As the representatives of 190 countries, corporations and NGO’s met, over 100,000 people took part in massive demonstrations in Copenhagen, with police arresting close to 1,000 demonstrators, including 40 members of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), the international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated. A further 3,000 protests were organised in locations throughout the globe.
The anger expressed by demonstrators is well justified. The pace of global warming is accelerating. Recent research conducted on the melting ice caps of the Arctic and Antartic, on the thawing of permafrost and on ocean acidification, indicate the climate is changing at a faster rate than predicted even by recent models. This will mean more extreme weather, with the global poor especially hard hit by water scarcity and food crises, as agricultural production and land availability decline as a result of flooding and drought.
The necessary measures, namely a binding commitment for emmissions cuts by industrialised economies of at least 50% by 2020, and major financial support for less economically developed countries to adopt a low carbon model of growth, were simply not on the table. Instead, the approach of the major imperialist powers, the US, the EU and China was governed by the desire to protect their own strategic economic interests without being singled out for blame for the inevitable failure to reach a significant agreement. In the end a pathetic non-legally binding agreement called the Copenhagen Accord was reached between five countries – the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. In this accord the governments merely “took note” of global warming and included in it an empty commitment to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C, and a highly inadequate fund to help poorer nations reduce carbon emissions.
The real agenda at Copenhagen was set beforehand by many of the world’s largest corporations who put relentless pressure on politicians only to agree measures that will protect “competitiveness” and intellectual properly rights to new and existing technologies. They achieved this by banding together in faceless “trade associations”, almost like trade unions for the super-rich, such as the “Global Climate Coalition”, an association of 50 of the largest Energy, Automobile and Chemical corporations that famously “lobbied” members of US Congress throughout the 1990’s.
At Copenhagen both governments and corporations were pushing for the further adoption of market based solutions as the only way to secure an international agreement. This included the extension of carbon trading, which allows the worst polluters to “offset” rather than cut emissions. The buying and selling of the right to pollute was introduced as part of the Kyoto protocol in 1997 and has now spawned a market worth $100 billion. This narrow focus on offsetting distracts attention form the wholesale shift to sustainable transport, housing, agriculture, forestry and industry that is required internationally. In fact, bearing recent history in mind, offsetting is a recipe for disaster with speculators trading complex bundled up credits in financial centres far removed from the actual origins of the pollution.
Thus rather than making the real polluters pay, governments are more interested in creating opportunities for private companies to profit, while imposing charges and taxes such as the carbon tax on ordinary working class people. Worryingly, given this situation it is unsurprising climate change scepticism is on the rise as global warming appears just another excuse for discredited politicians to con money out of people.
The capitalist system, dominated as it is by competing imperial interests and giant unaccountable monopolistic corporations, is incapable of making the transfer to renewable technologies at the rate required. The only alternative to this is socialism, where instead of the global system being organised to increase the profits of a tiny elite of super-rich, the resources of the world will be placed under the democratic control of the working class, small farmers and poor.
As a means to achieving this, the Socialist Party and the CWI advocate the nationalisation of the 500 largest multinational corporations that dominate the world today. By relying on democratic planning rather than the anarchy of the market, a coordinated transformation of the automobile, energy and other heavily polluting industries could occur without job losses and pay cuts. Furthermore, the pace of research and development in renewable technology could be fast-forwarded by injecting some of the massive public funding this nationalisation would create. An “open source” approach could be adopted that would remove the intellectual property laws which allow technological advances to be controlled by single corporations for the purpose of maximising profit.