The destruction of climate change is no longer a distant threat but a present reality. In the past year, huge sections of British Columbia were destroyed by fire, and are now being engulfed by floods. Taiwan, California and Brazil have had record droughts. The Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs. Famine threatens Madagascar due to massive crop failures. All this is only the beginning. The UN’s COP26 conference brought together 30,000 delegates from 200 countries to supposedly address the climate crisis. Everyone talks about the need for drastic action, and yet all COP26 could deliver are half-measures amounting to, as Greta Thunberg put it, a two-week conference of “blah, blah, blah.”
The main slogan going into the Glasgow conference was “Keep 1.5°C alive,” and they have failed even on that front. Based on the pledges coming out of COP26, we are on track to reach 2.5°C–2.7°C of warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, which will make heat waves, wildfires, droughts, flooding and extreme weather events endemic.
According to climate models, to have an 83 per cent chance of staying at 1.5°C degrees of warming, we can only emit an additional 300 gigatonnes of CO2 from this point onwards. The pledges settled upon at the Glasgow summit put us on track to exhaust what’s left of our carbon budget by the early 2030s.
The agreements reached at COP26 largely fall into two camps: governments have signed onto pledges that will not impact them, or they have signed pledges with no plans of how to achieve them in actual fact, given the costs involved.
The biggest polluters refuse to sign onto pledges that would cut into their profit margins. What that leaves us with is a greenwashing of the status quo where nations have signed onto bold-sounding pledges that will not accomplish anything. For instance, only eight governments—accounting for just 0.1 per cent of oil and natural gas supplies—have signed onto Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance’s pledge to stop “issuing new permits for oil and gas exploration and production.” The countries which have pledged to make all new cars emission-free by 2040 only account for 20 per cent of the world’s car market. China, India, and Russia—the top three methane emitters—have refused to sign a non-binding pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. The five biggest coal consumers would not sign the pledge to accelerate the “phase down” of coal, yet alone phase it out entirely.
The ruling class has no intention of phasing out fossil fuels or drastically cutting emissions. We have more dirty fuels than we can burn while staying within 1.5°C of warming, and yet they continue to subsidize new pipelines. Perhaps the biggest achievement COP26 can boast in regard to this is the first UN climate summit text since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 to mention “fossil fuels”!
In the rare case where countries signed pledges that, if taken seriously, would actually impact their own economy, they have no planned measures and no intention to foot the bill. For instance, 100 countries signed a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. These countries account for 85 per cent of the world’s forests. But in 2014, many of these same countries pledged to reduce deforestation by 50 per cent by 2020, and deforestation has been on the rise. Most glaringly, more than 130 countries have promised to be net zero by 2050 without taking any steps to cut emissions in the short term. Austin Whitman of Climate Neutral said it best: “There’s a reality that if you’re making a 2050 pledge you don’t really have to change anything today.”
In reflecting on COP26, Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s minister of the environment and climate change, wrote: “I have never seen more momentum or desire to beat climate change [than at COP26]. The public and private sectors are accelerating their actions, Canada is at the forefront and countries are working to keep 1.5C within reach. We can and we will pass down a planet to our kids and grandkids that is in better shape than how we found it.”
Guilbeault’s claim that we’ll pass down a better planet to our grandkids seems highly doubtful given the inaction at COP26. But the minister is correct in saying that Canada is at the forefront. The Trudeau government is at the forefront of empty climate posturing and carbon emissions per capita. Canada is the second worse emitter in the G20. Canada is at the forefront of hypocrisy while perpetuating the climate crisis.
The inability of the ruling class to address the climate crisis will lead to unimaginable suffering until they are overthrown. The poorest nations—who bear the least responsibility—have been the most vulnerable to the devastation of the climate crisis with fewer resources to adapt to extreme weather events. The U.S., Australia, and the EU stopped such nations’ efforts to put a “loss-and-damages” fund in place to compensate for the damages they have and will continue to face. All COP26 could promise was to initiate more dialogue, which is a far cry from the $290-580 billion developing countries say they will need by 2030. Talk is cheap, and the criminals who have polluted our air, poisoned our water and burned down the world’s forests for profit would rather see millions more displaced than cover the cost.
COP26 has shattered all illusions that the capitalists are capable of addressing the climate crisis. The ruling class is not even confident in themselves. Mure Duckie of the Financial Times wrote, “Unified international action is essential to limit warming to levels that avert catastrophe. For that, the COP process, with all its failings, is not just our best hope. It is our only hope.” Writing as a strategist of capital, he’s correct that it’s their only hope. What little hope that is. Capitalism is a system without a future, which threatens human society and existence. Coordinated international action is impossible under capitalism, since the ruling class of every country is constantly looking for the upper hand against rivals.
COP26 must be the final nail in the coffin of the idea that capitalism can avert environmental catastrophe. The reality is, to save the planet we need a revolution. The workers and youth need to expropriate the land, major industries including oil, mining, logging, energy and transport, and integrate them in a socialist plan of production. History shows that no ruling class will willingly give up its power and privileges. Any serious solution to the climate crisis must start with a revolution to overthrow capitalism and end the exploitation of the earth and its people.