COP 28 Failure Proves One Thing
A Truly Massive Independent and Internationalist Movement of the Working Class and Oppressed is Needed to Overcome Capitalist Climate Change. Socialism is the Only Way Forward
By Gary Porter - “We must accelerate a just, equitable transition to renewables. The science is clear: The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a speech during the opening days of the summit. So what happened?
After all night deliberations on Tuesday, Dec 12, Conference Chair Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of ADNOC, the petroleum corporation of United Arab Emirates, announced a deal on Wednesday morning. For the first time, the text calls for a "transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science."
At least one earlier draft had not even mentioned fossil fuels.
This formulation is not binding, but merely aspirational. It mentions nothing about the speed of emissions reduction or a timetable. There are significant loopholes, vague definitions and the committed resistance of the oil cartel. With no goals whatever, there is no means to enforce this statement. It leaves open the door to diversionary misdirection such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which does not work yet anywhere in the world. Even if it did, which is near impossible, it would cost 2 to 3 times as much as simply using proven green technologies such as solar and wind, tidal and geothermal power. CCS supporters include climate lunatics such as Alberta Premier, Danielle Smith, and Saskatchewan Premier, Scott Moe.
Throughout the negotiations, more than 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists were on the ground, including at least 65 individuals from Canada advocating for fossil fuels – an unprecedented number – pushing for gas as a transition fuel and using carbon capture technologies to justify increased oil and gas production; two things climate science is unequivocally clear are not climate solutions.
What Is COP 28?
The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, more commonly known as COP28, was the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference, held from 30 November until 12 December at Expo City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Of course UAE is a major oil and gas producer and a member of OPEC. The COP 28 chair, Sultan Al Jaber, is the CEO of ADNOC , the UAE petroleum corporation. There were hundreds, even thousands of fossil fuel executives at the conference, together with their global accounting and law firms, their public relations shills and their bought and paid for politicians. COP Meetings are where hopes to abate climate change go to die. Of the few goals set at COP conferences, none have been met.
Over 70,000 attendees attend this massively polluting event. Most go to plead for change. Small Island nations are seeking relief as rising oceans threaten to inundate their homelands. Many from the global south come to seek support from the fossil fuel cartel and their governments in the global north from the droughts, desertification, floods, crop destruction, livestock deaths and deepening misery caused by global warming which they do not cause. It is estimated that climate change already causes 5 million human deaths annually. But COP 28 was not run by the victims. It was run by Fossil fuel companies and their imperialist governments
Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are set to hit a record high this year, exacerbating climate change and fuelling more destructive extreme weather, scientists said.
The Global Carbon Budget report, published on Tuesday during the COP28 climate summit, said that overall CO2 emissions, which reached a record high last year, have plateaued in 2023 due to a slight drop from uses of land like deforestation, not reduction of fossil fuels.
In fact, countries are expected to emit a total 36.8 billion tonnes of CO2 from fossil fuels in 2023, a 1.1 per cent increase from last year, the report by scientists from more than 90 institutions including the University of Exeter concluded.
Why is the phase-out of fossil fuels the biggest flashpoint at Cop28?
The sharp debate over a phase out of Fossil fuels arises because oil and gas, although heavily subsidized by taxpayer money, are privately owned. This sets private profit and massive private wealth accumulation against the urgent needs of the world’s people for a rapid reduction of green house gas emissions. This contradiction has played out for decades and very visibly at the 28 annual COP meetings. Although these meetings should be about increasingly urgent human need, they have been completely taken over by the tiny gang of immensely rich and powerful private profiteers running the fossil fuel business. To break the deadly logjam, the assets of the fossil fuel giants must be seized and brought under direct control of the working class. Only then can we determine our own future, free of these oil parasites.
What does the science say?
The science is crystal clear on the following: fossil fuel burning is the overwhelming cause of the climate crisis; CO2 emissions must plummet by almost half by 2030 to have an even chance of meeting the 1.5C target; emissions must then plunge to net zero by 2050. The science also finds that some CO2 emissions will be very hard to stop, such as from some heavy industry and aviation.
Prof Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “I cannot see scientifically there being any other communication than that we need to phase out fossil fuels.”
What does “abated” mean and why does this matter?
“Abated” is when some of the CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are captured and stored, for example by fitting equipment to a gas-fired power station. But again no official UN definition exists of what percentage of emissions need to be trapped to count as abated. The term is important, as one option on the negotiating table is to agree on a phase-out of only “unabated” fossil fuels.
Why is the issue political?
The world is hurtling towards climate breakdown: global emissions are still rising while the time left in which to kick-start a rapid decline is extremely short. The strongest way to signal the need for that fall is to agree to a phase-out of fossil fuels.
A phase-down could enable further delay and allow carbon capture to be used as a dangerous smokescreen, by suggesting that significant levels of future fossil fuel burning can be mopped up by technology. That is a “fantasy’, according to Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency. Carbon capture has failed to reach any meaningful scale to date and is likely to be far more expensive than clean energy technologies.
The science says most existing fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. But the fossil fuel industry is planning the opposite, expanding production by double the amount compatible with 1.5C. A political signal that fossil fuels will be phased out will help push countries and companies to end that expansion.
Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief when the landmark Paris agreement was reached in 2015, unequivocally supports the “stronger political signal” of phase-out: “If we want a step forward in this COP, then we cannot compromise on phase-out.”
Vulnerable and developing countries are demanding a phase-out of fossil fuels. Some rich countries, such as those in the EU and the US, have backed a phase-out of unabated fossil fuel.
Let us conclude by considering this analysis from the Global Ecosocialist Network, December 5, 2023.
Back in May, the World Meteorological Organization reported there was a 66% likelihood of exceeding the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold in at least one year between 2023 and 2027. On November 21, only nine days out from the start of COP28 in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, 350.org’s Bill McKibben shared an alarming graph, showing that for the first time, global surface temperatures temporarily rose by 2⁰C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Climate scientists conclude that the remaining carbon budget for a 50% chance of keeping warming to 1.5 °C is around 250 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) as of January 2023, equal to around six years of current CO2 emissions.
And yet, despite the fact that we are teetering on the edge of the climate cliff, capitalist governments are far from the drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon drawdown necessary to prevent this “temporary” temperature rise from becoming the norm, setting us well on the path to an unlivable planet for the majority of the world’s human and non-human population. On the contrary, emissions have steadily increased during the past few years.
The environmental destruction caused by wars, occupations and the military-industrial complex are compounding the crisis. The shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy has suffered a setback because of this and the threat of a nuclear conflict is again hanging over us. Indigenous peoples continue to face land theft and dispossession as fossil fuel and mining companies (and the governments that rule on their behalf) embark on violent land grabs. As Greta Thunberg said in The Netherlands recently, “There is no climate justice on occupied land” and we wholeheartedly concur. The genocide we are witnessing is inextricably tied into the defence of fossil fuels by imperialist powers.
Island nations in the Pacific are now negotiating agreements for their populations to “migrate with dignity” as their lands become inundated with seawater and unfit for habitation.
And yet, COP28, the major global gathering of governments to reach agreement on tackling the crisis is being hosted by a petroleum state that is silencing voices of dissent. Climate journalists have now revealed that the UAE planned to use COP28 to sign oil deals — a cynical act that exposes the flagrant hypocrisy of the capitalist class’s attitude to global warming.
The first COP was held in Bonn, Germany, in 1995. Despite 30 years of COP meetings, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide emissions continue to rise and slightly more than half of all cumulative global CO2 emissions have taken place since 1990.
Responsibility for this impending catastrophe lies overwhelmingly with the capitalist classes of the Global North. Loss and damage is suffered disproportionately by the poorest people in the world while the profits are accumulated by the corporations owned by the richest.
A recent study calculated that $192 trillion would be owed by rich countries to the Global South for the appropriation of their atmospheric fair shares by 2050. Meaningful reparations, paid for by the capitalist classes of the North, are necessary. They would include direct cash transfers, grant financing for mitigation and adaptation, debt cancellation and compensation to Global South countries who leave fossil fuels unexploited.
Although the COP 28 agreement includes a goal of raising 100 billion dollars to assist the global south, a hopelessly inadeqtate goal, only 750 million dollars was pledged at the conference. It seems certain the pledges will never meet the target and most of the pledges will never be paid. The plague of global imperialist rule was not established based on fairness, nor any concern for the misery left behind in the ruthless drive for profit for the tiny owning class
As long as the world remains divided into competitive nation states and market capitalism with its ruthless need to accumulate and make profit, the COP process is reduced to corporate greenwashing, the watering down of agreements by the big polluting countries and pledges that are routinely broken or outright ignored.
Many people, including Greta Thunberg, consider the COPs to be engaged in elaborate greenwashing and the call to boycott COP28 has grown louder, including from well-respected writer Naomi Klein. These two important voices need to be taken seriously.
But it is also true that the climate justice movement, particularly in frontline nations, seeks to utilise whatever platform it can, including the COPs, to call out global capitalist governments and the climate-destroying industries they serve. In this respect, efforts to organise action on the “inside” combined with grassroots gatherings and mobilisations on the “outside” are also legitimate responses.
However, the challenge remains to build a people’s climate movement strong enough to challenge the power of fossil fuel capitalism and to link up with other social movements to fight for an Ecosocialist future.