The heads of state at the Cop21 climate change talks in Paris know that climate change is one of the most urgent problems facing humanity.
They also know that no deal they come up with will be anything like what is needed to solve it.
That hasn’t stopped them schmoozing and congratulating themselves as they make earnest speeches.
But behind all this a great crime is being committed. The polluters who are trashing and looting our planet are setting the green light to carry on.
Some 180 countries have submitted plans for getting their carbon emissions down. These are supposed to keep global warming below 2 degrees.
The pledges are woefully inadequate. If countries stick to them, global emissions will hit 43 billion tonnes a year by 2030.
That’s two and a half times too high to stay within the “carbon budget” target that’s estimated to give a 66 percent chance of keeping below 2 degrees.
Even within the budget warming could go as high as 6 degrees by 2100. In any case countries are not sticking to them.
The European Union and at least six other major economies already threaten their commitments with new coal plants.
Some developing countries made their pledges conditional on aid from richer countries—which have a habit of not stumping up promised cash.
Deal or no deal?
After 20 years of trying, the United Nations (UN) negotiators’ aim to finally reach a legally binding global agreement. US president Barack Obama said he was “optimistic” about reaching a deal.
Any deal would have to be ratified by the US senate, led by Republican climate change “sceptics”. US secretary of state John Kerry admitted that meant there would “definitely not” be a treaty.
Different countries pass each other the buck.
Richer countries say developing countries, whose economies are growing, less advanced and often more polluting should make the bulk of emissions cuts.
Leaders of developing countries ask why they should sacrifice the economic growth that the economically advanced countries, that are responsible for most historic pollution, benefitted from.
This tension creates a drive to find a lowest common denominator. As Chinese president Xi Jinping put it, “Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest.”
Britain leads the way
David Cameron boasted that Britain is one of 75 countries “that already have legally binding climate change legislation” and are “thriving” as a result.
Britain’s Climate Change Act commits to cutting emissions by 80 percent from 1990 to 2050. But it’s mostly sleight of hand.
The target excludes aviation and shipping. A new runway at Heathrow airport could create 210 million tonnes of carbon emissions and none would count.
It also only counts emissions generated in Britain. The decline of manufacturing means these “direct” domestic emissions have been falling for years.
But instead of cutting this pollution, Britain is sending it abroad.
George Osborne’s fracking “revolution” could also bring the world huge new emissions without affecting domestic targets.
In practice the Tories are slashing subsidies for renewables while increasing tax breaks for fossil fuels. This puts Britain well behind many other countries.
The bosses won’t save us
Alongside the summit, the Sustainable Innovation Forum seeks market-driven, technological solutions. Billionaires such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson also held a “Mission Innovation” meeting.
The problem isn’t lack of technologies but how society uses them. Bosses like Zuckerberg, Gates and Branson are part of that problem. So is the market.
Much emphasis is on making renewables cheaper than fossil fuels. But in some cases they already are.
As the magazine New Scientist pointed out last week, “in a free market, wind and solar energy could get too cheap to be profitable”.
This could discourage capitalists from investing in them. Even if they do, it won’t necessarily cut fossil fuel use.
Instead, “if demand for fossil fuels starts to fall, they may get cheaper as producers try to sell as much as they can”.
All in it together
World leaders are trying to paint climate change as something “everyone” can address—from their own schmoozing to ordinary people’s lifestyle changes.
Not everyone gets an equal say at the summit. While some of the world’s biggest polluting firms got to sponsor it, ordinary people were banned from protesting outside.
We still get responsibility dumped on us. We must change our light bulbs, eat less meat, insulate our homes and use public transport—or else it’s our fault.
But climate change is a social problem, not a collection of individual problems.
Our choices are limited by what’s on offer. Few people choose to spend hours in traffic jams or struggle to heat badly insulated homes.
Even if we try to consume responsibly, corporations will still produce irresponsibly—and spend billions on advertising to create a demand.
The only game in town?
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius warned delegates that “there isn’t an alternative solution” because “there isn’t an alternative planet.” We may not like the summits, but they’re better than nothing.
The talks always fail for a reason—our rulers seek deals that don’t touch the system that’s destroying the planet.
A sustainable economy is possible, but only if it is democratically planned with people before profit.
That’s something the bosses, politicians and lobbyists at Cop21 will fight against until their last breaths.
There’s no point waiting for them to reach a deal. No agreement between foxes will ever work out well for the chickens.
If Fabius is right we may as well give up altogether.
But workers have the power not only to defeat the likes of him, but to run the world in a much better way.