossil fuels.

Time’s up

COP27 should have been an emergency conference. It met at a time when it is unlikely that the world can avoid a good deal of permanent environmental damage. The threat of global warming has been known for half a century. [1] Had measures been taken in a timely way, they could have been gradual and incremental, and major climate change could have been averted.

But the situation now is that the world faces the likelihood that one or more major “tipping points” will be passed, in which environmental damage causes irreversible changes, or has already been passed. Recent reports indicate that “At 1.5C of heating,....four...tipping points move from being possible to likely ... Also at 1.5C, an additional five tipping points become possible, including changes to vast northern forests and the loss of almost all mountain glaciers.” [2]

And there is little doubt that the world is going to pass 1.5C. Many academics have signed a letter which holds that “continuing to say publicly 1.5 C is still alive is no longer defensible” (see the appended letter from Scientist Rebellion). This marks a tremendous failure of the efforts of the current governments to deal with this issue. Yet COP27 made no analysis about why this failure has occurred.

Market measures must be replaced by overall economic planning and regulation

The present environmental disaster is the result of the failure of  market fundamentalism and of the increasingly market-oriented state-capitalist regimes.   By the time of the first major world environmental treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, the world bourgeoisie had moved to replace strict environmental rules with market measures such as carbon trading. This went along with the move to privatize government functions, rely on corporate self-reporting, work through public-private partnerships, and allow  the big polluters to capture the agencies supposedly regulating them.

The only way to have the needed rapid cuts in carbon emissions is to have direct regulation of the entire economy. The total amount of emissions must be regulated, and the changes in production needed to cut those emissions must be mandated. This requires regulating the production of energy, but also the outlines of the rest of the economy. It requires looking not just at the carbon emissions from a product, but of how much carbon emissions were required to produce the product, as well as to dispose of used-up products.  This requires that major economic decisions over how land is utilized, how cities are designed, how water is used, and so forth cannot be left to individual capitalists to decide on the basis of how profitable it is for them. And it means the livelihood of the working masses must be provided too, rather than hoping that sufficient jobs will trickle-down to them as the agricultural and industrial economy is transformed to be sustainable and non-polluting.

Such planning and regulation is not only essential if carbon emissions are to be slashed rapidly. It is also even more important as climate disasters multiply, so that countries can mobilize their resources so that the population survives.

A different type of planning

This will mean a different type of planning than what has existed before. [3]  Some changes will eventually be forced on governments by the emergency conditions and economic crises caused by repeated environmental disasters. But the governments will still enforce the narrowest corporate interests, harming both the environment and the people's livelihood, unless the workers are able to exert constant pressure. For example, it is impossible to ensure that companies are producing in a clean way unless there is the mass involvement of their workers in checking how the production is carried out at workplaces. Also, both companies and government agencies must be required to produce reports that are comprehensible to people.  As it is now, not just company reports, but government and UN environmental reports are needlessly obscure, so that readers aren’t able to see what is really going on and exercise some supervision over the government agencies.

Under capitalism, government agencies will serve the overall interests of the capitalist class. So the transformation to a new type of planning can only be partially done. But some change in this direction is essential if there is to be progress in dealing with global warming and the other environmental catastrophes that are facing us. The fight over how far such changes are made will be an important part of the coming class struggles around the world, and it will be an essential part of building a movement towards socialism.

For now, COP27 did its best to exclude a voice for the masses. The conference was held in Egypt, which is suffering under the dictatorship of President El-Sisi, with  60,000 political prisoners languishing in jail. Moreover, COP28 is being planned for Dubai, another particularly repressive country, which is especially oppressive of its migrant laborers. While the UN has thus taken steps to prevent large protests at the climate conferences, it has embraced corporate interests ever more tightly.  Thus, more and more corporate lobbyists and polluters are sponsoring and attending the UN climate conferences. According to a report by the groups  Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory, and Global Witness,  at least 636 fossil fuel lobbyists registered for COP27, which was at least 100 more than at COP26. [4] So the UN would have the foxes guard the henhouse, and the fossil fuel companies set the climate agenda.

The belief that money solves everything

So COP27 shows again the world bourgeoisie doesn’t see the need for major change. It still believes in business-as-usual, and thinks that the climate crisis isn’t going to lead to major change, but just to some special surcharges to pay for some environmental projects. In essence, it thinks that if things get too bad, it will simply lay out money for some giant geo-engineering plans, such as trying to cool off the climate by such things as putting a space parasol over the earth or perhaps saturating the atmosphere with dangerous particulates. It doesn’t realize that as the environmental catastrophes get worse and worse, trillions of dollars in stocks and bonds and derivatives will become worthless, and only what resources physically exist will be important.

Loss and damages

Thus the main debate at COP27 was over whether the rich countries would pay loss and damages to poorer countries who were desperate when hit by major floods or droughts. The world bourgeoisie still believes that money solves anything, and the richer countries still use financial aid to demand that the recipient countries either pay off loans or adjust their economy to market fundamentalist dogma.

It is just for the poor countries to receive aid, but not only aren’t they being given much, but the discussion over loss and damage avoided dealing with the main issues brought forward by the climate disasters. For example:

For a working class environmental movement

COP27 shows again that the bourgeoisie still isn’t ready to take serious measures against the coming environmental disasters. Some things are done, but overall the environmental poisoning gets worse each year. Thus the fate of the world depends on how far workers around the world are able to organize and develop a movement independent of the bourgeoisie, a movement which will fight for true environmental measures, a movement which is independent of both the free-market Western bourgeoisie or the state-capitalist bourgeoisie.  At present, the radical left and the workers’ movements are in crisis, and suffering from disorientation. How far the radical left and workers’ movement revive, in the midst of the coming crises, and join together in a new revolutionary workers’ movement,  will be quite important for what happens to the environment in the coming years.

Notes

[1] See, for example, Dana Nuccitelli, “Scientists warned the  US president about global warming 50 years ago today: On 5 November 1965 climate scientists summarized the risks associated with rising carbon pollution in a report for Lyndon Baines Johnson”, November 5, 2015, Guardian,  or Shannon Hall, “Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago: A new investigation shows the oil company understood the science before it became a public issue and spent millions to promote misinformation”, October 2, 2015, Scientific American.

[2] Damian Carrington, “World on brink of five ‘disastrous’ climate tipping points, study finds: Giant ice sheets, ocean currents and permafrost regions may already have passed point of irreversible change”, September 8, 2022, Guardian.

[3] Joseph Green, “The coming of the environmental crisis, the failure of the free market, and the fear of a carbon dictatorship”, January 2007, Communist Voice.

[4] Pete Dolack at Systemic Disorder, “COP27 continues the climate summit ritual of words without action”, Nov. 23, 2022,
and Rachel Rose Jackson at Corporate Accountability, “Statement: Time’s up, COP27 must deliver”, November 18, 2022. <>

Continuing to say publicly 1.5C is still alive
is no longer defensible

Below is the text of an open letter being circulated by Scientist Rebellion for signatures from the academic community. SR states that “Over one thousand academics from more than 40 countries have now signed, including prominent scholars and IPCC contributors.” [A previous open letter from Scientist Rebellion is discussed at "Scientists organize protest against climate change inaction" and "What Scientist Rebellion wants the world to hear", May 15, 2022.]

Dear Reader,

Forty years after the first climate summit in Geneva in 1979, 11,000 scientists published a manifesto in 2019 to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to "tell it like it is”.

Almost three years later, and in a global context highly unfavorable to emergency climate action, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has proclaimed that humanity is facing “collective suicide”.

The response of scientists the world over must be decisive. How do we honor the public's growing trust in our expert community in the face of looming catastrophes of climate and ecological breakdown? It is simple: academics must share with the public what they share with each other about the world's response to climate change and biodiversity loss.

The Paris Agreement’s goal of restricting global average temperature rise to below 1.5C is a case in point. Senior academics accept there is no plausible pathway to 1.5C. This requires global emissions to peak before 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030. Even that would likely lead to 1.5C being exceeded within the next ten years. The most optimistic scenario reported by the IPCC rests on the hypothetical deployment of large-scale carbon dioxide removal technologies to drag temperatures back down by the end of the century.

A 2021 anonymous survey of world-leading climate scientists by the science journal Nature, revealed just 4% of respondents thought limiting warming to 1.5C was likely. The majority thought the world is heading towards a catastrophic 3C of warming by the end of the century.

Continuing to say publicly 1.5C is still alive is no longer defensible, yet politicians, leading academics and the environmental movement persist in doing so. In response, polluting industries and policymakers are inadvertently being encouraged to resist rapid decarbonization.

And so we academics must act. As signees to this letter, we compassionately call upon the community of scientists working across all aspects of climate change to make a clear public statement ahead of COP27 in November, consisting of the following:

It is not the first time in our history that the scientific community has wielded its responsibility to tell the truth to society about the real possibility of global cataclysm, and to demand that those in power act accordingly. Let us remember that the danger of nuclear war was the cause of a massive and unprecedented mobilization of the scientific community in the 20th century. The Russell-Einstein Manifesto, published in 1955, clearly stated: "Remember your humanity and forget the rest".

Our first responsibility has not changed: tell the truth - as far as we can discern it. Academics cannot fix decades of delay, but we can help societies take the radical action now needed to limit even worse outcomes. In remembering our humanity, we can act to restore it.

Sincerely,

Featured signees:

(A list of “featured signers” can be found at https://signon.scientistrebellion.com/, where it says that “Over one thousand academics from more than 40 countries have now signed, including prominent scholars and IPCC contributors.” The requirements for signing include:

* signatories from global North countries to hold a PhD or higher and work at - or be affiliated to - an academic or science institution

* signatories from global South countries to hold a masters or higher and work at - or be affiliated to - an academic or science institution )<>

Picture: COP27 was a carnival for fossil fuel lobbyists.


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November 12 2022
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