50:50 for 1.5°C?

Global warming looks set to continue for thousands of years, writes Eddie Ford. Yet not only are we still being sold pseudo-solutions like electric cars and carbon capture, but the government is still committed to sustaining the fossil fuel industry

With quite a big splash, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report has arrived, running to thousands of pages (if you have the time).1 This is the final part, or ‘synthesis’, of the sixth assessment report by the IPCC - the previous synthesis being in 2014.

As it happens, the synthesis report contains no new science as such, but draws together key messages from all of the preceding work to form a working guide for governments - or so the theory goes. Given that the next IPCC report is not due to be published before 2030, this assessment is meant to be the scientific ‘gold standard’ of advice for this decade. The report is also supposed to inform the next UN climate summit, Cop28, which will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates petrostate in Dubai from November 30 this year. Ironically speaking, you could not have a more fitting venue for such a jamboree.

The first thing that has to be said about the IPCC is that it is a conservative institution - hardly a radical one, full of trouble-makers. Rather, it is signed off by the respective governments involved, including, of course, the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, UK, Germany and other big pollution emitters. Obviously, this should set off alarm bells straightaway. In other words, we are not dealing with the most objective or farseeing climate science - quite the opposite. More like what climate scientists can get away with, when it comes to such governments that right now are actively contributing towards rapid, human-induced climate change - if no longer engaging in various forms of outright denialism.

Anyhow, according to the report, since 2014 the world - humanity - has dumped an additional third of a trillion tonnes of CO₂ into the atmosphere, primarily from burning fossil fuels. The important thing about that statistic is not the total, which means almost nothing in and of itself. Rather, it is the trend - here is the real significance. Because what we have had with the Paris Agreement and most other international summits is not only a commitment to reduce the increase in CO₂ emissions, but actually reach net zero by 2050. On that basis, the IPCC - by design a conservative body to its core, remember - aimed to keep global warming to “well below” 2°C, while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. And this is the year, of course, when countries are supposed to review progress or not towards that goal. We are now being told by the IPCC that, far from evening off CO₂ emissions - the world going in a carbon-neutral direction, with plants and trees sucking out the CO₂ of human-created emissions, and so on - what we are actually experiencing is a continuing increase in CO₂ emissions, the IPCC giving a 5% figure. So much for the promises of world leaders and the future of our planet.

Therefore, claims the IPCC, to maintain a “50:50 chance” of warming not exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (roughly speaking before 1850), CO₂ emissions must be cut to net-zero by the “early 2050s”. Obviously, complete bunkum. Whatever is done now, radical or otherwise, the 1.5°C target will in all probability not be met. Even on the most elementary level, taking into account projected CO₂ emissions, it is clear that the 1.5°C limit will be surpassed in the early 2030s.

In fact, what we have now is a recognition from the IPCC that the new limit is not 1.5°C anymore, but 2°C - thus the “early 2070s” timeline it conjures up for limiting global heating to 2°C, after which you can manage some sort of slow decline of the temperature rise. By that time there will be all manner of horrendous consequences in terms of sea levels, flooding, fires and animal and plant extinctions.


What climate scientists are saying, of course, is that you have a climate system that already has warming built into it. So it is not simply about ceasing to add CO₂ to the atmosphere by 2050 by going carbon-neutral, even if that was achievable: there is ‘runaway train syndrome’ at work, with warming seas and melting ice sheets, etc. This is not something that simply stops, let alone goes into reverse, if you manage to go carbon-neutral by 2050. As the literature comprehensively tells us, warming carries on not for decades, or even hundreds, but thousands of years.

Therefore we have projections that, if temperatures reach 2°C above pre-industrial levels, then the ice-sheets over Greenland and West Antarctica will melt - adding further momentum to warming, as you will have fresh water that is no longer locked up in heat-reflecting ice, but, on the contrary, adds to sea levels - which in itself triggers an additional rise in global temperatures.

As things stand now, let alone the future that seems to await us, extreme weather caused by climate change has led to increased deaths from intensifying heatwaves in almost all regions - with millions of lives affected. It has been estimated that half of the global population now experiences severe water shortages for at least part of the year. In much of the world, we are already reaching the temperature limit to which we can adapt, and weather extremes are increasingly driving the displacement of people.

The IPCC says we already have the technology needed, which may or may not be true. But we have constant talk, for example, of carbon capture and storage - essentially a technocratic, geo-engineering solution. Yet in terms of present-day technology and economic realities, such schemes are impossibly costly. In other words, a technocratic non-solution. Meantime, in the real world, the biggest emitters of CO₂ are totally committed to the sort of economy that generates more and more CO₂ emissions. The classic example is the idea that we transition to electric vehicles - that Elon Musk’s Tesla somehow represents the future.

Just think about that for a minute. How do you generate the electricity that powers the electric vehicles? How do you actually produce electric cars and where do you get the rare metals for batteries, the glass, plastics, tyres, computer chips, etc? Clearly, another pseudo-solution.

The genuine answer must go beyond technical solutions. It is not that wind, solar and thermal power should be discounted. Far from it. But fundamentally what we are dealing with is a social crisis. From the communist perspective, the real starting point is getting rid of capitalism and the imperative to expand surplus-value and money. Now, it is certainly true that, if we look at the record of the Soviet Union, it did not have the imperative to expand surplus-value or money. In fact, it did not have money or capital at all (unless you abandon basic Marxist categories). Nevertheless, it did emit colossal amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants - leading to the ruination of lakes and rivers, the discarding of nuclear material in deserts, and all the rest of it. Meaning that overcoming ecological disaster is not as simple as just overcoming capitalism, but winning the battle for democracy, instituting the rule of the working class and beginning the transition to a stateless, classless society based on need, not expansion for the sake of expansion.


We have made the argument that the capitalist state at some point might introduce what we have called ‘climate socialism’ - akin to the ‘war socialism’ in Britain during World War II or Germany in World War I. That would involve measures such as reorganising production, curbing car and air travel, introducing free public transport, upgrading the housing stock, etc. But the fact of the matter is that capitalism is riven with contradictions at every level. One firm fights another firm, workers are pitted into competition against each other, and crucially countries are pitted against each other too. The idea that China, Russia and the US will come to some sort of amicable agreement on cutting emissions and agreeing to some kind of climate socialism is incredibly difficult to envisage. That is precisely why the only realistic and democratic solution lies with the working class organised into mass Communist Parties that take over the commanding heights of the global economy.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has committed himself to a massive $8 billion Trump-era oil and gas drilling project in the northern reaches of Alaska. Operation Willow, overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips, is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years - completely flying in the face of Biden’s ‘vow’ to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions. Grotesquely, it will involve refreezing the rapidly thawing Arctic permafrost in order to stabilise drilling equipment, creating one of the largest ‘carbon bombs’ on US soil - potentially producing more than twice the emissions all renewable energy projects on public lands combined would cut by 2030.Yet with boundless hypocrisy, the US loves to lecture China about the environment.

Perhaps most bizarrely of all, Rishi Sunak’s government has committed to building yet more nuclear power stations, investing in ‘sustainable’ aviation fuels and overseeing a new licensing round to allow oil and gas companies to explore for fossil fuels in the North Sea - saying it is part of a transition to a carbon-neutral economy! The North Sea Transition Authority is to award more than 100 licences to companies hoping to extract oil and gas in the area, with almost 900 locations being offered up for exploitation. Clearly, the idea that increasing the extraction of subsidised oil and gas is a contribution towards a sustainable, carbon-neutral economy is Kafkaesque. No, the government is committed to sustaining the fossil fuel industry.

Doubtless, though, large donations will be heading the way of Tory HQ, Tory ministers and Tory MPs in time for the next general election.

  1. . www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/syr/resources/spm-headline-statements.↩︎