Point of no return
Temperature records fall one after the other. Things are on course to get worse, not better. Clearly stunts are not enough, we need to get serious about system change, writes Eddie Ford
Grimly, all reports are still pointing in the same direction: we are approaching a tipping point - a critical threshold that, if and when crossed, will lead to massive and often irreversible changes in the climate system. A point of no return.
The latest report comes from the Met Office: the UK recorded the highest June temperature since records began in the 1880s. We are going in the “wrong direction”, it declares with typical understatement. Then there is the European Union-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service. It comprehensively shows record-breaking heat on land and sea. Particularly alarming - average global surface temperatures were more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for several days. Yes, mean temperatures have temporarily breached the 1.5°C Paris 2015 threshold before, but this was the first time they had done so in the northern-hemisphere summer that starts on June 1.
According to the data, the daily global average temperature was at or above the 1.5°C threshold between June 7-11, reaching a maximum of 1.69°C above it on June 9. CCCS said that on June 8 and 9 this year, the global average daily temperature was about 0.4°C warmer than previous records for the same days. Therefore, for example, temperatures in Beijing broke records for that month. Parts of North America have experienced extreme heatwaves - especially in the United States - some places reaching 10°C above the seasonal average for last month. Smoke from forest fires blanketed Canada and the US east coast in a hazardous haze, with carbon emissions estimated at a record 160 million tonnes. In India - one of the most climate-vulnerable regions - deaths spiked as a result of sustained high temperatures. Furthermore, extreme heat has been recorded in Spain, Iran and Vietnam, raising fears that last year’s deadly summer could become routine.
High land temperatures have been matched by those on the sea, with warming intensified by an El Niño event – when weak winds allow ocean-water temperatures to rise - which occurs on average every two to seven years and can last nine to 12 months. Therefore, global average sea surface temperatures hit 21°C in late March and have remained at record levels for the time of year throughout April and May. There are two other factors at play: the decline in Saharan dust blowing over the ocean; and the use of low-sulphur shipping fuels. This is why climate scientists are saying that the oceans are being hit by a ‘quadruple whammy’ and is an ominous sign of things to come. As a consequence, thousands of dead fish have been washed up on Texan beaches and heat-induced, toxic algal blooms have also been blamed for killing sea lions and dolphins in California. The expectation is that 2024 will be even warmer than 2023.
Of course, this report follows February’s final part, or ‘synthesis’, of the sixth assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - intended to be the scientific ‘gold standard’ of advice for this decade, given that the next IPCC report is not due to be published before 2030. They concluded that to maintain a “50:50 chance” of warming not exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, CO₂ emissions must be cut to net-zero by the “early 2050s”. Of course, as many critics immediately pointed out - including in the Weekly Worker - this was nonsense on stilts. Even on the most basic level, taking into account projected CO₂ emissions, it is clear that the 1.5°C limit will be surpassed in the early 2030s. In reality, as opposed to fantasy, the new limit from the IPCC is not 1.5°C any more. Thus it imagined an “early 2070s” timeline for limiting global heating to 2°C, after which you somehow manage - as if by magic - some sort of slow decline of the temperature rise. By that time, however, there will be all manner of horrific consequences, including rising sea levels, floods, fires, the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, the abrupt melting of permafrost, animal and plant extinctions, etc, etc.
The World Meteorological Organisation has predicted that there is a 66% likelihood that the annual mean will cross the 1.5°C threshold for at least one whole year between now and 2027 - upping the figure from 33%. In fact, 1.5°C plus could be the new norm. António Guterres, the UN general secretary, has said that current climate policies will lead to average temperatures of 2.8°C above pre-industrial times by the end of the century - nearly twice the 1.5°C target!
The problem is that you simply cannot turn this round by flicking a switch or turning a dial - no technical innovation or quack pseudo-solution will miraculously transform the situation. Global warming is built into the capitalist system - it is not going to just stop. Even if governments fulfilled all their 2015 pledges now - admittedly a fantastical notion - the chances are that we still have many decades of global warming to come.
Therefore it is adding insult to injury that the next UN climate summit, Cop28, will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates petrostate of Dubai (November 30-December 12). And the official chosen to preside over the summit - Sultan Al Jaber - is the chief executive of the country’s national oil company, Adnoc, which - no surprise - is planning a big expansion of production capacity. You could hardly make it up. Its near perfect symbolism shows that the ruling class is not serious about tackling the climate crisis.
Jaber has been savagely criticised by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, one of the architects of the Paris agreement. In her ‘Outrage and Optimism’ podcast, she accused him of “imperilling” Cop28 by appearing to favour the entirely unfeasible, not least because of cost, carbon capture and storage technology as a way of enabling fossil fuel use to continue at current levels. Also, since his appointment, Jaber has hired David Canzini - a former Downing Street operator who helped to kibosh renewable energy plans when advising Boris Johnson and fanned Liz Truss’s enthusiasm for fossil fuels.
Talking of Britain, Rishi Sunak’s green credentials (if he ever had any) have been well and truly shredded - something confirmed by the resignation of Zac Goldsmith, the minister for energy, climate and environment. In his long resignation letter, Goldsmith said that the government showed “apathy” towards environmental questions and that Sunak was “simply uninterested” in the whole issue - not even paying lip service to the environment. He added that Britain was keeping up with hardly any of its pledges on global warming. No10 has claimed that he quit after being asked to apologise over his criticism of the parliamentary privileges committee investigation into Boris Johnson. This may have an element of truth to it, but it is still hard to disagree with Goldsmith’s comments. Indeed, he is obviously right about Rishi Sunak, who has backtracked on and dumped just about every green commitment he has made.
Confirmation came with the leak revealed by The Guardian that the government is considering dropping its ‘flagship’ £11.6 billion contribution towards combatting the effects of climate change in so-called developing counties. Just the latest U-turn. What leadership! There are distinct signs of Conservative Party splits over green policy. Lord Deben, the former environment secretary and outgoing chair of the independent Climate Change Committee, has said it is absurd that the government was still discussing whether it was in favour of onshore wind or not, when it was an established scientific and economic fact that it is one of the cheapest forms of energy generation you could possibly have.
In the opinion of Lord Deben, the UK has done “a number of things” that are “utterly unacceptable” - like greenlighting a new coal mine in Cumbria, and new oil and gas fields in the North Sea, with Rishi Sunak insisting surreally that this was all part of the transition to a carbon-neutral economy!
Highlighting the government’s dismal record, Ukraine has built more onshore wind turbines than England since it was invaded by Russia. Only two onshore wind turbines have been installed in England since February last year, generating one megawatt (MW) of electricity in the Staffordshire village of Keele. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Tyligulska wind power plant has already begun to generate enough clean electricity to power about 200,000 homes - just 60 miles from the front line in the southern region of Mykolaiv, with 19 turbines providing an installed capacity of 114MW.
Given the lamentable policies of the British government, which are exacerbating the climate crisis, not ameliorating it, inevitably we have protest groups like Just Stop Oil. Their latest action was to disrupt the Wimbledon tennis. This stunt follows a series of others - London Gay Pride parade at the weekend, with several arrests in front of a large Coca-Cola float - which tells you all you need to know about how the whole jamboree has been taken over by corporates and the establishment.
Before that Lords’ cricket, Glyndebourne and World Snooker got the orange treatment. Interestingly enough, this coincides with the first tranche of evidence about the scandal over ‘spy cops’ (who do not exist any more, of course!). It has to be said, without casting any aspersions, that if ‘spy cops’ were sent into Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain or Just Stop Oil, they would be doing exactly what the JSO activists are doing - pissing people off. This suits Rishi Sunak perfectly: all the stuff about climate crisis is doom mongering by eco-fanatics. If only that was the case. But the science could not be clearer.
However, the danger with the sort of protest politics we have seen by JSO is that itbwill go from nuisance terrorism to ever more desperate acts - because protests by tiny minorities will not bring about the system change that is so obviously needed.
For communists, JSO activists have taken a wrong road. But you can totally understand why these protestors - looking at the weakness of the left and the absence of a viable counterpower within capitalism - turn to ‘The whole world is watching’ stuntism.
At the end of the day, it is the failure of the revolutionary left to build a party worthy of the name that is to blame - something for which we need to be hugely self-critical.