Friday, October 06, 2006

Climate change and corporate blackmail

Like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, the governments of the top 20 of the world’s polluting nations are paralysed by the unfolding climate change emergency. There is little to show from two days of talks in Monterrey in Mexico, which have just concluded.

Even if countries froze emission levels tomorrow, the world still faces 30 years of floods, heat waves, hurricanes and coastal erosion, the British government's chief scientific adviser David King admitted. "Because we've raised the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere so quickly, the earth's climate system is falling behind. This is way in excess of anything the planet has known, probably for 45 million years."

Already, a roughly one degree celsius temperature rise over the past century has allowed icy Greenland to start growing barley, while farmers in Spain are battling arid conditions. Developing countries at the talks - including South Africa, Brazil and Mexico - were told to adapt for possible floods, droughts, storms and a surge in tropical diseases like malaria.

But, despite a more general recognition that the scientific evidence is irrefutable, governments failed to set any new targets. They did not even propose long-term policy on areas such as the price of carbon, taxation policy or standards which could influence investment in energy-efficient production.

Meanwhile the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change has reaffirmed where real power lies. In a new statement on global warming to be presented at their Paris conference next week they say that climate change "poses risks and opportunities to which investors and companies must respond". Tackling climate change will hinge on the investment decisions made by institutional investors.

"How quickly these institutions move their investments from high-carbon to low-carbon companies will, to a large extent, determine our success in mitigating global warming. These investors’ decisions will turn on assessments of the longevity of oil and gas fields; the ownership and control of energy supplies; the effectiveness of any regulations to control carbon emissions; the profitability of emerging low-carbon technologies and carbon capture techniques; and the willingness of consumers to change their lifestyles."

In other words, action on climate change is determined by profitability. Giving up the current dependency on carbon-based fuels hinges on profit-based decisions made by the global corporations which own the rights to them. And these corporations acting collectively wield their huge power over the governments of the world. Hence the paralysis.

It’s time to end corporate blackmail by establishing a new, more democratic political framework. Then society could reorganise the economy along co-operative, not-for-profit, self-management lines and take the immediate, drastic action required to slash CO2 emissions.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

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