We are posting the following two artciles on Cop26. The most recent, Six sides of COP26, is from Christopher Silver, writing for bella caledonia. This provides an overview of Cop26 at the end of the conference. The second, Financing the climate, is from the Michael Roberts blog. It examines the claims made by corporations and capitalist apologists that they can solve global warming and environmental degradation.
1. SIX SIDES OF COP26
In the early hours of 13th November human and environmental rights defender Alessandra Munduruku’s home was invaded. Having made the case against the ongoing depredations visited upon forest peoples’ territories at COP26 in Glasgow three days earlier, on stepping off the plane she became a target once again.
The case reminds us that the continued push to extract resources is a fundamentally violent process. Incited by the rhetoric of Brazil’s President; attacks on Indigenous Peoples have increased markedly in recent years.
The acceptable face of resource extraction that COP26 showed to the world is only a mask for this darker day-to-day reality in the Global South. The wealthy few driving the climate crisis remain content to inflict personal suffering alongside the growing indiscriminate consequences of fire, flood and the decimation of irreplaceable biodiversity.
Back in the leafier parts of Glasgow, there was disquiet as the summit drew to a close. Alongside the exhilaration of an environmental movement that had flourished in the city, there was anguish when some residents in the city’s affluent West End awoke to find the tyres of their SUVs deflated; the victims of a copycat action inspired by a passage in Andreas Malm’s book How to Blow Up a Pipeline.
In the wealthiest corners, even a minor inconvenience visited upon another’s property is responded to as though it is a grievous wound. But the inane comments of the conspicuous carbon consumers in response show that we are perhaps closer to a generalised climate conflict than many people want to admit.
SUVs are a token of survivalist, neo-colonial fantasy that has spread like a virus amongst those with large disposable incomes. To drive one is not simply to endanger local children, clog up urban space and defile the air, it is also a response to a world of mass displacement and dispossession. It positions the owner on the opposing side of the fence from those millions fighting daily battles for survival and security.
While the 1% arm themselves with private islands, yachts, jets and subterranean bunkers, the affluent middle classes purchase these small assault vehicles in imitation.
At the closing night of the New York Times Climate Hub, a haven for concerned liberals close to the official summit, civic dignitaries, government ministers and precocious young folk mingled with those able to fork out a £2,000 ticket and assorted hangers-on.
The hubbub of networking, wine and canapés were rudely interrupted by the arrival of the ghost at the feast. The enormous puppet in the likeness of a Syrian child refugee, Little Amal, burst into the hall. She then careered through the middle of the gathering, dragging a dead, charred tree behind her, splitting the crowd as she did so into two groups: many awkwardly avoiding standing on a temporary woodland artwork installed for the newspaper’s stay at SWG3.
Was history made in Glasgow? After change was once again deferred, the can kicked down the road once more and the familiar recriminations hurried out, the short answer is ‘no.’ But perhaps the examples above remind us that history often arrives with a visceral intensity, unexpected and unannounced, calling upon us to pick a side.
Making history through diplomacy implies grand progressive leaps: but there are also lurches that cannot be reversed.
There is plenty to be alarmed about when it comes to the impact of non-human forces: the compound climate disaster currently unfolding in British Columbia, for example. But climate and resource-based conflict are at the heart of what many are already confronting. This will increasingly come to define politics in order to fill the vacuum left by the gridlock of multilateral diplomacy.
Because COP incorporates the language of internationalism, and invites some of the world’s most compelling voices to talk of unity in the face of the crisis, we forget that the true significance of diplomatic failure in Glasgow. Namely, the possibility of unthinkable levels of mass violence returning within most of our lifetimes moving still closer.
While a descent into armed conflict and resource wars are not inevitable: a telling taboo at such summits is the obvious link between the dominance of a nation’s fossil fuel sector and its possession of a vast military machine. The ‘armed lifeboat’ is already the de facto policy of the world’s richest and most militarised nations and in these countries, the carrying out of the most basic humanitarian acts have become deeply politicised.
The intricacy of the COP summits are partly designed to defer the ultimate moment in which we all ask each other which side we are on. But, like other chronically flawed diplomatic processes, the tactic of hoping that a belligerent aggressor – the fossil fuel industry and its state sponsors – will gorge themselves sick and then roll over, is ill-advised.
The problem isn’t just that the wrong people are in the room, it’s that attempts to reach agreement are stewed in demonstrably unfit ideas. Thus we hope that a generation of leaders brought up to believe the basic organising principle of society ought to be the growth of private wealth will risk their own political fortunes by confronting its power. We hope that a class educated in the narrow pursuit of self-interest will stop equivocating on the future of successive generations. We wait to see if politicians reared on the mantra that wealth trickles down would rather watch their homelands inundated than redistribute the plunder evenly.
In verse as sharp as a November day in the North-East Atlantic, Scots Makar Kathleen Jamie imagined the River Clyde itself taking revenge on such inter-generational violence towards the young, with a biblical prophecy: ‘fail them, and I will rise.’
The key verse, however, comes a few lines earlier: ‘and sure, I’m a river,/but I can take a side.’ The theatrics of the summit failed in their original intent then: the divide was palpable enough to be placed on the poetic public record.
Maybe some of the old ghosts of that river – blood-red revolutionaries and slaves chained below decks – did indeed return to haunt proceedings with an age-old question on their lips. Which side are you on?
This article was first posted at:-
2. FINANCING THE CLIMATE
COP26 trundles on in Glasgow with little sign that anything significant is being agreed towards reversing global warming and ending the degradation of nature. Beneath all the media headlines, governments and corporations are not putting their money where their mouths are. The financial support for measures to reduce carbon emissions and other destruction of the environment is pitiful.
In 2009, the major rich nations promised they would send at least $100bn a year in climate finance to poorer countries by 2020. That understanding formed the basis of the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aimed to limit global warming to well below 2C, ideally 1.5C. But on the eve of COP26, donor countries admitted they had missed that target in 2020. Now they expect to reach it in 2022 or 2023, years later than planned.
Indeed, most of the rich nations are not meeting their promises at all. Only Norway, Sweden and Germany can claim that, while the US is billions short and at the bottom of the OECD list.
Moreover, most of the pledged $100bn is not in the form of grants but loans. So poor countries trying to deal with global warming and to reduce emissions are supposed to pay the bulk of the rich countries’ handouts back. Calculations from Oxfam suggest the true level of climate-specific grants is about one-fifth of the OECD “climate finance” numbers, once loans are taken out. These climate commitments were “a mile wide and an inch deep”, Becky Jarvis, a strategist for the Bank on our Future campaign network, said.
Then there is the Mark Carney-led coalition of international financial companies signed up to tackle climate change. Former Bank of England governor Carney is the official UN envoy on climate finance. He claims that the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz) — which is made up of more than 450 banks, insurers and asset managers across 45 countries — could deliver as much as $100-130tn of financing to help economies transition to net zero over the next three decades. Michael Bloomberg, the media billionaire, was joining Carney as co-chair. The group will report on its work periodically to the G20’s Financial Stability Board. Carney pointed to UN analysis that suggested the private sector could deliver 70 per cent of total investments needed to meet net zero goals. Private finance can save the day – argues Carney.
But when you look more closely at this headline figure, you find that investment managers account for $57tn of the assets, with $63tn coming from banks and $10tn from asset owners such as pension funds. And 43 of these 221 investment manager signatories revealed that only one-third of their assets were aimed at investments with ‘net-zero’ targets. Ben Caldecott, director of the Oxford Sustainable Finance Group at Oxford university, said the headline $130tn figure was “not a fresh pool of money, and most of it isn’t allocatable”. It included home mortgages and money to fund fossil fuel infrastructure, he added. “What proportion of it can you actually divert into the solutions or use in a way to influence polluting companies to become more sustainable?” he asked.
The Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group, pointed out that the 93 banks that had signed the pledge continued to provide $575bn of lending and underwriting to the fossil fuel industry in 2020. “The disconnect between climate commitments and boardroom decisions is staggering,” said Tom Picken, its forest and finance director. Asset managers that had signed up to Gfanz had so far aligned just 35 per cent of their total assets to net zero targets, she said. “It is not green finance, nor is it all dedicated in the slightest to tackling climate change as long as financiers have large interests in fossil fuel expansion,” she added. “This announcement yet again ignores the biggest elephant in the room,” said Richard Brooks, Stand.earth climate finance director. “There is no mention of the F words at all in this new declaration from the net zero clubs. We cannot keep under 1.5 degrees [warming] if financial institutions don’t stop funding coal, oil and gas companies.”
Meanwhile, well-meaning economists offer various schemes to solve the funding problem within the confines of the market economy. Raghuram Rajan, professor of finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, renowned from his pro-market solutions, suggests that every country that emits more than the global average of around five tonnes per capita pay annually into a global fund. The amount paid would be the excess emissions per capita multiplied by the population and further multiplied by a dollar amount called the GlobalCarbon Incentive (GCI). If the GCI started at $10 per tonne, the US would pay around$33bn each year. Meanwhile, countries below the global average would receive a commensurate payout based on how much they emit below the average (Uganda,for example, would receive around $2bn).
Rajaram sees the scheme as self-financing. Low emitters, often the poorest countries and the ones most vulnerable to climatic changes they did not cause, would receive a payment that could help their people adapt. Conversely, the responsibility for payments would appropriately lie with big rich emitters, who are also in the best position to pay. Countries would be free to choose their own domestic path to emissions reduction. Instead of levying a politically unpopular carbon tax, a country might impose regulations on coal, another might incentivise renewables.
In another scheme, Avinash Persaud points out that to meet the Paris agreement, the world would have to eliminate 53.5 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year for the next 30 years. There are a range of estimates of how much that would cost, but the investment bank Morgan Stanley put it at an additional $50 trillion, split between five key areas of zero-carbon technology. That compares with pathetic $100 billion mentioned above that has taken six years for countries to scrounge together. Persaud says “we need a global settlement – not global aspiration attached to a village hall budget.”
The countries that contribute most to the stock of GHGs could issue an instrument that gives any investor in projects anywhere in the world that reduce GHGs the right to borrow from them at their overnight interest rates – which are currently near zero – and to roll over this borrowing for as long as the project delivers some minimum rate of reduction in GHGs per dollar invested. If the collective annual issuance of this near-zero cost funding were $500 billion, it would boost investor returns to such a degree that it would over 15 years crowd in private savings to the $50trillion needed.
All these schemes fail on two levels. First, they require global action and global institutions to implement them. There is no prospect of that happening. Just as national governments failed to coordinate finance and resources to deal with the COVID pandemic and vaccinations, so governments are unwilling to take significant global action on climate and nature. Around $50trn over 30 years is needed apparently – other estimates are $4trn a year for the next ten years. This is really a small cost, no more than 2.5% of annual world GDP. But so far governments have pledged just $100bn and have not even met that.
Second, market solutions will not do the trick, as again the COVID pandemic has shown. Only government intervention, investment and planning on a global scale can give humanity and nature a chance to succeed before too much degradation is made permanent. Carbon pricing will not allocate investment properly or change consumption sufficiently – and it only benefits the richer countries (1bn people) at the expense of the poorer (6.5bn).
Private finance organised by banks and investment funds will not deliver. That’s because capitalist companies control and make decisions on investment based on profitability. Global warming will not be stopped or reversed without ending fossil fuel and mining exploration and phasing out fossil fuel production. Nothing like that is on the agenda of COP26.
As Jeff Sparrow says in his new book, Crimes against Nature, “Each year, the world spends over $1,917bn on guns, bombs, and other military equipment. The comparable figure on advertising is some $325bn. Those staggering numbers represent a mere fraction of what we could direct immediately to environmental programs on land, sea, and air. We could begin systemic decarbonisation, closing down coal-fired power stations, and replacing fossil fuels with electricity from renewables such as solar, using the process to reduce rather than increase our energy needs. We could massively expand low-carbon public transport, so that efficient, easy-to-use and convenient electric trains and trams replaced internal combustion engines. We could replan our cities and towns for human convenience rather than for the use of automobiles; we could establish methods of recycling and re-use that genuinely reduced material throughputs.”
This article was first posted at:-
1. A Crime Against Humanity: the Greenwash Festival’ of Cop26 – Media Lens
2. The Imperial Mode of Living: Interview with Markus Wissen – Ben Wray, bella Caledonia
3. Extinction Rebellion is taking to the City- Jasmin Orden, The Canary