Glasgow COP26: Trade Fair of Climate Raiders

December 27, 2021 0 By Yatharth

M Aseem

COP26, the 26th edition of Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), took place in Glasgow from 31st October to 12 November 2021. But it would be more apt to call it a trade fair or mart of climate change traders. Most of its meeting places and stalls were sponsored by the same corporate capitalists who have raided our rivers, forests, lakes, hills, mountains, grasslands, etc and converted these into their private property, not only snatching away the livelihood of people living there since long but also devastating these from the environmental point of view.  These meeting places and stalls were crowded by the same traders, their ‘national’ or government representatives and NGOs funded by them in tow, and they hotly debated upon which technology owned by which capitalist should be adopted for ‘protecting’ environment, who will finance how much, what will be the rate of return and how it will be shared, in what proportion among whom. 

This annual jamboree, attended by 197 signatories to the UN foundational agreement on climate change, is the principal forum for global climate politics. Its first edition took place in Berlin in 1995. Reports of Inter Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the incidents of natural disasters owing to climate change are discussed here. These annual traders’ jamborees have been grand theatres of much sensational and newsworthy geopolitical drama, but their real achievement can be judged by the single fact that atmospheric carbon which was 358 parts in a million at the time of first one at Berlin has since gone up to 441 parts after 26 of such fairs.  

This is not to deny the real significance of the dangers of climate change, the harmful effects of which have become a great risk to life and biodiversity on earth. According to a recent IPCC report if the present trend continues, many parts of the earth where hundreds of millions live, will become uninhabitable in a few decades. Without immediate effective measures the average global temperature will increase disastrously resulting in huge volatility in usual weather patterns, extreme cold and heat events, severe droughts, devastating floods, etc creating much instability, deaths and destruction. Hence, it is a very important issue for social needs of humanity.

‘Achievements’ in Glasgow

So, what was accomplished in Glasgow on such an important issue? In fact, nothing much to prevent climate change, same as in Paris, Copenhagen, Kyoto, etc. Some big pronouncements estimated to result in reduction of 3.3 to 4.7 billion tonnes atmospheric Carbon dioxide equivalent. These include – some commitments to reduce methane emissions, some declarations to stop or reduce Coal use after 2030, accelerated adoption of zero emission automobiles, stopping deforestation and degradation of soil and reversing the process by 2030, etc. All of these put together mean reduction of 2.3 billion tonnes of atmospheric CO2 equivalent. Glasgow Climate Settlement has also framed some rules on Carbon trading and availability of finance for climate change actions.

The outcome of the COP26 must be evaluated against the aspirational goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.50C that has now become an agreed goal. This happened because an IPCC report saying that target of 20C instead of 1.50C will be qualitatively, and not only quantitatively, damaging for climate received wide media coverage. The 1.50C goal would require the world to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 26 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The modest advances at the Glasgow, even if implemented in full, will still keep the potential emissions in 2030 to about 45-50 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent, very far from this goal. However, the bigger issue in Glasgow was trading of these carbon ‘equivalent’ credits which transforms the whole issue from one of reducing atmospheric carbon into one of money and profits leading to it becoming part of the bets in the capitalist casino roulette. This is the real material achievement of these climate trade fairs.

But could this traders’ jamboree have accomplished something else? Let us take this “common but differentiated responsibility” principle embodied in the UNFCCC.  What is common here and what is differentiated? For that we need to understand that our existing world is capitalist world, a world of commodities, money, markets, exchange and profits. This world is not driven by material needs of the society but by exchange of equivalents, i.e., the necessity is measured by the quantity of equivalent values available for exchange. A person might need food, but his necessity is not determined by one’s hunger and nutrition required, but by the money in his pocket since the capitalist market can only decide the quantum and quality of food required in terms of the amount of money available to buy. One is feeling cold. But market can only determine the real need for clothes, shoes and shelter only by the amount of money one has. Similarly, the real material needs of a sick person have no meaning in the capitalist market as it can solely determine these in terms of amount of money available to buy the required commodities. Capitalist economy doesn’t have any other scale to determine the needs except money since it can only measure these in terms of the purchasing capacity. How can it be any different in case of climate change?

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, said in an interview to HT that loss and damage should be measured in monetary terms now and “polluter pays” principle should be implemented. What more do we need to know to understand the reality of these climate trade fairs? All these political leaders and Save Earth NGOs gather in such summits to discuss how much profit can be made in the name of reversing climate change and to negotiate their share in this profit. That climate change is a question of homelessness, hunger, sickness, death, etc in real physical life of billions is not the material question for the summits of these profit seekers. On the contrary, whenever people protest anywhere in the world say against poisoning or air, water, food, medicines, etc by the very capitalists sponsoring these ‘climate fairs’, these capitalist ‘democratic’ states don’t hesitate for a second in sending their police, army and mercenaries to massacre dozens and hundreds. After all liberalism defends ‘human rights’ of all, all including only property owners. Hence, even the human rights of polluting corporation need defending, after all! How can you encroach upon their ‘human right’ to pollute? That is dictatorship, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, onslaught on individual liberty and freedom! What if some capitalist has polluted the environment? What if some hundreds or even thousands have been sick, or lost their lives? Polluter pays! Impose penalty of few lakhs, or may be few crores, of rupees. But it has right to continue business unmolested. Its rights to continue polluting cannot be curtailed in a free society. Don’t we remember the massacre of tens of thousands by releasing poisonous gases into atmosphere by Union Carbide (later Dow Chemicals) in Bhopal? Don’t we remember massacre of dozens in police firing at Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu on people protesting air-water pollution by Vedanta? What was the reaction of all these governments, their courts, media, and experts? Whose rights did they stand for?   

Trading in Carbon Credits

It is a fundamental characteristic of the capitalist economy to transform everything into commodity and, unsurprisingly, this is what has been done to the climate change. Thus, carbon trading became an important agenda for Glasgow COP26 – framing trading rules, market structure, how the prices will be determined – single fixed price or one discovered through demand-supply mechanism. But let us first understand what is this carbon trading?

Any activity or process considered to reduce greenhouse gases is recognised as carbon positive and 1 carbon credit is awarded for reduction of 1 tonne equivalent of greenhouse gases. This activity can be solar or wind energy generation, forestation, electric car manufacturing, raising biodiesel or ethanol crops, raising crops that are considered to absorb greenhouse gases or bind them underground, etc This can be a new technology or process reducing greenhouse gas emission.  The capitalists emitting greenhouse gases can buy these credits to acquire permit to emit equivalent tonnes of greenhouse gases. Perfect!

Apparently, this is a very neat and clean arrangement to encourage those reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will also incentivise others to do so. But dig a little deeper below the surface, and one finds just the opposite. In capitalist mode of production, the motive of production is profit of the one deploying the capital. If they can get profits from manufacturing of electric cars or solar cells or nitrogen absorbing crops, they will definitely do so, not because these reverse climate change but because there is demand for these in the market and money can be made by selling these. Hence, the production of these would have happened in any case, whether carbon trading or not, if the techniques damaging climate were made prohibitively expensive. But carbon trading will allow other capitalists to continue emitting greenhouse gases just by paying some fee in the form of purchasing these so-called carbon credits from some other capitalists, many a times one section of the same corporation or conglomerate doing so from the other section! This is equivalent to a rich and powerful person committing murder and paying another person to go through imprisonment for him! Or a Brahmin doing gayatri mantra jaap for a fee for others to reserve a place in heaven for them! This can never reduce greenhouse gas emissions in absolute or real terms. That is why the jargon in the climate trade fair at Glasgow was not Zero Carbon emissions but ‘Net Zero’ emissions! Reduce emission at one place and get permission to emit same quantity elsewhere for a fee in the form of carbon credits. And lo, Net Zero is achieved without any real reduction in actual emissions.

Similarly, let us take electric vehicles. Will these really conserve climate and environment in present format? No. Of course, it is true that electric cars will not pollute like petrol-diesel cars during run time, giving rich the uplifting feel of doing their bit in saving the earth and humanity! But what is the reality? The pollution and greenhouse gas emission will be shifted to electricity generation which will be far from where the rich and mighty live like we saw when the Supreme Court ordered the polluting industries to be shifted out of Delhi to other places. Or the incinerator burning medical waste was shifted from upper middle class residential area in Mumbai to a working-class slum area. In both cases ‘environment warriors’ acclaimed the judges. But does it reduce pollution?

Moreover, cheaper operating cost of electric vehicles will further encourage more private transport for the rich, instead of public transport for all. This will make life more difficult for the poor and mean more pollution through increased usage of materials like metals, plastics and chemicals in auto manufacturing. Third, the high usage of the lithium batteries itself is going to become a health hazard in future especially for poor since as usual these will be disposed around where they live. Same for photovoltaic cells used for solar energy generation.

Climate Change and Imperialist Plunder

Carbon Credits Trade, Carbon Offset, Net Zero, etc demonstrate that the capitalist market model of climate protection is a sham. Similar is the new talk of Nature Based Solutions. What will it achieve? Only that hills, rivers, lakes, forests etc will be handed over to one or the other capitalists as their private property to exploit for profit in the name of forestation, climate protection, environment, etc and the communities living there traditionally will be uprooted, even massacred, by the police, army and mercenaries sent by the bourgeois state. We have seen this all in the name of forest animal preserves where people living there for generations picking up even a dry twig for fuel are treated as thieves and criminals while the capitalists running Save Environment NGOs merrily run profitable resorts and Jungle Safari businesses in the name of forest tourism.

Some people might accuse us here of creating a pseudo glamour for traditional village or forest life. No, we are definitely not advocating for preserving this life as it is. However, how uprooting them by brutal armed force and handing over these forests, etc to capitalists as private property will become development for these people? This Nature Based Solution just monetises forests and other natural locations for the sake of the profits of the multinational agri and other businesses. Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso was right in saying, “This struggle to defend the trees and forests is above all a struggle against imperialism. Because imperialism is the arsonist setting fire to our forests and our savannas”. Coup and murder by imperialist mercenaries were the punishment meted out to him for expressing this ugly truth.

Another imperialist and finance capital agenda can be seen in the annual 100 Billion Dollar Fund for Climate Protection which was much debated upon in Glasgow. US representative John Kerry and former head of UK and Canadian Central Banks Mike Carney pushed for this climate protection ‘responsibility’ to be shouldered by international finance capital. Mike Carney even claimed to have put together a USD 130 trillion capital Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero of banks, asset managers, pension funds and insurers. An illusion is being created by deceitful media as if this fund is some social and humanitarian work by imperialist countries and their finance capitalists to help poor countries for climate protection. But Kerry made it very clear that it will be a commercial operation making ‘proper rate of return’, that is, to be repaid with interest on market rates and penalties, other term and conditions applying. Well, imperialist countries, their corporate media and mercenary intellectuals are past masters of the art of extracting profit to be projected as a social welfare enterprise, even dumping their dead cattle in someone’s garden can be declared act of great charity!

However, the question remains how this capital will be deployed in these poor countries? If there was so much profit to be made from solar parks in Africa, the finance capitalists wouldn’t have been waiting for Glasgow or any other such pacts. Larry Fink of BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, has a ready answer to that. He can direct trillions towards the energy transition in low-income countries, if the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are there to “derisk” the lending, by absorbing the first loss on projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Even more money will flow if there is a carbon price that gives clean energy a ‘competitive advantage’. It is a neat solution, a really neat neoliberal solution. This talk of carbon pricing evokes the bitter memory of shock therapy under IMF auspices in eastern Europe and the developing world. BlackRock’s backstop idea is the logic of the 2008 bank bailouts expanded to the global level – socialise the risks, privatise the profits.

Role of Modi Government

A small comment on role of Modi government is also required here. Modi went to Glasgow and  made a Grand Pronouncement of reaching Net Zero by 2070 whereas it is freely awarding licences for coal mines in forests to capitalists. Whole of Indian corporate media made much noise that when consensus evaded in Glasgow, India led from the front and the wording suggested by Bhupendra Yadav the Indian representative for the disputed paragraph was finally agreed to by all. So, what was this solution of great wisdom? First, ‘phase down’ of coal usage instead of ‘phase out’; second, reduction in subsidies on fossil fuels.

As to the coal use ‘phase down’, this was already agreed to 4 days before that by both the main contenders, US and China, in a separate agreement bypassing all countries. Modi’s ambition to be known as a ‘statesman’ led Bhupendra Yadav to take all blame for this from the many environment warriors! Anyway, when Adani, Ambani, Tata, Jindal, all are buying coal mines and government is giving them licences liberally and on very cheap rates, one cannot imagine any ‘phase out’ of coal usage by India. So ‘phase down’ was very appropriate.

However, even more deceitful is the second proposal of reducing subsidies on fossil fuels. What is fossil fuel other than coal? Petroleum. Which government in the world is now giving subsidy to people on petroleum, that they will reduce now? We can only see governments and petroleum industry both making massive money by steep taxes and profits through high prices out of the petroleum sales. Thus, the talk of reducing subsidies is just a trickster’s hand to put the blame of climate change on people addicted to subsidised cheap fuel instead of on the profit-making capitalists. Therefore, these capitalists should be allowed to plunder even more through still higher prices in the name of protecting us from climate change, so that Tatas, Adanis and Ambanis can be subsidised in the name of reducing coal usage.

Many such examples can be mentioned to show that these climate and environment conferences don’t really aim at climate protection. These are really climate trade fairs which use this very important and critical issue of increasing danger of climate change for protecting and enhancing the profits of global monopoly capitalists. There is much competition and contention for that among different groups of capitalists and the nation states representing the capitalist interests also send their representatives for that purpose. This is the brief sum of many a punches-counterpunches in negotiations, manipulations, grand pronouncements made at these annual jamborees.

Private Property & Profit, Real Danger to Climate

Is it so difficult to understand how to protect and conserve our environment and prevent harmful climate change? The only scientific way to do this is to know and understand the laws of natural cycle and consciously apply those laws in planning social production, instead of anarchically disregarding these laws and obstructing the natural cycle. Human society not only gained knowledge of these laws through thousands of years of empirical experience and observations but has also acquired deep insights into these laws through the development of modern science and technology. It is very much possible today to plan the social production in a way so as to fulfil collective social needs without producing substances which damage this cycle or clean those up through treatment and recycling. But it is a cost for each individual capitalist and reduces their profits. Every capitalist on the one hand fears that rival capitalists will save this expense to sell cheaper and drive him out of the market, on the other hand, makes all out attempts to play the same trick to vanquish his rivals from the market. Hence, the indomitable law of capital accumulation drives every capitalist to put not only health and safety of workers but also the earth, environment, and life itself in mortal danger. The failures of such conferences one after the other reminds us what Marx said about the health of workers in the capitalist system, but which is as true about the health of climate and environment:

“Capital that has such good reasons for denying the sufferings of the legions of workers that surround it, is in practice moved as much and as little by the sight of the coming degradation and final depopulation of the human race, as by the probable fall of the earth into the sun. In every stock jobbing swindle, everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but everyone hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. Après moi le déluge! [After me, the flood] is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society. To the out-cry as to the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of over-work, it answers: Ought these to trouble us since they increase our profits? But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the individual capitalist. Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist. “                         

Capital, Chapter 10

‘Free competition’ in capitalism leads every capitalist to plan in micro detail the working of each enterprise. However, in the arena of social production, this leads to extreme anarchy and capitalist production loses all relation to fulfilment of social needs. While even basic needs of the overwhelming majority remain unfulfilled, there is huge wastage in capitalism. Only the top 1% wealthy are responsible for 15% of all emissions while the bottom 50% cause only half of those by 1%. Whole of the war industry is not only waste for humanity but also responsible for much destruction. And none of the UN rules or agreements in these COPs or other conferences apply to armed forces. They have been given full exemption! Whole of the financial sector comprising banks, insurance, stock markets, fund/asset management, NBFCs, etc which is responsible for much construction and energy consumption meets no human needs. Since capitalists produce without any connection to social needs, they need to create artificial needs to sell it, thus whole of humongous advertising ‘industry’ is a total waste for society. In the absence of social housing and public transportation, hundreds of millions are forced to suffer long tortuous sickening commutes daily and many are forced to buy private vehicles for the purpose, which is a major contributor for the greenhouse gases. This leads to a vicious cycle of waste production and energy consumption, which could easily be prevented through provision of social housing near workplaces. Sufficient public transportation can also help avoiding construction of so many Expressways, Freeways, Highways, Elevated Roads, Multilevel Flyovers, parking places, etc with these spaces being instead made available for parks, playgrounds, even urban forests, etc. This is not pure imagination. Planned Moscow residential areas in Soviet times had such urban forests where one side of the road was residential area and the other such a forest. Only such a planned social system for fulfilling social needs can prevent harmful climate change by bringing down carbon emissions in real absolute terms instead of the Net Zero and Carbon Trading speculation in the casino known as capitalism. 

But capitalist system based on private property and profit based ‘free’ competition doesn’t allow this. In the current social system profits can only be made by education business if the students remain less and badly educated. Health business become more profitable if more people remain sick. The judicial business grows if the disputes are not resolved. If we keep this system of private property and capital accumulation, and want to stop climate change too, it’s impossible.  Do we want lakes, forests, no obstacle in the flow of rivers? But whose land to use for the purpose? We don’t want poisonous coal smoke. But Adani, Ambani, Tata, Jindal, all are opening more coal mines. They extract huge profits form these. Why would they shut these? They want compensation. Why should the industrial capitalist stop harmful chemical emissions and waste? Why would he compromise his profits? They have so much profit from these that they can easily manage to live in clean and unpolluted islands in remote Atlantic and Pacific oceans. We can all be damned for all they care. Hence, despite all well-meaning and nice sounding speeches in Glasgow, the real issue was finances, returns, profits, losses, market shares, etc Without taking on this question of private property and capitalist profits all talk of protection of environment and climate is in fact commercial interest of capitalists and NGOs financed by them.

Hence, real question is – from whom to save the environment? The UN principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ can only mean this in a class divided capitalist society that the responsibility for the damage and costs are made common for all, while the differentiated ‘responsibility’ of appropriating whole of the earth for their profits is assumed by the capitalist class. Therefore, the environment and climate need to be protected but from the imperialists and the very capitalists sponsoring the climate trade fairs like the Glasgow COP26 who gathered there like the medieval traders did in their trade fairs seeking maximum profits. The real responsibility and task today are to rescue earth, environment, life and humanity from the bloody clutches of the capitalist class. And this is possible only through class struggle led by working class to build a classless and exploitation free society. Only then will it be possible to build a planned social production system which, instead of violating and obstructing the laws of natural cycle, will consciously apply these because the question of environment and climate in that will no longer be one of the profit-loss but of social necessity of improving quality of life. Chico Mendes, the Brazilian labour activist and environmentalist hit the bulls’ eye when he said, “Environmentalism without class struggle is gardening.”­