Climate politics after Copenhagen

Jonathan Neale

The global economic crisis of the last two years has transformed the nature of climate politics in two ways. The turning point was Copenhagen.

First, the economic crisis has changed the nature of climate politics at the top. From 2005 to 2008 the most influential position on climate among world leaders was that greenhouse gas emissions must be slowly reduced by 60 to 80 percent over the next 40 years. This was to be achieved within the limits of the “free market”. With the economic crisis the pressure of competition between the different corporations and national blocks of capital became severe. The dominant position at the top became that in the next decade the different blocks of capital could not afford the cost of beginning those reductions. The result in Copenhagen was that the US, assisted by China, effectively wrecked the process of international negotiation towards slow but deep cuts in emissions.

But something else has happened as well. There has been a global movement for climate action for some time. The central thrust of that movement has been to lobby governments. That shifted in Copenhagen. The left and the social movements joined climate politics. We saw a mass demonstration, and then a coming together of the more radical NGO activists with anti-capitalists in direct action that not only challenged the police lines but demonstrated inside the corridors of power.

After Copenhagen that movement faces both a crisis and a great opportunity. The crisis occurs because much, but not all, of the leadership of the big NGOs has bent to the new “reality” and is moving away from serious engagement with climate politics. Among much wider layers of activists there is a debate raging between demoralisation and engagement with a more militant movement, which could unite radical environmentalists with the social movements.

The economic crisis has also transformed the political space for this new movement. Fast, effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions require an enormous investment. On a global scale this requires something in the region of 100 to 200 million new jobs. Even two years ago this would have appeared visionary. But the economic crisis has discredited neoliberalism, making it clear that governments can intervene with enormous sums when they want to. Also mass unemployment has returned. It is now possible to campaign seriously in the unions and among workers for massive government intervention to create climate jobs and save the planet. This creates the possibility of averting catastrophic climate change in this generation.

In this new situation what the left does globally and in each country is suddenly critical. The left cannot effect these changes on its own. But we can mobilise old and new activists to take the argument for climate action into the unions and the working class. And the working class can change everything.

To do that we have to build a climate movement that does not argue for sacrifice but for decent living standards, jobs and growth of a very particular kind towards a sustainable planet. We have to persuade that movement that the main fault line is not between rich countries and poor, but between capitalism and workers in every country, north and south.

Continued in full here at International Socialism Journal


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