Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Government 'greenwash' won't wash

Set targets, then rely on the market economy, an expanded nuclear industry and personal sacrifices to make them work. This is what lies at the heart of the government’s Climate Change Bill. All the evidence says this won’t wash when it comes to carbon emissions. Only recently, New Labour’s own inquiry, the Stern report, described global warming as the biggest market failure of all time. Relying on an expanded carbon trading market, which may include tradable personal "footprints", will make no serious impact on climate chaos. New Labour came to power in 1997 pledging a 20% cut in emissions by 2010. Not only has this target been missed, emissions are actually higher and continuing to rise. This is the reality of a global market economy dominated by the operations of profit-seeking transnational corporations, which nothing must be allowed to disturb. While Friends of the Earth and other lobby groups were falling over themselves in a rush to praise New Labour, others were more cautious. Edward Hanna, senior lecturer in climate change at the University of Sheffield, was unimpressed, saying: "(It) doesn't go far enough fast enough to confidently combat the significant threats posed by human-induced global warming. I fear that as we are closing the stable door, the horse has already bolted." Even Christian Aid, said the final legislation would have to be "significantly stronger".

In fact, a recent
report by Christian Aid points out UK-quoted transnational corporations are responsible for far more of the world's CO2 emissions than they would like us to think. Christian Aid tried to find out whether leading companies were reporting their CO2 emissions in relation to their direct and indirect activities. It is hardly surprising that only one-sixth of bothered to disclose their direct emissions to Christian Aid. These alone amounted to 285.83 million tonnes CO2 which were emitted both in the UK and across the rest of the world. Christian Aid estimated this figure would increase to 477.35 million tonnes when the emissions from those who did not respond were included. This is equal to more than half of the UK's national emissions. The fourth annual report of the Carbon Disclosure Project found less than a quarter of the top companies were able to provide data for even direct emissions to an acceptable standard. The situation is even worse in respect to smaller companies, where only 10% were able to provide data on direct emissions! As Christian Aid, points out there is massive under-reporting of carbon emissions even in relation to companies' operations under their direct control.

But as the report discovered, the UK's global footprint extends well beyond its borders, through companies' supply chains spreading out across the rest of the world. Over a third of the top 500 companies reported their emissions were taking place in developing countries. Christian Aid estimated the extent of indirect emissions to be 911.06million tonnes. This makes the combined total for direct and indirect emissions from FTSE100 companies 1,388 million tonnes, two-and-a half times the UK national total and more than 5% of global emissions. These emissions are making a significant contribution towards global warming and climate change, with millions of the world's poor paying a heavy price. It also exposes the myth that all it will take to solve global warming is a change or shift in individual consumer choices. It is clear that capitalism's driving force, unrestrained profit growth, is responsible for the climate crisis we are facing and the globalisation of capital has intensified the problem. No amount of corporate social responsibility reports, or the provision of "transparent" emissions data, will alter the fact that we need to replace these planet destroying transnational corporations with not-for-profit companies. Only then can we evolve truly sustainable operating practices based on needs, both for people and the planet, rather than profit. In that context, New Labour’s proposals are more state "greenwash" than substance. You'd be better off reading Running a Temperature, a real action guide to the eco-crisis, which A World to Win published recently.

Stuart Barlow, environment co-editor

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