COP26 kicked off on Sunday in Glasgow with downcast royal speeches, war metaphors and tons of doomsday hypocrisy, but also with the significant absences of the Brazilian, Mexican, South African, Russian and Chinese leaders. The media is reporting in dribs and drabs on the content of the meetings and discussions and prefers to play at feeding the “climate anxiety” of the youth. But the issues on the table at COP26 go far beyond emissions pledges and even climate change. At issue is actually each country’s place in the Green Deal’s new international division of labor.
Table of Contents
- What are the conflicting parties in a COP?
- Why do semi-colonial countries resist emission reduction agreements?
- Why does COP26 mark a change-of-direction?
- How will whatever is approved at COP26 affect workers
What are the conflicting parties in a COP?
COP stands for “Conference of Parts”. COP26 is the 26th edition of the meeting organized by the UN between the parties involved – and at odds – over the emissions causing climate change. That’s why it opens with island states afraid of losing territory, the most sacred thing for a state, as a result of rising sea levels.
But unsurprisingly, the problems of the small Polynesian and African island states take up little more than a few ritual minutes. In fact, since the COP1 in Berlin in 1995, these meetings have been seen as a battle between the most capitalized states – EU, USA, Great Britain, Canada – which are clamoring for a Green Deal, and the semi-colonial countries which are reluctant to adopt it, sometimes relying on Russia and China and sometimes on the oil-producing countries.
When Greta Thunberg and other “activists” attack “world leaders” for the slow pace of reaching emissions reduction agreements at these summits, they are not – except during the Trump hiatus – attacking the leaders of the big industrial states, but those of the semi-colonial countries.
Why do semi-colonial countries resist emission reduction agreements?
The concrete form taken by the reduction of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases such as methane is the Green Deal. At its core, based on the Kyoto and Paris agreements, it means creating a series of CO2 emissions markets. These speculative markets sell emission allowances made mandatory by states in various areas as a way of increasing the costs of using polluting fuels and making clean energy and related technologies relatively more competitive.
Read also: Climate Change exists and is a product of reactionary capitalism, the Green Deal is capital's non-solution, communiqué by Emancipation
This, as we have already seen in Europe with the electricity bill, can only translate into a general rise in prices and therefore into a massive transfer of income from labor to capital. First of all to capital invested in the large electric companies which lie at the heart of national capital in each country. But then to all the sectors that will be forced to buy emission rights.
The EU, for instance, wants to do this in the auto industry (no more combustion-engine cars can be sold by 2030), air and sea transport (freight), meat and dairy and housing. That’s what Fit for 55 the EU’s plan, in theory, to accelerate “climate goals” is all about. Needless to say, big business is delighted. In the automotive sector, for example, they calculate that the switch to electric cars will allow them to go from a profitability of 5% to figures close to 10%.
But what is for the most capitalized countries a pure and simple transfer of workers’ incomes, for the semi-colonial countries means a loss of competitiveness and profitability. One example: the rise in international freight rates, which have to abandon the fuel they currently use, known as bunker, translates almost entirely into a reduction in margins for countries that export raw materials whose prices they have no ability to set.
In addition, for countries like India, the shift away from cheaper energy sources such as coal in favor of renewables would not only challenge the export industry, it would require massive capital investment that would be difficult to obtain or make profitable in the short term. That is why countries such as Argentina are calling for swaps of foreign debt for investment in energy transition, Mexico is asking for financing before committing significant amounts and others, such as Bolivia are denouncing “carbon [dioxide] colonialism”.
Why does COP26 mark a change-of-direction?
And yet an agreement against deforestation was announced yesterday at COP26 that included Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and DRC, four of the countries that were initially most reluctant. India announced its future entry into the Green Deal with an eye on 2070, ten years after China, which reaffirmed its goal of neutrality in 2060.
This is hardly surprising. Despite the ongoing US campaign against what Biden has called China’s “atypical climate policy,” the reality is that Beijing has become the world leader in solar power (254,355 MW versus 75,572 MW for the US), installed more than three times as much wind capacity in 2020 alone as any other country in the world, and plans to produce twice as many electric car batteries this year as the entire rest of the world.
Russia, meanwhile, has taken advantage of the focus given by COP26 to join the 2060 target. It hopes to buy time to, in the short and medium term, keep using the strategic weaknesses in which the European Green Deal has left Germany and the EU to increase natural gas prices and sales.
The reality is that China, Argentina, Brazil, Russia or Bolivia, like any other country, need access to foreign markets in order to keep capital accumulation going. They also need access to the global capital market in order not to lose their piece of the pie in the global distribution of operating results. That is what it means for global capitalism, and not just a few national capitals, to enter its imperialist phase more than a century ago.
And that’s what the EU and US use to twist their arm: “green” tariffs on imports called “CO2 border adjustments” (Chinese and Russian aluminum and steel, ships with Argentine grain, etc.), refusing entry into their markets of goods related to deforestation (Brazilian meat, Paraguayan leather, Indonesian palm oil, etc. ) or the approval of investment taxonomies that go all the way to considering painting green the purchase of a nuclear power plant from France or the US but not buying Chinese solar panels to install a photovoltaic power plant.
The result is that the semi-colonial countries are joining, one by one, the Green Deal, while trying to buy as much time as they can. That is why the “progress” of COP26, like those of all COPs, will necessarily be partial and the leaders of the countries with the most concentrated national capitals and the media will continue to barrage us with the necessity of a Sacred Climate Union.
How will whatever is approved at COP26 affect workers
As the old saying goes, “A gathering of shepherds results in a dead sheep.” The steep rise in electricity prices now being experienced in Europe is the result of the “good news” celebrated by the press at the COP25 in Madrid and its forerunners.
At COP26 in Glasgow, Ursula von der Leyen has taken the Fit for 55 package for granted. If at first we calculated that this package could mean the loss of 20% of the purchasing power of the Spanish minimum wage, now after the experience of the electricity increases, we must reconsider -upwards- its impact.
Biden, meanwhile, has his “Green New Deal” deadlocked in the US Congress, but promised “a decade of effort” that, as we can see that, as we from housing regulations to advertisements and commercial propaganda, can only mean a decade of increased precarization and loss of wage purchasing power.
And we could go on like this country after country.
The place of workers in all this cannot be alongside Greta Thunberg and the advocates of a Sacred Climate Union whose real goal is to recover capital’s profitability at the expense of the lives of workers around the world.
Nor alongside the denialists who exonerate capitalism from its brutality against Nature, one more expression of capitalism’s anti-human and anti-historical character.
And even less so with the leaders of the semi-colonial countries who only reject the Green Deal to bargain, with the lives of the workers as a bargaining chip, a place for their national capital under the new international division of labor.
The re-emerging apocalyptic messages these days are aimed at getting us to accept the “lesser evil” of the impoverishment of hundreds of millions of workers in exchange for the “greater good” of a reduction in emissions. But such a trade-off only makes sense when the real priority is to turn the climate disaster into a greening of the profitability of the very capitalism that caused the problem.
The best way to deal with climate change, the only real way, is to confront the attacks on our living conditions imposed by the Green Deal. Energy, housing, food and everything else should be produced directly to satisfy human needs and not to make capital profitable. It is time to break this perverse circle that destroys human life and devastates Nature of which it is a part. If we do not do so, if we meekly, even enthusiastically, accept this “decade of climate sacrifices”, it will only get worse.