Hot air in the Hague

ONCE AGAIN the world’s great and good gathered in the Hague, Holland, to plan how to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, responsible for rapid global warming.

Higher temperatures mean there is more energy driving the earth’s climate system. Surface warming increases evaporation and the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere.

Scientists have linked global warming to many of the extreme weather events that have led to devastating floods as well as severe droughts around the world.

According to a recent report from the University of East Anglia on rapid climate change, the four most vulnerable countries are Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. Each has only $100 of its annual wealth (GDP) per person to cope with every degree of warming. The least vulnerable country, Luxembourg, has $8,800 per capita for each degree of warming.

Commenting on the report, New Scientist (11 November) says: “Almost without exception, the nations that are most threatened by global warming produce the smallest amounts of greenhouse gases.”

The developed capitalist countries wish to portray an image of energy efficient industry working to minimise pollution whereas developing countries reliant on smoke stack industries are the cause for environmental concern.

The reality is that the dominant Western capitalist countries consume more and pollute more than the ex-colonial world.

The richest fifth of the world’s population account for 86% of consumption while the bottom fifth account for only 1%. In terms of energy consumption, the respective figures are 58% for the richest fifth compared to just 4% for the poorest fifth. The USA (with just 4% of the world’s population) produces 25% of greenhouse gases.

The 1997 Kyoto world summit protocol saw the advanced capitalist countries agree to cut carbon emissions over the next 12 years to between 20% – 40% below what they would have been if present trends remained unchecked. (Scientists argue that greenhouse gases need to be cut by 60%)

Other countries, like Russia, had to maintain their emissions at 1990 levels. In the number one country for emissions, the USA, the Senate refused to ratify the protocol.

Moreover, Kyoto allowed a market for the trading of carbon emissions to be established. This allowed the US to buy up Russia’s surplus carbon allowance as Russian industry has declined in the post-Soviet economic collapse. It also means that multinational companies like Shell – which made $2.26 billion profit in the last three months – will invest in countries that haven’t signed the protocol and therefore pay less carbon taxes.

The New Labour government has tried to portray itself as environmentally friendly. Deputy prime minister John Prescott has said the recent floods are an environmental “wake-up call” (Despite allowing three million new homes in the South East by 2016 – with developers building in flood plains.) And Tony Blair made his first speech on the environment since becoming prime minister in May 1997.

In his speech to the Confederation of British Industry and Green Alliance (a pro-big business front organisation) Blair called for a partnership between government, big business and the green movement. Indeed, he argued that “we should see protecting the environment as a business opportunity”.

Blair is oblivious to the contradiction between capitalism’s drive for profits which is destroying the environment and its claim to be ‘green’.

This is unsurprising given the financial donations and sponsorship New Labour receives from capitalists. Moreover, big business is well represented at all levels of government to ensure that it is their agenda which carries the day on green issues and not working-class people and the world’s poor.

The Hague summit in the hands of the world’s capitalist leaders is likely to prove just as vague as Kyoto and the umpteen other international ‘green’ conferences.

However, a socialist environmental policy’s starting point is people’s needs not corporate profits. Socialist, public ownership of industry, with democratic working class management, linked to a massive redistribution of wealth from rich to poor and from the wealthy capitalist countries to the world’s poorest countries, would provide the resources to invest in clean, renewable energy sources to halt environmental destruction.