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Climate vandalism and North American capitalism

June 7, 2017

(First published in The Bullet, June 7, 2017. Reposted by permission.)

By Socialist Project. North America has been witness to two distinct forms of climate vandalism over the last year.

North America has been witness to two distinct forms of climate vandalism over the last year.

In the case of the United States, it came from President Donald Trump’s decision last week to formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord of December 2015, an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set for 2020 to address greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, and adaptation, as well as proposals for financial assistance. The 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris was adopted by consensus, and as of June 2017, 195 countries have signed the agreement, with 148 ratifying it, with each country setting targets, making plans and reporting on its efforts to mitigate climate change.

The Paris Accord is, to say the least, a weak agreement, with no mechanisms of enforcement, reliant on market mechanisms, and only commits to slow the rate of growth of GHG emissions and not to reduce them. The country pledges so far, for the most part, have been vague and unlikely to meet targets. The American withdrawal makes a bad agreement and situation much worse, but the hard right and oil sector capitalists supporting – and in – the Trump Administration seem pleased.

In the case of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proclaimed Canada’s commitment to the Paris Accord wide and far, and introduced in December 2016 the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. But the concrete measures are, well, modest, and centred on a phase-out of coal-fired power, a national price on carbon emissions, ‘clean and green’ building and fuel standards, methane emissions cuts in the oil and gas sector (essentially in tar sands extraction), and a (pitifully) small fund over ten years for green vehicles, public transit and renewable energy infrastructure.

At the same time, the climate vandalism will continue with support for the expansion of tar sands production, pipeline expansion, new LNG facilities and the continued effort (following the strategy of the Harper government) to turn Canada into a petro-power. It is anyone’s guess how the tepid calls for a Canadian reduction of carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 relative to 2005 levels can be squared with these market ecology measures and commitments to build fossil capitalism. Indeed, Canada’s extracted carbon emissions have grown by 25 per cent since 2000, linked to the export push of fossil fuels. A recent comprehensive survey of the Canadian oil sector and carbon emissions makes it clear that the fossil fuel expansion backed by the Trudeau government will lock Canada into a high carbon emissions trajectory. Yet, to meet the Paris targets, the wind-down of the sector needs to start now.

In various fora, scientists have been putting forward various provocative “roadmaps for rapid decarbonization, or a ‘carbon law’ – of halving gross anthropogenic carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions every decade … that can lead to net-zero emissions around mid-century, a path necessary to limit warming to well below 2°C” (the acceptable target for global warming was further reduced in the Paris Accord to 1.5°C to be more realistic on the necessary climatic barrier).

The climate justice movement has insisted on a focus on communities most directly impacted by climate change, the marginalized and indigenous peoples. But for such an alliance to be effective it also requires building a working class environmentalism that challenges capitalist production and the endless accumulation that necessarily entails ecological degradation. Unfortunately, ecological activism in North America – even when confronting climate change – relies on market measures and utopic visions of green capitalism.

The 5th Report on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change convened by the UN had its first Working Group report for policymakers come out in 2013, with the rest reporting across 2014, and a Synthesis Report released in 2016. The Report is the most comprehensive assessment of climate change physical impacts, and mitigation and adaptation measures available. The 6th Report is scheduled for completion in 2022.

The contribution below summarizes and assesses the 5th Report, and the relations between climate change and capitalism. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord and the Trudeau government’s deepening commitment to the fossil fuel industry make this an opportune time to revisit the report.

Appendix: Climate Change and Capitalism

By Michael Roberts (2013): The fifth report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) was released in 2013 (Climate Change 2013). The IPCC brings together hundreds of scientists in the field of climate change to cooperate in drawing up a comprehensive analysis of the state of the earth’s climate and forecasts about its future.

The IPCC report raised its estimate of the probability that human activities, led by the burning of fossil fuels, are the main cause of global warming since the mid-20th century to “extremely likely,” or at least 95 per cent, from “very likely” (90 per cent) in its previous report in 2007 and “likely” (66 per cent) in 2001….

The IPCC said that short periods are influenced by natural variability and do not, in general, reflect long-term climate trends. So the argument of those whom deny global warming is man-made or is not getting worse cannot rely on the recent slowing of the rise in average atmospheric temperatures in the last 15 years. The IPCC went on to say that temperatures were likely to rise by between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees Celsius (0.5 to 8.6 Fahrenheit) by the late 21st century. Sea levels are likely to rise by between 26 and 82 cm (10 to 32 inches) by the late 21st century, after a 19 cm rise in the 19th century. In the worst case, seas could be 98 cm higher in the year 2100.

The IPCC estimates that a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere would lead to a warming of between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 and 8.1F), lowering the bottom of the range from 2.0 degrees (3.6F) estimated in 2007 report. The new range, however, is the same as in other IPCC reports before 2007. It said the earth was set for more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels from melting ice sheets that could swamp coasts and low-lying islands as greenhouse gases built up in the atmosphere….

For the full text of Michael Roberts’s article see The Bullet, June 7, 2017.

For another analysis of the Trump climate vandalism, see “Trump, climate and the breakdown of multilateralism” and other articles on Climate and Capitalism.

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