Summer 2022 saw the hottest temperatures since records began, in capitalism’s industrialisation period in the 1850s. No area of the planet was untouched by scorching heatwaves. Even the measures to secure water supplies and air conditioning which Europe’s major cities invested in and installed in the early 2000s, proved inadequate. One hundred French municipalities were left with drinking water shortages.
Millions of hectares of American and European forest burned. Those historically dry areas this season, from Iran into Baluchistan and into India, flooded. Rising temperatures are having a destabilising effect on the stability of nation states which will exacerbate conflict and crisis. The International Organisation of Migration points to the possibility that 30-60 million more people will live in areas that average 38-45C in the shade (too hot for the human body to function well) by 2100, unless fundamental action is taken.
June saw another warning by the deputy secretary general of the United Nations (UN), Amina Mohammed, that “we are off track” with major gaps on the key elements of the target to keep global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Shortfalls on financing, mitigation with emission reductions, and adaptation targets, are all yet to be bridged.
2021 saw the highest ever level of global emissions. The current pledges submitted by states on greenhouse gas emissions reductions, known as ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDC’s), would still result in an increase of 14 percent by 2030.
In reality, capitalism is not ‘off track’ but the actions of the ruling class internationally, and even their tools and efforts to deal with climate change, are derailing progress; as seen by any comparison between current emissions levels and the scale of what is needed, with the UN’s own target being a 45 percent reduction below 2010 levels by 2030.
Repeated negotiations since the November 2021 COP26 Glasgow UN climate summit, first in Bonn and then in Berlin, have failed to decisively solve the ‘loss and damage’ issue of richer advanced capitalist nations compensating the neo-colonial world for the damage done by historic high emissions. This includes the now infamous $100 billion fund agreed at the Paris 2015 summit which has not been paid up.
Of course the other side of this is the colossal general economic indebtedness of countries like Sri Lanka, not just to the western powers, the IMF and other international institutions, but to China too; the social consequences of which have seen insurrectionary movements that have toppled successive governments. Even if the major capitalist powers paid up on the climate this would be outweighed by the economic chains which prevent the underdeveloped neo-colonial world catching up.
The next UN climate summit, COP27, is being hosted by Egypt: a state, in a continent, Africa, which starkly shows the incapacity of capitalism to come up with the levels of investment needed in the neo-colonial world to halt the ravages of climate change. A new report by the Climate Policy Initiative shows that in 2020 Africa got only 20% of the ‘climate financing’ it needs mainly to deal with mass migrations. Most of this came from international aid, showing the weakness of the local ruling capitalist classes. Now in 2022 the economic position on that continent is one of depression.
The economic crisis of capitalism, and the ruthless competition and increasing conflict between capitalist nation states accelerated by recent events such as the war in Ukraine, are absolute barriers to states meeting their NDCs, or increasing them as agreed at Glasgow. The capitalist system is coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic with new features such as stagflation and supply crises combining with older structural problems such as sovereign debt. Governments are facing major crises and obstacles, both geopolitical and economic, to reducing emissions to 1.5C let alone cooperating in an international coordinated plan. Capitalist commentators bemoan the breakdown and reversal of globalisation that is taking place as inter-imperialist conflict and protectionism increase.
NDCs were meant to play a major role in ‘net-zero transition’, leading to the halving of carbon emissions by 2030, but the demands of war in Ukraine resulting in a supply crisis in energy, plus the increased demand for electricity for air conditioning and cooling systems in heatwaves, have undermined this severely in a matter of months. Several European NATO member states such as Austria and Germany, sanctioning Russia as part of their inter-imperialist conflict, have reverted to reopening coal-fired power plants due to the previous dependence on Russian gas which was at the level of 40% of Europe’s usage.
Russia is responding by hiking up the price of fuel that is exported, meaning that European states – with US capacity not currently large enough to cater to their immediate needs – will be forced further down this road.
A report by Climate Action Tracker speaks of a ‘gold rush’ for new fossil fuel projects, with new liquefied natural gas facilities proposed in Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, and Canada. The EU itself is looking not just to the US but also to Algeria, Egypt and Qatar for supply deals. The EU Commission’s ‘REPowerEU’ initiative, based around liquefied natural gas, is being financed with €12 billion support. In the UK the Jackdaw North Sea gas field is now being opened for exploration to increase output.
Energy security for a capitalist nation state, particularly one that engages in imperialist conflict, is incompatible with an energy policy that mitigates climate change. France is a case in point. Although not as dependent on Russian gas as Germany, it is relying on dangerous nuclear power for 70% of its energy needs. This involves the import of uranium, which is also a source of geopolitical tension that could grow in the future. Even France cannot completely overcome supply shortages from the east as the recent diesel shortage for the vital Rhine shipping trade shows.
Transitions to ‘green’ or ‘clean’ energy are being planned for and attempted by the richer more advanced capitalist nations but these transitions will not be ‘just’ for the working class.
Sections of the liberal press internationally such as The Guardian are lauding the passage of US president Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a substantial $370 billion of tax and investment incentives; in effect subsidies for the capitalists prepared to take a risk on green renewables, while offering little protection for workers.
Much of the funding will go to existing fossil fuel capitalists to manage their transition to hydrogen and carbon capture projects. American workers and their trade unions will face major battles over cost cutting, safety and profiteering, both in the transition out of fossil fuels and when production begins in these new industries.
The Inflation Reduction Act is also an economic response to reliance on China and is a key weapon in the US trade war against the Chinese regime, by boosting domestic supply chains and production. It sits alongside the CHIPS and Science Act which increases the production in the USA of semi-conductors, in a market, at the low-tech end, that China dominates. They are aimed at tightening the relationship with the capitalist EU and achieving a wider anti-China and Russia trading and military bloc. Of course, while the Inflation Reduction Act money is coming, a US promise of $8.6 billion to the UN Green Climate Fund is yet to be paid.
As well as increasing political tensions and trade conflict with US imperialism’s rivals the Inflation Reduction Act may not be secure within the USA. It may well win votes for the Democrats in the US mid-term elections taking place in November but the re-emergence of a Trumpian presidency in 2024 backed by sections of the fossil fuel capitalists may see it being undermined.
One result of the escalating geopolitical conflict over Taiwan between the US and China is the breakdown of climate talks between the two major international powers, with cooperation on technology and research into decarbonisation and methane reduction at major risk. Rather than co-operate, any technological breakthroughs on the one side will be used to attack the other and step up the fight for market dominance.
Against this background there could not be a more dramatic example of a COP summit that reflects the inequality and dystopian horror of today’s capitalist society than the one being prepared for November. Corporate and government COP27 delegates will be housed in fully air conditioned rooms, powered of course by temporary solar panels in the Sharm El-Sheikh luxury shopping and hotel resort. Away from sight and mind, the world’s elite no doubt hope, of the boiling slums; mired in the destitution, water shortages, hunger and polluted air that are the day-to-day reality of workers and the poor under the bloody military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Tokenistically the el-Sisi regime has launched a climate campaign of “back to nature to clean the countries beaches” and says “restricted protests will be allowed in certain areas” around COP 27. In the aftermath of the 2019 anti-government protests and the counter-revolution since the Arab spring a decade ago, over 65,000 political prisoners currently languish in Egyptian jails, many of whom are subject to torture.
Protests against home demolitions on the Nile, that are being forced through as part of a $900 million project to create a ‘new Manhattan’ investment area including a new world trade centre, are being brutally repressed by the government.
Around the Nile region, where the development of human civilisation once took great leaps forward, major nation state conflicts are emerging, with the climate and water resources as a backdrop. Egypt and its neighbour Sudan are currently protesting to the UN security council against Ethiopia’s plan to fill the reservoir of the Nile dam for three years running. This is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance hydroelectric dam being constructed on the main tributary of the Nile, breaking previous agreements on the use of the great river’s waters.
This is an illustration of how the development plans of one ruling class (the Ethiopian) to deal with climate change, conflict with the water supply of another (the Egyptian). A socialist federation of workers’ governments in the region could, with resources and the major levers of the economy under workers control, democratically plan such needed development for the benefit of the majority, instead of the risk of armed conflict which has been raised.
This did not prevent climate officials in the Biden administration such as David Thorne and John Kerry gushing with praise for el-Sisi’s preparations to the American Chamber of Commerce in May. El-Sisi has drawn other tyrants in the region into the summit’s preparations, such as the King of Bahrain.
Workers, radicalised youth, and the poor will take a polar opposite view and it will be no surprise if the heroic revolutionary traditions of a decade ago, and seen in neighbouring Sudan currently – that the regime’s bloodshed, backed by imperialism, has not extinguished – emerge on an even higher level in the next period. Perhaps provoked by the spectacle and likely failure of this COP27 summit.
New mass parties fighting on a socialist programme in the region and internationally are the only way to force the needs of workers, youth and the poor onto the agenda. Only a socialist plan of production globally with the full democratic participation of the population can hope to achieve a solution to the climate crisis.