18th October 2021
Getting the climate change message across
The COP26 Climate Change summit meets in Glasgow in less than two weeks’ time and equivocation already seems to be the name of the game. To date it is not clear whether or not leaders from China, India and Russia will turn up. The leaders of the G20 counties, scheduled to meet in Italy ahead of the COP26 gathering, are responsible for 80% of global emissions and are key to the “keep 1.5C alive” strategy. This aims to hold global temperature rises below 2C above pre-industrial levels, while working towards the 2015 Paris climate agreement of holding rises to no more than 1.5C.
The British government, as the host nation is expected to show leadership and manage the diplomacy necessary to make the summit a success. On both counts the Tories appear to be failing dismally. While the government has set out its ambition to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, aiming for net zero by 2050, the Cabinet is beset by division over the issue.
The strategy for tackling the heating of buildings, insulating homes, phasing out gas boilers, massively expanding offshore wind power and expanding the network of electric vehicle charging points has the backing of the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. The key elements are another example of the Tories stealing ideas, slightly diluted, from Labour Manifestos under Jeremy Corbyn, when the need for a Green Deal was pushed to the top of the political agenda.
Not all Tories are signed up to the plan, most notably Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is allegedly refusing to come up with sufficient funding. His recent speech to the Tory Party Conference saw the climate, net zero strategy and COP26 conspicuous by their absence, at a time when significant investment in the development of new fossil fuel free energy technology is vital.
There is also concern that the government emphasis upon conversion to hydrogen power, especially in the case of gas boilers, is not helpful as some hydrogen requires conversion by fossils fuels and the resulting carbon is then stored. Green methods of manufacturing hydrogen, using renewable energy are available but are potentially less profitable. As such they are certainly not attractive to the fossil fuel lobby.
The nuclear lobby is also making its voice heard and plans by Rolls Royce to build 16 small nuclear reactors across the UK already appear to have both government backing and investment to the tune of over £200m. This follows the withdrawal of Toshiba from a plant in Cumbria, Hitachi pulling out of building a plant in Anglesey and government refusal to work with China General Nuclear which has a 20% stake in Sizewell C, though the government are looking at ways it can remove it from the project.
While there are obvious dangers to reliance on nuclear energy it remains favoured by many green lobby groups. However, the unplanned nature of the government’s approach to the energy sector overall, leaving it is the hands of the private sector, means that it is not only chaotic but profit driven, rather than being based upon the needs of the people as a whole.
Nuclear power plants are notoriously expensive to build and maintain, due to the high levels of safety required, which means either significant government subsidy upfront, more expensive energy for the consumer, or both.
Competition and the drive for greater profit is the mantra of the capitalist economy but its failings are significantly exposed when it comes to the energy sector. Only a systematic, planned, socialist approach with a nationalised energy sector can bring about the level of control necessary, based on need not profit, to ensure the security and safety of energy supply.
The COP26 gathering will once again be faced with the contradictory challenge of getting a world full of predominantly capitalist economies to agree and co-operate towards reducing carbon emissions. Getting them to stick to the 1.5C target and commit to finding ways to achieve that is the least the conference needs to deliver.
Over a decade ago the world’s wealthiest countries agreed to commit $100bn a year by 2020 to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change. There is little evidence that this commitment has been met.
The scale of the British government’s commitment to getting any outcomes from COP26 has been the appointment of relatively minor Cabinet member, Alok Sharma, to be the co-ordinator. Sharma has been doing the job part time until recently, combining it with his role as Business Secretary.
COP26 does at least provide the opportunity for climate change activists to raise the issues and expose the hypocrisy of, for example, the Royal Family who preach climate change on one hand while using private jets and helicopters on the other.
Only a few weeks ago it was revealed that the royal household had used the royal prerogative to demand that the Queen’s Donside estates in Scotland be given an exemption from laws designed to help tackle climate change.
According to the Ecoexperts blog, the annual carbon footprint of the royal family in 2019 was a massive 3810 tonnes. The carbon footprint of the average person in the UK is just 10 tonnes a year. In 2019, Prince Charles and his wife with their entourage took 17 flights on private jets, three scheduled flights and two trips on RAF helicopters, releasing 432 tonnes of carbon.
As ever, when it comes to action for change the rich and powerful have too many vested interests to be relied upon. Only mass direct action will force change, as it always has done. Young people in particular are beginning to realise this. More such action, directed against those profiting from the demise of the planet, not just the the average motorist, would be a positive step. If the likes of Prince Charles think that is uncomfortable, then we are heading in the right direction.