The Greenwash Con at Glasgow’s COP26

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands in the glow of a green arch installed over the front door at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's official residence.
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By Jeff Mackler

Literally hours before President Joseph Biden arrived in Glasgow for the COP26 United Nations climate conference, he addressed the G20 richest nations on earth in Rome demanding that the 24 OPEC+ oil-exporting nations dramatically increase their fossil fuel production in order to reduce the monopolized skyrocketing price of gasoline in the U.S., today, approaching $5.00 per gallon. Biden’s late October Rome bluster aimed at placating angry U.S. election time voters at home beleaguered by rising inflation and historically high gas prices. His proposal was ignored by the oil monarchs who were satisfied that the $81 per barrel price of crude oil had already reached recent new highs.

COP26 proposals from the ruling elite     

Biden suffered no conscience qualms a day later when he took the stage in Glasgow to announce the U.S.’s “historic” non-specific/zero enforcement measure commitment to refrain from coal production, limit methane gas emissions by 30 percent, slash total emissions by about half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and champion world reforestation projects. “[Electric] cars, coal, cash and trees” And “Keep 1.5°C in reach” were COPs most media hyped but empty projections. 190 nations were claimed to have signed on to the no coal pledge, according to United Kingdom government officials. Within the days, the number was reduced to 46, most of which had no coal resources of their own. The world’s largest coal uses or producers, including China and Russia, were absent from the list and did not attend COP26.

Conservative Party UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson took the stage at Glasgow, claiming, like Biden, world-class climate credentials and the “evidence” to prove it. Johnson, with massive offshore oil resources in the ready for immediate exploitation, offered comparative data indicating that the UK had actually reduced its carbon footprint by some 44 percent since 1990. Johnson excluded from his calculations that the UK’s massive de-industrialization shifted huge portions of its still British-owned manufacturing infrastructure to China, India and other poor low wage nations whose carbon budgets were in consequence massively increased. He UK calculations also conveniently omitted emissions from aviation and shipping.       

A day into the conference, having “restored” the Trump-tarnished climate crisis image of a U.S. government that previously shunned the COP 21 Paris conference six years earlier, Biden boarded Air Force I back home to pressure both capitalist parties to reach agreement on his Infrastructure and Build Back Better legislation by further gutting both of any serious measures to combat climate catastrophe.

Biden and Johnson were not the only imperialist climate blusterers in Glasgow. Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney announced that his GFANZ (Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero), touting $130 trillion in private assets, pledged to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement, including not crossing the deadly threshold of a global temperature increase of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The proposition that the preeminent managers of the financial interests of the world’s richest 0.1 percent are now to collectively combat climate catastrophe is delusional at best. We will return to Carney shortly.

Scientific deadlines to doomsday

The world has already warmed at least 1.1°C (2 degrees Fahrenheit) in consequence of which catastrophic deadly fires, hurricanes, flooding and killer heat waves have become the new norm. COP21’s Paris goals notwithstanding, the ruling rich have overseen a marked increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Some scientists say that current emissions, which are still rising, must be halved in this decade and not after. That was Biden’s stance at COP26. The vast majority, however, have affirmed that all emissions must been ended by 2030. Yet not a single COP26 proposal was based on any specific commitment or plan to meet either of these objective.

To the contrary, countries’ national emissions plans made at the time of conference projected that greenhouse gas emissions will rise by 13.7 percent by 2030, according to the the UN. Meanwhile, British officials briefed COP26 journalists on the projection of a 1.8°C temperature rise figure perhaps inadvertenbtly tweeted during the conference by International Energy Agency director Fatih Birol. No doubt facts and figures spewed out wildly at COP26, wherein assorted “experts” prepared grandioise media-oriented speeches for government leaders, who deigned to attend, but only for the first two days of high profile posturing.   

Debunking pseudo-science

A more precise assessment of the dire nature of the current situation was presented in a recent article by Alan Thornett entitled “The Glasgow COP: Zero carbon by 2050 is far too late!”

Thornett, a longtime eco-socialist of the British-based Socialist Resistance group, has spent decades debunking the pseudo-science of the corporate climate “experts.” He writes: 

“At the moment we are heading for a 2.7°C increase by the end of the century – which would be catastrophic – and that is only if countries meet all of the pledges they made in Paris.”
“The problem in Glasgow,” Thornett continues, “is not just whether an agreement is reached, or even whether it will be implemented, it is that the target that has been set by the elites – ‘a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and then ‘net’ zero by 2050’ – was entirely inadequate before the conference opened.
“The 1.5°C limit was a last-minute breakthrough at the Paris COP in 2015,” Thornett asserts, “and was agreed only as an aspiration and not a policy. Two years later (in October 2018) it was officially adopted in a Special Report on Global Warming published by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The Report concluded that the 1.5°C limit was entirely possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but would require unprecedented effort in all aspects of society to implement. The IPCC also warned that we have just 12 years to do something about it, since a 1.5°C increase could be reached as soon as 2030.

“After this the climate movement then adopted the slogan net zero by 2030 – which was adopted by the 2019 British Labor Party conference, for example, with the ‘net’ part hotly disputed. The resolution was supported by the UNITE union. Extinction Rebellion (XR) adopted it with a date of 2025.”

NGO’s as watch dog observers

Such are the exigencies of world capitalist politics wherein the real decisions – if there were any – at the claimed “most inclusive” COP climate conference ever were made by the elite few while the so-called civil society NGOs who has been promised input to partake in the “negotiations” were relegated to a chosen few who were granted last minute tickets to enter some six rooms set aside for their participation as “watch dog observers.”

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network (CAN) stated on Nov. 8, “Civil society voices are critical to the outcome of COP, but we’ve not been able to do our jobs. If participation and inclusion are the measure of legitimacy, then we’re on very shaky grounds.” CAN represents more than 1,500 organizations in over 130 countries. It is one of two environmental “constituencies” – loose networks of NGOs including youth groups, trade unions, indigenous peoples, business, agriculture, and gender – recognized by the UN [again with observer status only. Editor]. Need I observe that the largely corporate-funded NGOs at COP26 in their collective thousands of activists, largely in the streets in Glasgow and elsewhere in the world during the conference proceedings, have zero influence in deciding issues where key world capitalist interests are at stake?

Billionaires united to fight climate change!

Mark Carney’s capitalist credentials are impeccable. He was highlighted at Glasgow as perhaps the wisest, if not the most humanistic capitalist on earth based on his book Value(s): Building a Better World For All and his public utterances to wit, the capitalist marketplace can be turned to do good for humankind. Carney, today a U.N. special envoy for climate action and finance and vice chairman and head of impact investing at Brookfield Asset Management, in addition to his past post as governor of the Bank of England, was the governor of the Bank of Canada. He held key positions at Goldman Sachs in the U.S. The 450 financial firms in Carney’s GFANZ collectively represent $130 trillion of assets, a figure that significantly exceeds the combined annual GDP of the entire world! The GFANZ financial behemoth pledged to commit to use science-based guidelines to reach net zero carbon emissions by mid-century, 2050 or thereabouts and to provide unspecified 2030 interim goals. On behalf of his consortium he pledged to deliver more than $100 trillion in financing to transition global economies by 2050. No specifics were provided! Promises aside, only a miniscule percentage of this figure was reportedly “pledged” in this endeavor. Carney’s private capitalist initiative amazingly took center stage at COP26 based on the preposterous notion that private capitalist interests – $trillionaire interests – not the governments of the world, were central to mitigating the impending catastrophes attendant to fossil fuel-induced climate change.

Convened by the United Nations last April as a consortium of banks, asset managers and insurers spanning all corners of the financial world, these super capitalists initially took the world climate stage with a mere $70 trillion in claimed assets. Some latecomer self-proclaimed do-gooder firms have since joined the hoopla to boost GFANZ’s collective holdings an additional $60 trillion. U.S. billionaire Michael Bloomberg took a bow at COP26 as it was announced that he would co-chair GFANZ with Carney. Mary Schapiro, former chair of the Securities and U.S. Exchange Commission will be a GFANZ vice chair.

De-bunking GFANZ

The French nonprofit Reclaim Finance revealed during COP26 that GFANZ signatories, again, all private capitalist enterprises, not governments, are not required to stop financing fossil-fuel expansion. Indeed, since the 2015 Paris COP21, world banking institutions have poured $4 trillion into oil, gas and coal, with almost half a trillion of that allocated in 2021 alone.

Carney’s hyperbole and pledges, as with most nations on earth, are based on their own interpretation of what “net zero” is. Given that many nations are already claiming to have reached or are approaching that figure, if not exceeding it, “net zero” definitions differ widely.

The “net-zero” debate

U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has called for a clearer definition of net zero. “There is a deficit of credibility and a surplus of confusion over emissions reductions and net zero targets,” he said, “with different meanings and different metrics.” Indeed, each polluting nation employs its own “metrics,” including positive and hyped deductions for the “natural capacity” of its land mass to absorb carbon dioxide while omitting from its calculations negative factors like deforestation, not to mention the myriad of escaping methane from appliances, fracking and always leaking supermarket refrigeration facilities around the world. Methane’s global warming intensity exceeds CO2 by a factor of 80! Biden’s methane reduction pledge flies in the face of the fact that the U.S. stands first in the world in natural gas fracking, the chief poisonous polluting bi-product of which is methane.

In one of the most striking cases a recent study found that methane leakage from fossil fuel operations in the oil states of the Persian Gulf could be as much as seven times more than what they officially report.

Massively underreporting greenhouse gas emissions to the UN is the norm according to a recent Washington Post investigation of 196 countries. The gap between the truth and what is reported ranges from at least 8.5 billion tons to as high as 13.3 billion tons a year, amounts that virtually guarantee that the global temperature will exceed present calculations. Neither Biden nor his Persian Gulf State monarch cohorts have any intention of breaking with fracking “clean” natural gas.

The COP21 Paris conference in 2015 included rich countries pledging $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poorer countries adapt and cut emissions. “Adapt,” with regard to coastal low land nations threatened with sea rise inundation, presumably includes building massive walls to prevent near total obliteration. That target too, not a binding agreement, has not been met. Only 18 percent has been paid to date. Promises and pledges come cheap at ruling class publicity gatherings and even cheaper when their due date is postponed for 40 years, as is the case with 2050 pledges.

Capitalist self-regulation vs. government intervention

One apt reviewer of Mark Carney’s book and vision captured its essence well:

“The current proposal on the table, though, is not for governments to embark on an ambitious reform process to prevent financial firms from making investments that endanger the future of the planet. The 31-page proposal on Private Finance, authored for COP26 by special advisor to the UK Prime Minister and to the UN Secretary General, Mark Carney, is based on ideas developed by the big players on financial markets themselves. It is no surprise then that self-regulation is at the heart of the proposals. But it gets worse. Not only have the proposals been developed by the likes of JP Morgan Chase, BlackRock, BNP Paribas and other financial firms with a heavy engagement in fossil fuels, but many of these same firms will also be leading the follow-up to COP26. In fact, as things stand, governments are not called on to do anything of substance on private finance and climate after the summit – financial firms will take it from here. The ticket for financial firms to become part of the coalition that will lead the COP26 follow-up is a commitment to “net zero by 2050”, i.e. carbon neutrality three decades from now. The vagueness of this commitment leaves the door wide open to convenient loopholes, and for corporations to do little or nothing to reduce their carbon emissions for years to come. In sum, even if a financial firm continues to invest massively in fossil fuels, it can still be actively included in the UN agenda on private finance and climate change. Sadly, the upcoming COP26 looks set to become the biggest finance greenwash event in history.” (Emphasis in italics added).

Greta Thunberg speaks

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg echoed this view during her speech shortly after a student strike organized by “Fridays For Future” that saw thousands march 1.6 miles from Kelvingrove Park to George Park in Glasgow’s city center: Said Thunberg, “We don’t need any more distant, non-binding pledges. We don’t need any more empty promises. Policymakers’ apparently belief that our world can survive a 2.7°C or 3°C hotter world. Yet that is all that we are getting and no, that is not radical to say it. It’s pure madness.

Thunberg told the UK Guardian last month: “Science doesn’t lie. If we are to stay below the targets set in the 2015 Paris agreement – and thereby minimize the risks of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control – we need immediate, drastic, annual emission reductions unlike anything the world has ever seen. And since we don’t have the technological solutions which alone will do anything close to that in the foreseeable future, it means we have to make fundamental changes to our society.”

At an earlier climate youth conference in Italy Thunberg stated, “Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. Net zero. Blah, blah, blah. Climate neutral. Blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have led to no action. Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.”

More than 100,000 climate activists valiantly took to the streets of Glasgow the day following the Fridays for Future strike and march. Protest organizers estimated that perhaps two-thirds of the civil society organizations that usually send delegates to COP conferences did not travel to Glasgow due to COVID-19 concerns, changing travel rules, extortionate travel costs and Britain’s hostile immigration system.

Where do we go from here?

That COP26 took place at all was a dramatic indication that the world’s capitalist elite feel compelled to at least posture as climate crusaders in the face of a growing and worldwide majority understanding that ever-intensifying climate change poses an immediate threat to all humanity. But the ruling rich are inherently incapable of adopting any serious mitigating measures that undermine their reason for being. Their drive for profit maximization supersedes whatever concerns they may personally hold for humanity’s future in the same manner that their pursuit of endless imperialist wars of conquest and exploitation the world over supersedes the very existence of entire peoples. That the Pentagon is the world’s largest polluter is no statistical accident. The U.S. maintains 1,100 military bases in some 120 countries for an imperial purpose imbedded in its very existence. This includes an annual war budget expenditure of $1 trillion. It includes six million people employed in its 18 “national security” agencies, from the CIA to the FBI. President Barack Obama’s administration conduced seven wars of death and destruction, yet he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Biden is no different, Indeed, his Democrats have routinely proposed additional $tens of billions to Republican Party military budgets.  

A July 13 Associated Press analysis, found that “Flying in the face of the White House’s reference to the climate crisis as an ‘existential threat’ and President Joe Biden’s campaign pledge, his administration has so far approved fossil fuel drilling permits on public and tribal lands at a faster rate than his two immediate predecessors.” War is good for profits as is the continued extraction of deadly fossil fuels. The two are inseparable.

Challenging both is critical to humanity’s future. This requires the forging of unprecedented mass movements led by working people the world over.

The challenges ahead

Today such movements are barely visible. COP26 saw a vast array of corporate-funded NGOs leading the mobilizations, albeit sometimes with a smattering of trade union endorsement and participation. The fundamental class organizations of the working class, the trade unions, have been terribly ossified and reduced to their lowest levels in a century. Replete with misleaders beholden to the parties of the capitalist powers, they have been largely absent from the climate struggles. With varying degrees of “radical” politics, most NGO-based climate organizations operate on the fundamentally flawed assumption that the world’s elite are open to rational proposals to save the earth and its people.

Concurrent with this difficult political juncture, there exists today a giant gap between the anger and rising consciousness of increasing millions and billions of working people and their allies that the predatory capitalist-imperialist system does not represent their interests, on the one hand, and the formation of mass, independent organizations aimed at challenging the system, itself on the other. That gap is narrowing as working people are increasingly taking modest steps to defend their interests in the face capitalist austerity, endless wars, horrific pandemics and overt climate threats to their lives and the lives of their children. The tasks ahead for revolutionaries will of necessity include the re-building and massive democratization of a fighting trade union movement in alliance with oppressed people everywhere. It will require a new leadership aimed at the exercise of working class power at the point of production and in the political arena – aimed at challenging capitalist rule itself.

Building dedicated revolutionary socialist parties seeking to establish deep roots in all these coming struggles is critical to humanity’s future. Join us!

[Jeff Mackler is a staff writer for Socialist Action newspaper. He can be reached at jmackler@lmi.net  socialistaction.org]

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