By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
November 23, 2015
The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015, has been touted as a make-or-break meeting that will produce a new agreement, one that will supposedly serve as bridge after Kyoto Protocol and govern long-term global climate action from 2020 onward.
All roads may lead to Paris in the coming days, but the climate talks are predetermined by monopoly capitalism to aggravate climate and social injustice and the maelstrom of global crises caused by imperialism, especially at a time when Europe and surrounding regions are reeling from worsening economic troubles, political turmoil, massive influx of displaced peoples, and a conflagration of terrorist and rightist violence.
Nevertheless, a great number of people worldwide are determined to hold various protest actions in their own countries and cities, and in Paris as well, to convey their collective call for climate justice and social justice, and to reiterate their resistance against imperialist plunder and onerous impositions of the global capitalist system. The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) expresses its solidarity with the people, calls on its member organizations to participate in the protest actions, and reiterates its stand against the imperialist system that is behind the climate crisis.
The main greenhouse gas culprits
In every annual COP after the UNFCCC was signed in 1992 and went into force in 1995, the most industrialized nations have vowed to cut down on their carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to arrest runaway global warming. But twenty years later, on the eve of COP21, the world is suffocating and roasting at even higher levels of GHG emissions and global warming, while the ecological crisis has reached unprecedented proportions.
It is now well-established by the scientific community, as represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that has issued its latest Fifth Assessment Report in 2014, that climate change has reached dangerous levels, with massive and rising emissions of CO2 and other GHGs as the main culprits. GHG emissions are increasing at ever-faster rates, having surpassed the upper limit for climate balance (350 parts per million in volume) almost 30 years ago, and now hitting a record 402.80 ppm as of mid-2015. This is the result of relentless production and consumption typical of the global capitalist system, especially its long-standing dependence on fossil fuels for large-scale industrial processes, construction, corporate agriculture, and major transport and communications.
Until recently, the United States remained the topmost producer of GHGs. Because of China’s rapid industrial rise, it has become the world’s topmost emitter at 29% as of 2013, followed by the US at 15%, and the 28 EU countries taken as a whole at 11%. But since GHGs can stay in the atmosphere for centuries, historical emissions are even more important. The US remains the most responsible in this regard, having the highest cumulative share of GHG emissions in the 1850-2011 period (27%), followed by EU countries (25%). GHG emissions computed per person would also show that the biggest per-capita emitters are the highly industrialized countries led by Canada, the US, Russia, Japan and EU, followed by a few large and fast-developing countries such as China, Brazil, Indonesia, India and Mexico (dubbed as “emerging economies”).
The impacts of a worsening climate crisis
Rising global average temperatures, as the direct result of high GHG levels, are causing drastic changes in our climate systems and wreaking havoc on ecosystems and peoples. Experts warn that the world has less than a decade to take drastic action before climate change becomes irreversible. Even with all countries working double-time to reduce GHG emissions under the UNFCCC’s best-effort scenarios, it is likely that global temperature increases may exceed 1.5°C or even much higher over the rest of the 21st century.
Climate change is most evident in the warming of the atmosphere and ocean, shrinking of the polar ice sheets and worldwide glaciers, and the concurrent rise of sea levels. Year 2014 is the hottest year on record since 1890, with average temperatures 0.74 °C higher than 150 years ago. Ice cover in the Arctic has been shrinking at 2.7 % per decade. Sea level increases have leaped to an annual average of 3.3 mm from 1993 to 2009.
Consequently, all ecosystems are now adversely affected by extreme weather events, such as intense heat waves, extended droughts, super-cyclones, record-breaking rainfall and snowfall, extensive floods, freak windstorms and tornadoes, and by slow-acting impacts of climate change such as shifts in global wind and water cycles, warmer and longer ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) cycles, changes in sea ice and river discharge patterns, ocean acidification, permafrost degradation, inundation of low-lying coasts, landslides and other geo-hazards.
Ecosystem disturbances have become more prevalent such as forest fires, pest outbreaks, fish kills, disrupted migratory habits, coral bleaching, and a generally faster rate of species extinction. With ecosystems faltering, human communities and livelihoods face all types of disruption and degradation, especially those dependent on agriculture, forestry, hunting and fisheries. Crop failures, water shortages, desertification, famine and epidemics are becoming more widespread and frequent, affecting particularly the poor and marginalized communities. Women, children and the elderly shoulder the greater cost of these circumstances.
The broader ecological and socio-economic crisis
The climate crisis is at the core of a broader global ecological crisis, and both are tightly intertwined with the recurring and worsening socio-economic crises, geopolitical crises and wars, which in turn are deeply rooted in the capitalist system. The rule of monopoly capital has further intensified all these crises.
Climate change is already wiping 1.6% from the global GDP, and if current trends continue, may lead to 3.2% loss of global GDP by 2030. The losses are especially devastating for poor countries (estimated to lose up to 11% of GDP by 2030), and particularly poor people and poor communities. On top of these severe climate change impacts, neoliberal policies and imperialist globalization have opened up all countries and all ecosystem types to the unabated entry, control and plunder of natural, human, economic and financial resources by monopoly capitalist giants.
In the pursuit of superprofits, the monopoly capitalists ruthlessly plunder forests, minerals, energy reserves, freshwater supplies, agricultural lands and marine areas. In areas already depleted of natural resources, they set up enclaves of sweatshop factories, playground resorts of the rich, and dumping grounds for their toxic wastes. All these lead to more ecological failures, widespread land grabs, breakdown of national economies and traditional livelihoods, rising unemployment, forced migration, distortion of local culture, rampant human rights violations, human trafficking, and other social ills. Existing inequalities based on class, race and gender oppression are thus magnified by climate change impacts.
Of special mention is the emerging and expanding trend of climate refugees, as climate change impacts have started to combine with economic pressures, political turmoil and wars of aggression. The number of people displaced by environmental disasters between 2008 and 2013 has been estimated at 27 million each year on average, spanning 161 countries. At least one leading scientist has already identified a three-year drought that began in 2007, affecting the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, as a major factor that aggravated political conflicts and population movements especially in but not limited to Syria. Studies have shown similar conflations of severe droughts and simmering social conflicts in the Sahel-belt countries of Africa and in Mexico.
Monopoly capitalism offers false climate solutions
On the other hand, monopoly capitalism continuously attempts to avoid the impacts of its self-inflicted crises through various strategies. In facing the climate crisis, the international community had signed the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which bound the most industrialized countries to cut their GHG emissions and provide climate finance for underdeveloped countries. But the Protocol, weakened by imperialist states during its entire existence, eventually unraveled. First, its overall GHG reduction targets were too low compared to the much deeper cuts (60-80%) needed to effectively stop global warming. Second, the US did not ratify the Protocol, while Canada withdrew from it. A number of industrialized countries have also balked from signing a second commitment period beyond the expiry of the first commitment period in 2012.
And third, the other monopoly capitalist states also undermined the Protocol by using loopholes under the so-called “flexibility mechanisms” and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation action plan or mechanism) supposedly enhanced in the 2008 COP-14 Poznan to cover three other areas of climate mitigation: conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. This merely created thus a global carbon market that allowed the biggest GHG emitters to wiggle out of their mitigation commitments while creating new forms of financial control.
The UNFCCC’s climate finance efforts have turned out to be mostly a corporate-driven and profit-oriented scheme rather than a measure for climate justice. More than ever, monopoly capitalist-driven commodification and financialization have invaded not just goods and services, not just “intellectual property” and genetics as in the 1990s, but also increasingly, even the realm of public ecological instruments as expressed in carbon markets, debt-for-nature swaps, and so-called “payments for ecological services” (PES).
The monopoly capitalists are conjuring one false climate solution after another, in order to open up new profitable investments while distracting people from addressing the real and deeply rooted social causes of climate change. The same old industrial-style agribusiness schemes are being repackaged and promoted under the “climate-smart” label. Geo-engineering schemes, often combined with biotech or nanotech innovations, are made to rely on ultra-high-tech, ultra-large-scale, and ultra-expensive facilities supposedly to fix our ailing biosphere, but which merely expand monopoly-capitalist profiteering while creating new environmental risks.
Dirty and discredited sources of energy such as big dams, nuclear power, biofuels, and even “redesigned” fossil fuels are being aggressively repackaged as clean and renewable sources. Worst of all, imperialism continues to expand the fossil fuel industry through the most destructive and violent means, such as widespread fracking, arctic and deep sea drilling, and laying down of new pipelines in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
The forthcoming COP21 in Paris has been touted as a milestone because it is mandated to produce a new, comprehensive, and legally binding protocol to deal with climate change beyond 2020. However, the same defects and disputes that hounded Kyoto Protocol to an early demise continue to work against this new agreement. The Paris Summit will predictably fail to satisfy the long-standing demands of the peoples of the world for climate justice and social justice—or even just to satisfy the moderated expectations and demands of most UN member-states.
The real solution in the hands of the people’s movement
The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) joins the rest of the world’s peoples, social movements and organizations in calling for a higher level of global climate action not tied to any new protocol that will come out of COP21. People’s climate action aspires for climate justice, which demands that the most industrialized countries seriously commit and move to achieve effectively high targets in GHG emissions cuts and compensatory (not predatory) climate finance.
We assert that the global struggle for climate justice is interconnected with the global struggle for social justice, with a common enemy in monopoly capitalism and the imperialist powers as the ultimate causes of climate and social injustice. The real solutions to the climate crisis, and the economic, financial, political and social crises that are intertwined with it, lie in the hands of the people and movements that are struggling to resist imperialist control and plunder of the world, and which are seeking alternatives to the rotten system of global capitalism. In this regard, the ILPS commits itself to unite and seek solidarity and cooperation with these other forces and movements.
The people should struggle against imperialism, and for climate justice, social justice and democracy on all fronts: through mass campaigns and mobilizations to defend specific rights and win specific reforms within the system, and through national mass movements that can install new governments and build alternative systems based on the people’s democratic power. As people’s struggles for national liberation and social emancipation advance, draw from each other’s strengths and gain victories, we gain more ground in resolving the ecological and social crises in significant stages.
The struggle for climate justice and social justice and against imperialism is ultimately for the world’s peoples to establish an alternative social system that is centered on the emancipation of the billions of toiling masses, and national liberation for countries long oppressed by the neocolonial system. Ending monopoly capital’s dominance over the planet and people’s lives ultimately means building a socialist future for all.###