The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published Part 3 of its updated report on climate change. This part looks at how far development choices and the establishment of enabling conditions across the world have supported effective action on climate change – in other words, whether world governments and other agencies from targeted measures and from politics and governance are doing enough to take and bring about effective climate change action.
The report presents a grim picture of where we are;
- Total emissions (CO2 and greenhouse gases) have continued to rise although the rate of growth is slower than in the decade 2000-2009
- Emission reductions are less than emission increases from global activity in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and building
- Alignment with and progress on the Paris protocol is slow
- It is likely that warming will exceed 1.5c (the Paris target) during the 21st century
- Nationally determined contributions (NDC) imply that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be higher. Without strengthening policies GHG emissions will rise to a level consistent with warming of 3.2c by 2100
- Projected CO2 emissions exceed a level which will be compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5c and are on course to reach 2c
Regional contributions to the emission of CO2 and GHG and therefore to global warming unsurprisingly vary according to different development stages, but an increasing share is attributable to urban areas. Contributions also vary at similar income levels, but the 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute a disproportionately large share of global GHG emissions. At least eighteen countries have sustained (ie; there has been no reduction) GHG emissions for over ten years.
It is hard not to view the situation as the continuation as what John Bellamy Foster termed ‘business as usual’. Business, and state monopoly capitalism continue to turn a blind eye to the environmental damage which the ascendency of profit demands. It is no surprise that developed countries have contributed and continue to contribute the larger share of dangerous emissions. Far from aligning with the Paris Protocol many governments, including that of the UK seek to use recovery from the economic damage of the Covid pandemic to re-establish the use of fossil fuels and other climate-damaging industrial methods.
Poorer and less developed countries doubly lose out – they contribute fewer damaging emissions, but disproportionately suffer the environmental consequences and they are less able to bear the cost of measures to limit emissions and mitigate the effects of warming.
The IPCC makes it clear – limiting CO2 emissions and other gases such as methane requires rapid, deep and immediate reductions in all sectors, involving;
- Transition to non-fossil fuels
- Reducing non-CO2 emissions
- Improving efficiency
- Deploying CO2 removal
Reducing GHG emissions requires major transitions;
- Substantial reduction of fossil fuel use
- Deployment of low-emission energy sources
- Alternative energy carriers
- Energy efficiency and conservation
Continued installation of fossil fuel infrastructure will lock in the use of fossil fuels and therefore the emission of GHGs. Moving towards net zero requires action on industrial and urban infrastructure to change demand, designing buildings to be efficient and to reduce barriers to de-carbonisation, reducing the demand for transport and shifting to energy efficient transport where it is needed and mitigation options in agriculture, forestry and other land uses consistent with food security.
But bringing about all these much-need changes requires socio-political change. The IPCC report tells us that all these measures are feasible; they can be deployed at scale in the near term but the overcoming barriers – geo-physical, environmental-ecological, technological and economic requires institutional and socio-cultural change. Equality and meaningful participation of all relevant actors builds trust and wins support for change and that means engaging with civil society leaders, politicians, business, youth labour, media, indigenous people and local communities.
How many times can we say that we cannot go on as we are? Business as usual means a blind march towards environmental catastrophe. A world ordered to the advantage of a few unscrupulous profiteers is a world lacking in justice and opportunity – as Marx said, the point is to change it.