Climate scientists have warned that global temperature increases must be kept to 1.5 degrees to avoid catastrophic consequences. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released in October, found that 2 degrees of warming, previously referred to as the safe limit, would be devastating.
The earth has already warmed by 1 degree. Unless emissions are halved in next decade, and at net-zero by 2050, we will reach 2 degrees of warming.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response was he would not bother spending money on international climate conferences and “all that nonsense”.
But this report should be a wake-up call. Yet there is no evidence governments around the world are waking up to anything.
The last international agreement, the 2016 Paris deal, was a sham. Unlike Kyoto, it abandoned even the pretence of legally binding targets. The pledges countries made to reduce their emissions would still see global temperatures rise by between 2.7 and 4 degrees. And two thirds of countries are not on track for their target.
US President Donald Trump is a climate denier, and withdrew the US from its Paris commitments. The newly elected far-right President of Brazil has promised to do the same, and also to open the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness. Even those countries paying lip service to climate action are increasing their use of fossil fuels. As The Guardian reports: “Britain is pushing ahead with gas fracking, Norway with oil exploration in the Arctic, and the German government wants to tear down Hambach forest to dig for coal.”
This is a result of the logic of capitalism, as governments put corporate profits ahead of everything else.
In Australia, greenhouse gas emissions went up 1.3 per cent in year to March. This exposes the lie from Scott Morrison that Australia is on track for its Paris target of 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, which in any case is inadequate. According to the government’s own modelling it is only on track for a 5 per cent reduction by 2020.
The Liberals now have no climate policy, after they scrapped the National Energy Guarantee. Morrison is withdrawing Australia from the UN’s global climate fund, designed to assist developing countries adapt to climate change. On top of this the Liberals are offering to pay ageing coal-fired power stations to stay open, and support new ones.
Labour backs a higher emissions reduction target of 45 per cent and has promised 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Yet this is basically what will happen anyway due to the falling cost of wind and solar energy. They still say coal will continue to play an important part of any future energy mix.
Labor refuses to phase out the coal industry or plan a systematic transition to renewable energy. They won’t touch the $4-6 billion of direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry every year. This means power stations will continue to burn coal for decades.
System change not climate change
We need to fundamentally re-organise production and electricity generation if we are to seriously tackle climate change. A new study has shown that just 100 companies around the world are responsible for 71 per cent of emissions since 1988. Just 25 corporations account for half the world’s emissions. In Australia seven corporations and three state governments are responsible for around two-thirds of emissions. They include AGL, Energy Australia, Origin, Woodside, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
Reducing our personal consumption is not going to solve the problem. We need a direct, planned approach where companies are regulated, nationalised and phased out to be replaced with sustainable power. And we need an organised and just transition to retrain workers in those industries into new green jobs. We can’t afford to put our faith in indirect market mechanisms like a carbon tax which end up putting up ordinary people’s power bills with no guarantee of investment in renewable energy.
If we forced companies to pay their fair share of corporate tax, we could fund a rollout of base-load solar, wind, high-speed rail, and refurbish buildings for insulation.
But governments committed to neo-liberalism and free market capitalism are not about to embark on a mass program of investment and job creation.
We need to build a fight that can challenge both governments and some of the most powerful companies on earth. This means appealing to the working class with solutions like public ownership, cheaper electricity, more jobs, and free training to transition to clean industry.
We have to be prepared to challenge capitalism, and demand system change, not climate change.
By Erima Dall