The South African city of Durban was the venue for a very important conference in December last year, convened under the auspices of the United Nations, and aimed at limiting the rapid pace of global warming, caused by carbon emissions, widely viewed as a prime cause of the escalating problems of natural disasters, droughts and mounting food deficits.
After two weeks of wheeling and dealing, it was announced on 11 December that a new agreement had been reached, but that it would not be clearly spelled out until 2015 and not implemented until 2020. Yet this type of fudge, effectively kicking the problem into the long grass, portends disaster. There is a widespread scientific consensus that there is now a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions by a level sufficient to keep the planet’s temperature rise below a further two degrees if major environmental catastrophe is to be avoided.
It is perfectly possible to cut carbon emissions as well as provide, indeed enhance all the qualities of modern and civilised living for all humanity. To take just one example, the energy that could be derived from sunlight each hour on earth equals the total power used around the world in a year. What prevents such initiatives from being adopted according to an equitable global plan is the capitalist system and its insatiable and intrinsic drive for maximum profit, the “furies of private interest”, as Marx graphically put it.
What renders this most acute is the division of the world, first analysed by Lenin, into a small handful of oppressor nations and a vast mass of oppressed nations. It is this former who are culpable for the looming disaster, as they have been polluting the world for the last more than 150 years in their relentless pursuit of superprofits.
Yet, just as the individual capitalist will always attempt to pass the burden of the crisis his system has created onto the backs of ‘his’ workforce by slashing pay and conditions, so the imperialist countries, whilst refusing to take any serious steps to cut their own emissions, demand the imposition of binding emissions cuts on the developing nations, which, at the present time, would require them to forego the development they desperately need if they are to lift their peoples out of poverty.
Nevertheless, imperialist propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, developing countries, such as China, are making an important contribution to the fight against global warming, in the interests of their people and people around the world.
By 2015, China’s carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced 17 percent compared to the level in 2010, according to the 12th Five-Year-Plan (2011-2015). China’s emissions cuts have far outstripped developed countries over the past 20 years, as the amount per unit of GDP dropped 55 percent from 1990-2009. China is able to introduce such changes whilst still enjoying rapid growth and raising its people’s living standards because it is a socialist country where market forces do not have free rein. Doubtless, she could attain even greater such achievements were the country to develop a higher stage of socialism with a fully-planned economy.
The lesson to be drawn from Durban is clear: pious sentiments and sanctimony will not save humanity. This requires a determined struggle against imperialism and for socialism. Frederick Engels’ warning that the choice facing the world’s people is that between socialism and barbarism has never been more timely.
> Communists and the struggle against imperialism – December 2011