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From The Socialist newspaper, 15 March 2007

What we think

Will government plans stop climate change?

A EUROPEAN Union (EU) summit last week set targets on renewable energy use, energy efficiency and reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The targets included a trebling of renewable energy by 2020, so that 20% of all energy use would be from renewable sources (wind, tidal, solar etc). A goal of 60% reduction of CO2 by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels) was set.

If these were genuine and convincing measures to tackle global warming, they would be very welcome. However, there was no agreement on how much of the emissions reduction 'burden' each of the 27 EU countries would bear.

Many countries only sanctioned the deal after assurances from German prime minister Angela Merkel that they would have an extra low share and that nothing will be forced on them without their agreement. On this basis it is highly unlikely that the goals will be met and the deal may well fall apart altogether.

"Save the planet today, worry about the details later", mocked a Financial Times journalist. This summed up the stance of capitalist politicians like Tony Blair and France's Jacques Chirac, who wanted to bask in the glory of an 'historic' summit before they soon leave office and do not have to preside over the long term viability of the deal.

Before leaving Brussels, they did not forget to dish out a few lucrative by-products to big business, in the form of prospective legislation that will increase competition in Europe's energy market, to ensure that new green power producers can profit.

Even if the EU goals were to be met, scientific research shows that they are not sufficient in magnitude, and will not be met fast enough. And this is just Europe; the two biggest emitters in the world, the US and China were not even part of the more limited, cosmetic Kyoto treaty.


IN BRITAIN, the main political parties have leapt onto the green bandwagon and support at least the same targets for the UK as were agreed by the EU. New Labour's climate change bill intends to make them legally binding. But again, they cannot be believed. New Labour has made three manifesto promises since 1997 for a 20% cut in CO2 by 2010, but emissions have risen!

Seeing this as the weak spot it is, Tory leader David Cameron is attempting to out-radicalise New Labour on the environment. He proposes green taxes, including on the number of flights per person, fuel duty on domestic air travel and extra taxes on older, more polluting, aircraft.

Leaving aside the fact that aviation accounts for only 2% of global CO2 emissions, (shipping of goods around the world accounts for double that), should these proposals be welcomed, as they have been by green organisations such as Friends of the Earth? Typical of measures by the main capitalist parties, these green taxes will hit working-class people proportionately more than others, and so socialists, while also being green, are far more critical of them. The rich will still fly when they want, but ordinary people could be priced out of many holidays and other travel.

Cameron said that the green taxes will be refunded to families in other ways so that they would not lose out overall. But the Tories are a party of big business; any 'refunds' to working class people will probably be retaken in any number of underhand ways.

The airlines will also try to pass on any increase in their own tax burden to passengers, though none of the capitalist parties wants to propose high taxes on the airlines' super profits, such as on the £584 million profit made by British Airways in the nine months to December 2006.

New Labour hypocrisy

NEW LABOUR'S Gordon Brown hypocritically condemned the Tory position, arguing for "wherever possible, incentives in preference to penalties". As green taxes tend to hit the poorest in society hardest, it is true that incentives such as good, cheap public transport are far better.

But look at what New Labour has done. Overcrowded, expensive trains have been left in the hands of profiteering private companies. Private bus companies rather than transport authorities determine routes, fares and timetables in most towns and cities. The London congestion charge is a penalty and not an incentive and New Labour is considering road user pricing.

Also, Brown doubled air passenger duty last year, now collecting £2 billion of it per year, with no commitment even to spend this on the environment!

So overall, Brown's call for a green "new world order", or Chirac's description of the EU measures as "revolutionary" can be dismissed with the same healthy scepticism now reserved for all capitalist politicians by most ordinary people.

However, some people will say that even the smallest steps forward in reducing harmful emissions are better than none. This may be true, but as socialists we reject having a choice between a slow or a fast decline of the planet. We cannot leave the fate of the environment to the clearly inadequate steps that capitalist governments, and their paymasters the top multinationals, will accept.

We will continue to argue for the urgent necessity of public ownership of the 500 multinationals that effectively control the world's resources, and of democratically controlled planning of the utilisation of those resources, by the working class. Then, instead of the profit motive ruling, the main criteria would be the needs of the majority of people and a sustainable environment.

See also on climate change and on the Tories' green policies.

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In The Socialist 15 March 2007:

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