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THIS weekend’s climate assembly is tasked with making recommendations on how Britain can adhere to its now legally binding target of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050.
Given the speed with which the air and oceans are warming, the increased frequency and ferocity of droughts, floods and extreme weather events we are already seeing and the likely impact this will have on agriculture and fisheries, environmental campaigners are right to point out that the target is not ambitious enough. But that is not the biggest problem that will confront delegates.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) points out that there is no obligation on the government to agree to the assembly’s proposals.
This is not surprising in itself — the assembly is not elected and it would be odd for any government to sign up to unknown proposals in advance.
But it would be an optimistic observer who assumed Boris Johnson will leap into action as soon as a set of policies is available.
The XR movement has worked wonders in spreading awareness of the urgency of action.
Yet a tendency to blame inaction on a lack of political will underestimates the obstacles in the path of a serious bid to cut emissions, or plan for mitigating and adapting to the consequences of a changing climate.
That is capitalism itself. Greta Thunberg is right to excoriate the elite assembled at Davos for having done “basically nothing” about the issue, but an economy geared to the maximisation of profit — especially the short-term extraction of profit prioritised by modern stock markets in which shareholdings are only held for very short periods — is poorly equipped to plan for an emergency at all, let alone enact measures that would have a negative impact on the profits of some of the biggest companies.
There is a reason why even capitalist states took extraordinary steps to regulate and direct their economies during the first and second world wars. If an economy is to be reshaped to meet a particular challenge, the process needs to be planned.
The slogan on many XR marches “system change not climate change” recognises this to some degree — as did Prince Charles’s address to Davos calling for a “new economic model” to deal with the threat. But you do not get a “new economic model” by appealing to the super-rich beneficiaries of the current one.
The myth that “the market” will come up with solutions to any problems we encounter is still peddled by Tory ministers — last year they were still claiming that increasing air travel would actually help fight climate change because it would generate the economic activity which would see “solutions” developed.
But runaway climate change is a stark example of “market failure.” The drive to deregulate economies and open all sectors to corporate exploitation continues unabated: it was seen in the EU’s “cars for beef” deal with Mercosur last year and is the reason deforestation is accelerating from Brazil to India.
The trade agreements the Johnson government is chasing around the world will operate on the same principle — though those who tried to use that as justification for staying in the EU were guilty of ignoring the content of the TTIP and Ceta treaties driven by Brussels, which pursued exactly the same aim.
It is not a coincidence that two countries that buck the trend and are taking serious action on climate change — Cuba, which tops the Sustainable Development Index as the world’s most sustainably developed economy, and China, which is recognised by the International Renewable Energy Agency as leading the world in green technology as “the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and electric vehicles,” are socialist ones in which the economies are heavily regulated and planned.
Limiting and managing climate change means confronting corporate power. Whatever is decided at the climate assembly, there is no likelihood that our Conservative government will do anything of the sort.
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