COP26: Zero trust in capitalist class
Fight for socialism to end climate destruction
Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland
COP26 – the global climate summit taking place in Glasgow from 1 November – will probably agree on something. Promises to hit a ‘net zero’ carbon emissions target by 2050 for example.
But actually delivering it under capitalism, is ruled out.
That’s why the fight against climate change is inextricably linked to the struggle for socialism.
As Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, the house journal of British capitalism, put it: “We know what to do about it [climate change], in substantial detail and at an affordable cost. Yet we are not doing what we should do, and so emissions continue to rise. Will that change at COP26 in Glasgow? I doubt it.”
It’s not as if the capitalist class are unaware of the scale of the crisis. Indeed, multiple reports from bodies like the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prove that ‘human activity’ has now produced a temperature increase of 1.1°C above the pre-industrial (pre-capitalist) period, heading to 1.5°C by 2030, if not before.
At present trends the world will be 3°C hotter by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for human, animal and plant life. The IPCC says correctly, this is a “code red for humanity.”
COP21 – the Paris agreement – underlines the serial failures of capitalist solutions. Even if all the targets set then, and since, were implemented, temperatures would still increase.
This is because, under these plans, CO2 emissions would only reduce to around 20 gigatonnes by 2050 – the same CO2 levels as the 1990s.
Given the systemic impact global warming will have on humanity – including capitalism’s profits – why are the ruling class so incapable of delivering a solution?
Many of the technologies to allow a transition away from fossil fuel production and the industrial-scale production of greenhouse gases do exist. For example, electricity produced by renewables like solar, wind and wave energy.
Others, such as hydrogen technology, bioenergy, advanced batteries and CO2 capture could be rapidly expanded and implemented under a socialist plan of production.
There are blueprints and reports by the dozen outlining what action should be taken, one of the latest being the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2021.
The WEO report says that investment to deliver net zero emissions will need $4 trillion every year, a massive quadrupling from the current annual global investment.
It goes on to say that “governments must play a central role in dealing with this huge global externality. Only by acting cooperatively can they create the policy framework.”
As Martin Wolf says: “If this energy revolution is to happen, it must be planned…”
And here is the issue: sustained government investment, planning and global cooperation among competing capitalist nation states is precisely ruled out.
The inherent contradictions of capitalism itself mitigate against the scale and global action required to tackle the climate crisis.
Capitalism is not a planned but an unplanned system of exploitation – of human labour, primarily, but also of the environment – for profit.
It is by its nature anarchic and based on competition among nation states for spheres of influence, markets and investment opportunities. Just look at the ratcheting up of tensions between the two major world powers, China and the US, for global influence.
Trade wars, the race to exploit the working class and the poor at lower and lower wages, and the exporting of capital – imperialism – to the poorest areas of the globe for profitable return are the DNA of capitalism.
The obscene amounts spent by the national capitalist elites on military and arms spending – not least to use against their own and their rivals, poor and working class – are another case in point.
In 2020, global military spending was $2 trillion (double the current expenditure on net zero technologies). The five biggest spenders, accounting for 62% of global military expenditure, are the US, China, India, Russia and the UK.
Capitalism is the barrier
The profit-driven barriers to the necessary action on the climate were recently underlined by the Tory chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the UK Treasury.
In leaked documents earlier this year, Sunak’s department blurted out their unvarnished truth: “More green investment is likely to attract diminishing returns, reducing the positive impact of ever more investment on GDP. Some green investments could displace other, more productive, investment opportunities.
“Climate action in the UK can lead to economic activity moving abroad if it directly leads to costs increasing, and it is more profitable to produce in countries with less stringent climate policies”. It also commented on fears over “erosion of tax revenue from fossil fuel-related activity.”
These comments, no matter what is said for public consumption by the Tories, vividly expose just how much of an obstacle short-term, profit-driven capitalism is to a sustainable economy.
At the same time as claiming his government will rival Kermit the Frog in his greenness, Johnson has given the go-ahead for a possible new coal mine in Cumbria, new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea; a £27 billion road-building plan, and slashing incentives for electric cars as well as airport expansion schemes.
In Scotland, the SNP has long supported ‘big oil’ and is not campaigning to clearly oppose new oil and gas exploration. This despite forming a de-facto coalition with the Scottish Greens at Holyrood.
The misnamed ‘progressive’ Joe Biden in the US is cutting his proposed ‘green’ stimulus package from the $3.5 trillion proposed to about $2 trillion, to try and get it through the senate. But his Build Back Better Act will not achieve net zero either by 2050.
At the same time, Biden’s administration has also approved new oil and gas drilling permits, appealed to oil-producing countries to ramp up production to help lower petrol prices, and declined to stop major fossil fuel projects such as Line Three, an oil pipeline expansion in Minnesota.
The current energy crisis, following the end of the worst of the Covid economic shutdown, has also led to a further turn to coal production in China, as well as moves back to fossil fuel production by major capitalist powers internationally to alleviate the shortages.
These examples underline why socialists say we can have zero trust in the capitalist class or capitalist-based solutions to resolve the climate emergency.
Combined with the fact that the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are precisely capitalist production methods and global multinationals, it is clear that only a socialist plan on a global scale can protect the planet and end exploitation in all its forms.
Nuclear power and energy
Nuclear power is cited, including by some in the trade union movement, as part of the solution for a zero-carbon energy alternative. Boris Johnson’s government has given the green light to France’s state-owned EDF and China’s GNPG to build a new nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk. EDF are also building Hinckley C in Somerset.
Socialists oppose nuclear power. It’s not safe. The Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island nuclear disasters underline that reality. Building nuclear power stations is also massively expensive. Commissioned in 2008 at an estimated cost of £4 billion, Hinkley C’s current cost is over £22.5 billion. The issue of radioactive waste – a by-product of the fission process – is another major factor, as it has to be stored safely for thousands of years.
The trade union movement should campaign for the nationalisation of the energy sector under workers’ control. This should be linked to a massive programme of state investment into renewables and other carbon-free technologies, energy efficient production and housing. These alone would constitute a massive job creation programme with guaranteed jobs without loss of pay for workers moving over from the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.
Transport should also be publicly owned to allow for worker-controlled transition to electric buses, cars and trains.
This year, the workers and the Unite union at the GKN Automotive factory in Birmingham drew up a plan to move the factory to sustainable car production. This echoed the 1976 Lucas Plan when aerospace workers proposed a plan to move to socially useful production.
In other words put the workers’ movement in charge of a transition to carbon-free production based on nationalisation of the economy rather than profit-hungry capitalism.
Role of the working class
For many young people active in the climate movement today there is often agreement that capitalism is the climate destroyer. There is not, understandably, a clear idea of how to take on and defeat that system, or what to put in its place.
The working class and the trade unions are the key force for the youth to link up with in order to take on the planet wreckers in mass struggle to overthrow them. Organised in industry, transport, retail and public services, the working class has the power to hit capitalism where it hurts.
It’s likely that around 1,500 bin workers, school janitors, cleaners and catering staff, employed by Glasgow City council and organised in Unison and the GMB unions, will take strike action during COP26. If this action goes ahead it will shut down the schools and cleansing services in Glasgow.
Collectively, the workers’ movement has massive potential power to halt capitalist production. It is far more powerful than, for example, small numbers of Extinction Rebellion activists seeking to disrupt roads and travel – with little support from workers affected by such tactics. In contrast, strike action by workers involves and has widespread support among working-class people generally.
That’s why Socialist Party Scotland campaigns for the unions to organise mass strikes against cuts to jobs, better pay, and against worsening terms and conditions at work. We also campaign to change the unions into fighting organisations at all levels to take on the bosses in the workplace but also to fight for socialism.
The interests of workers and young people active in the fight against climate change are the same. But they are the exact opposite of the capitalist class, big business and all those parties who defend capitalism, including the Greens and the Scottish National Party (SNP).
The trade unions, especially the left-led unions like Unite and others, should therefore take the necessary and urgent steps to help launch a new workers’ party to help lead the fight for socialist change.
Join the fight for socialist change
- Youth organise! Build mass strikes and walkouts from school, college and uni. Establish democratic committees that link up with trade unions to organise joint struggle. Build a mass youth movement to fight for our futures – jobs, homes and the environment
- Workers’ collective action! Support industrial action by workers during and beyond COP26. Fight for the trade union leaders to coordinate the struggles
- Defend the right to protest and organise. We need police accountability through democratic control by communities and trade unions
- Socialist transition to renewables! Plan internationally for a worker-controlled socialist transition from fossil fuel production. Fight for public investment into research and a mass programme of job creation, including in publicly owned renewable energy. Guarantee skilled jobs, decent wages and safe working conditions for workers moving out of fossil fuel industries
- We can’t control what we don’t own. Nationalise under democratic working-class control the 125 biggest businesses and banks that form the main levers of the economy, as a step towards a democratic socialist plan for the economy to end capitalist climate change, exploitation and inequality
- No trust in the defenders of capitalism. Build new mass workers’ parties to fight for socialist change
- Socialism and internationalism. Build working-class international solidarity in the struggle for a socialist world. End climate destruction, war and all oppression
Big business nature of COP26
COP26 – a gathering of the world’s most powerful capitalist nations and their advisors – will be lobbied and sponsored by the very same multinationals which are causing the climate crisis in the first place.
The big business nature of COP26 in Glasgow is indicated by the names of the ‘major sponsors’: Sky, the energy giants Hitachi, National Grid, Scottish Power and SSE, US company Microsoft, and multinationals GSK, NatWest, Reckitt, Sainsbury’s and Unilever.
The opportunity to greenwash capitalism and their billionaire owners by some of the most polluting companies clearly cannot be missed. The energy companies involved here are also among those driving up the prices of energy bills in Britain and internationally.
We demand the nationalisation of the corporate giants to be put under the democratic control and management of the working class.
Over £200 million alone is being spent by the UK government in policing at COP26. Large parts of the city have been cordoned off causing massive transport disruption. But not for the estimated 30,000 delegates and participants at COP who have also been given free bus and rail passes, in contrast with the Glasgow working class who have to continue to pay exorbitant fares to privatised transport companies.