Another deal on Climate change; another Conference of Procrastination

As the coal dust settled on COP 24 (Conference of Parties for its full title) in Katowice Poland, the ‘deal’ was released to the world with a ‘high’ spirited Michal Kurtvka, Chairman of the COP and Poland’s energy minister, leaping form the stage in celebration, writes Sam Mason.  And celebrate they might. The deal to establish a common rule book on how countries will monitor and meet their carbon reduction targets arising from the Paris Climate agreement, requires little action. This will scarcely slow  the full force of climate catastrophe hurtling towards us.

I was privileged to spend a few days at the COP as part of the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) delegation. Privileged because the people who will be affected by the deal made in Katowice – the working class, vulnerable, indigenous, small island nations and more – could not be further removed from the outcomes of these talks.

In 2012, the US environmental activist Bill McKibben wrote an article in Rolling Stone entitled Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math which launched the fossil fuel divestment movement.  It’s interesting to re-read as a central theme of the article is carbon pricing or carbon markets.   Something which the negotiators in Katowice have kicked into 2019.

Markets no solution

But carbon markets or more, market based solutions are precisely the reason we’re going nowhere on addressing climate change.

Early news from the COP that the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia refuse to accept the science of climate change and the October IPCC report was of little surprise.  When you have leaders such as Trump calling climate change a ‘Chinese hoax’ or Brazil’s Bolsanaro a ‘Marxist plot’, you can expect little more.  Clearly the other emerging news during the COP from the Global Carbon Project that emissions are increasing reinforcing the call for rapid and transformative action, merely confirms their climate policies – protecting the fossil fuel corporations – are the right ones.

But climate change deniers come in camouflage too. The UK welcomed delegates to their stand in the COP pavilion to the theme of Green is Great blazoned across a picture of offshore wind turbines and the message that “prices in UK auctions” have halved between 2015 and 2017. The quoted website www.great.gov.uk takes you to the export pages of the Department of International Trade. With support for fracking, and expanding aviation it’s hard not to take the UK’s bid to host the 2020 climate summit with a heavy dose of cynical salt.

Change the narrative

Clearly it’s time to change both the climate and political narrative if we want to also halt the dystopian nightmare which is already driving people on suicidal missions to escape its impacts. The caravan from South to North America is in part a result of this.   Central American farmers, following crop failures, are now knocking at the door of their rich polluting northern neighbour for rescue.  Surely the ‘polluter pays principle’ was never intended to mean this?

In reality the more interesting talks at the COP are the ones taking place in the side events. Certainly these are what I went to attend as part of the programme of meetings put together by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy under the banner of bringing a strong pro-public message to Katowice.  Discussion which focused on their background paper When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing up to the failures of profit-driven climate policy.

Labour’s plans

BEIS Shadow Secretary of State Rebecca Long-Bailey was due to join a public meeting on “Alternatives to Market Failures, and the Role of Public Ownership” on Sunday 9th. Unfortunately with the Brexit debacle unravelling back home, she was forced to cancel.

Entirely understandable but a real loss given the support there is among our global trade union comrades and other allies for the Labour Party’s plans as announced in the 2017 manifesto and at Conference this year.  Winning the arguments here will be a big boost and strengthen the global fight for a public goods approach to addressing climate change.

But the Labour Party needs to go further.

Whole economy response

Support for an energy transition putting transmission and distribution systems into public ownership is a welcome but partial step. It needs to take over the full energy cycle from generation to supply. It also needs to go beyond Just Transition special measures for workers in energy intensive industries alone. Of course frontline workers need protection. But if we are to take climate action seriously, we need to recognise that every sector will be impacted. We therefore require a whole economy response.

The real delay in addressing climate change is not a lack of a political will or ambition. It is how the current elites will continue to profit from the solutions. As Rebecca Long-Bailey says in her recent Jacobin article socialism is the only basis on which we can begin to confront the threat of climate change.

If we allow our politicians to keep procrastinating, putting off today until tomorrow, many will have no tomorrow left. We don’t need a green new deal to tackle climate change, we need a pro-public socialist deal NOW.

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