Paris Climate Conference – Another Failure

The December climate change conference in Paris, or Conference of the Parties (COP21) as it is called, was the 21st such conference since the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) was set up in 1992. All previous conferences have completely failed to prevent the acceleration, let alone reduction, of global emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) and the accompanying global warming. Consequently, despite all the pre-conference hype, there was little reason to expect this conference to be any different. In the event the agreement reached is almost worthless. The only thing which could be said for the final agreement was that it recognised that all countries have a responsibility for curbing GHG emissions, not only the developed countries1. However, having agreed this, which in itself is blindingly obvious, the conference made no commitments whatsoever to actually reduce emissions.

The form of the agreement was determined by the US and China in a separate deal in November 2014. This was a bilateral deal in which the US agreed to reduce emissions from their 2005 levels by a quarter by 2025, and China agreed to ensure its emissions peaked in 2030. This means that China’s emissions, which today amount to 27% of global emissions, will continue to rise to 2030. Both countries wanted this agreement to be voluntary, particularly the US, where the Congress and Senate are controlled by oil and coal interests and would veto any binding treaty, just as they vetoed the Kyoto protocol2. The result is we have an agreement, written in the most slippery language, in which any reductions in GHG emissions which any country might make are entirely voluntary!

The consequences of global warming, which are becoming more and more difficult to deny even for the oil companies themselves, may, in the longer term, make the planet uninhabitable for the majority of humanity. Already the effects are being felt in changing weather patterns and exhaustion of food and water supplies and unprecedented weather events such as flooding3 and droughts. These effects lead to social problems such as movements of people and war. It is not often admitted but the wars in the Sahel region of Africa, such as the Darfur war in western Sudan, have their origin in climate change. In Darfur pastoral people have been driving out settled agriculturalists as pastures are reduced through drought and grazing lands disappear. A life and death struggle for the remaining lands ensues. The Syrian civil war is another case in point. Between 2007 and 2010, according to a paper published by National Academy of Sciences of the US, drought pushed 1.5 million Syrians4 to abandon their farms and move to cities. Grim conditions in dysfunctional cities, together with the economic crisis which broke in 2008, helped provoke the uprising of 2011. This led to the civil war, which in turn has precipitated today’s flood of refugees into Europe. Yet disasters such as these are only a vicarage tea party compared with what is to come if climate change is unchecked.

It should also be noted that this conference only addressed global warming. Yet global warming, which is essentially human interference in nature’s carbon cycle, is only one of a host of degradations which capitalism is inflicting on the planet. Even if the conference had agreed to reduce carbon emissions, which it did not, the other threats to at least 15 processes in the biosphere, processes on which human life depends, were not even considered. According to Living Planet Survey by the World Wildlife Fund in 2014 we are annually using up 50% more of the Earth’s sustainable resources than can be restored in a year. As the director general states in the forward to the report:

We are using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal. By taking more from our ecosystems and natural processes than can be replenished, we are jeopardizing our very future.” 5

When natural cycles cannot regenerate the resources it uses, capitalism simply uses up the planet’s reserves thereby making the collapse, when these reserves are exhausted, absolutely catastrophic – an Easter Island scenario but on a global scale.

What was actually agreed in Paris

The only actually binding agreement is that the countries which ratify the treaty must publish a climate plan listing proposed emissions, which are now called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), and the plans and emissions must be monitored. This must happen every 5 years starting from 2020. There is, however, no stipulation that the plans must actually be carried out; the emissions are “intended” and remain voluntary. As usual, all the emission targets exclude emissions from aircraft and shipping6. These emissions are not considered national responsibilities and therefore are ignored by all countries. The conference expressed the “aspiration” to keep the increase in global temperature rise this century “well below” 2oC. 188 countries submitted climate plans to the conference, including emissions targets, the famous INDCs. When these INDCs are added up climate scientists conclude that they will produce to an increase in global temperature of 2.7oC. So even with the present voluntary emissions targets the aspiration of restricting the temperature rise to 2oC cannot be achieved. The conference was quite aware of this but expressed the hope that greater reductions in emissions could be proposed in future climate plans. These again would be voluntary.

One of the key issues which the developing countries were demanding was for the rich countries to provide funds to assist poor countries reduce carbon emissions. The rich countries, however, were reluctant to agree in principle to anything which might commit them to provide finance to combat the effects of climate change. It is, of course, well known that combating these effects will amount to astronomical sums measured in tens of trillions of dollars. The sum of $100bn in finance provided annually to poor countries was actually agreed before the conference, but by the end it had become a goal to be achieved by 2025! It is not clear where this finance is to come from and there is no clear definition of what it should be spent on. The World Bank has offered a definition which could actually include sums spent on developing fossil fuels! This too appears to be a fudge with the provision of funds also voluntary.

The agreement will come into force when 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions have ratified it, a process which is to start next April and which could take several years.

What is essentially a toothless agreement which will have little effect, was hailed by our leaders as a giant step towards saving the planet. They congratulated themselves on a magnificent achievement before jetting off, in their private jets, to their respective countries to continue polluting as before.

The conclusions of climate science

According to the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), emitting 1000 billion tonnes of GHGs (measured as carbon) will create a temperature rise of 2oC from pre-industrial times – that is approximately mid-18th century. In the past 250 years we have emitted 515bn tonnes and the acceleration of emission rates is so large that we are on course to emit the remaining 485bn tonnes in the next 30 years. At present emissions are 9.81bn tonnes annually, (36bn tonnes measured as CO2). If the rate of emissions follows the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathway leading to 8.5W/m2 radiative forcing7 by 2100 (RPC8.5), emissions are expected to rise to 14.55bn tonnes by 2030 and 19.11bn tonnes by 2045. By 2045 the entire carbon budget will be blown and the temperature will have exceeded 2oC. This is the conclusion of the world’s scientists. How does this fit in with the climate plans submitted by the 188 countries in Paris?

If all the emissions proposed in the Paris climate plans are actually met, the global emissions in 2030 will be 15.46bn tonnes. They will have exceeded the emissions envisaged by the IPCC’s RCP8.5, which is 14.55bn tonnes by 2030, and we are heading for a temperature rise of above 2oC before the middle of this century8.

If the rise of 2oC is to be achieved emissions must start falling by 2020 and must reach zero by 2060. This is not even proposed. As noted above China, for example, which accounts for 27% of global emissions, is planning to let its emissions rise until 2030! What is actually happening is likely to produce a temperature rise of 4oC by 2060.

The goals of the Paris agreement, even in the most optimistic assessment, are in flagrant contradiction with climate science and the recommendations of the IPCC, the very body which was set up to advise governments on what actions to take. That governments can ignore their advisors and the conclusions of science is, of course, because any real attempt to combat global warming would directly conflict with the demands of the capitalist system.

Capitalist response to the Agreement

At present 90% of the world’s energy is provided by fossil fuels and if the Paris agreement was serious about reducing CO2 emissions there would have been some serious moves to reduce this figure and leave the fossil fuels in the ground. This would have directly threatened the large coal and oil corporations. However, they are completely unconcerned by the agreement. A senior representative of a European utility with coal interests summed up their reaction:

“We are not too worried to be honest, it does not change much right now.” 9

In fact the real concern of these corporations is certainly not reduction in CO2 emissions, but rather the low prices for coal and oil, which reduce profits and cause mines, and marginal oil producers to close. The closure of Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire10, for example, is the consequence of the low price of coal not any concern over global warming. Overall the response of the bourgeoisie to low prices for oil and coal is simply to burn more and increase pollution.

Fossil fuels provide about 68% of the global electricity supply. The World Resources Institute estimated that in 2012, 1199 new coal fired power stations with a capacity of 1,401 Giga Watts (GW) were planned! India, for example, has 554 proposed coal fired power stations which have received approval. This represents commissioning one station every week for the next 10 years. These new stations are set to discharge an extra 1bn tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere annually. Coal is, of course, the most polluting fuel available to capital. The most efficient modern coal power plants produce 750 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour (g/kwh) whereas wind generation produces between 10 and 20g/kWh11. Between 1997 and 2014 global coal production increased from 4.5bn tonnes to 8bn tonnes. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report on the medium term coal market predicts a further expansion of the use of coal. Although the investment in renewable energy has been rising12 and is expected to account for a third of electricity generated by 2040, the use of coal and investment in coal is set to rise absolutely. The IEA estimates that the global demand for electricity in 2040 will be 80% greater than it was in 2012. Renewables are not replacing coal, they are taking up only a part of the increase in demand. The IEA estimates that the CO2 from the power sector will rise from 13.2Gt in 2012 to 15.4Gt in 2040, an increase of 16.6%.

A statement by leading climate scientists in a paper entitled “Unabated coal is not compatible with keeping global warming below 2oC” warns that the current trend in coal burning is leading to a temperature rise of 6oC by 2100. They state:

“The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA’s 6oC scenario. That risks an outcome which is catastrophic beyond anything mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth.”13

The outlook for reducing oil consumption is similarly bleak. Oil production increased from 75bn barrels per day in 1997 to 93mb/d in 2014. BP in its Energy Outlook Report published in March 2015 predicts global energy consumption will grow by 37% and CO2 emissions by 25% and the IEA’s aim of keeping atmospheric CO2 concentration below 450 parts per million will be exceeded by 203514.

At the same time, carbon sinks are being reduced thereby ensuring the increased carbon emissions are not reduced by the natural process of carbon absorption. In pre-industrial times there were 5.9 billion hectares of forest worldwide while today this has been reduced to 4bn hectares. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation reports that 13 million hectares of forest are being cut down each year. This means that in a decade we lose a further 3.25% of the planet’s forests.

All this is of little concern to capitalism. Instead of limiting carbon emissions it provides direct subsidies for fossil fuels at a rate of almost 6 times those provided for renewables. In 2014 fossil fuels were directly subsidised to the tune of $550bn whereas renewables received $101bn. This subsidy for renewables is approximately 8% of global military spending. The capitalist class is prepared to spend over 12 times more on killing people in order to protect capital values and imperialist interests than it is prepared to spend on halting its destruction of the planet.

The UK government’s feeble commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gases is shown by its reduction of subsidies for renewables, notably on solar and on-shore wind power and the scrapping of its £1bn grant for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which it committed to only 6 months ago. Although it plans to phase out coal fired power stations by 2025, it plans to replace them, not with renewable energy sources, but with gas fired stations and introduce fracking to produce more gas. While it is true that the gas stations produce less carbon than coal, 440 grams per kilowatt hour (g/kWh) as against 960g/kWh, this is still massively more than solar or wind which produce in the range of 10 to 50 g/kWh.

The global accountancy firm PwC has been monitoring the carbon intensity of the global economy for the last 7 years. To achieve the 2oC rise in temperature this century they estimate carbon intensity must fall by 6.3% annually. In none of the last 7 years has that goal been achieved and they conclude we are on track to blow our carbon budget, mentioned above, before 2035, which is worse than the IPCC estimate. Leo Johnson, a PwC partner, summed up the present situation as follows:

If you were to lie in bed thinking how do I maximise carbon emissions it would be something like the economic model of fossil fuels, mass production, transportation, consumption and built-in obsolescence that we have got.”15

Why is it that humanity is acting in a way which is leading to its destruction?

The capitalism system demands profit and growth

The truth, which our rulers try to hide, is that capitalism only engages in production if it can make a profit and it only satisfies human needs if it is profitable to do so. It operates to produce short term profits and any catastrophe which is 30 or 40 years away is simply irrelevant. It has no concern for future generations. The capitalist class will continue polluting the air, poisoning the seas and cutting down the world’s forests until it is no longer profitable to do these things. Once this point has been reached, of course, it will be too late to do anything about it.

As mentioned above India is proposing to commission 554 new coal fired power stations, approximately one every week for the next 10 years. Arvind Subramanian, chief economic advisor to the Indian Government, writing in the Financial Times points out that the real issue is profitability:

“Prices of renewables are not competitive with coal today. It is wishful thinking to imagine that renewables can replace coal in the foreseeable future.”16

This is a clear statement of the logic of capitalism by someone who is actually controlling what happens. In plain language this means that combating global warming is wishful thinking because it is not profitable.

A further issue is capitalism’s demand for continual growth. As we have explained in other texts17, because of the internal workings of capitalism there is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall. This is a consequence of the increasing productivity of labour which, in turn, results in the exclusion of labour from the production process and its replacement by machinery. Since exploitation of living labour is the only source of capital’s profit excluding labour reduces the amount of profit produced relative to the capital employed18. The capitalist class tries to compensate for the decline in the rate of profit by increasing the mass of profit. It does this by increasing the scale of production and extending the market by any means possible. In the language of capitalism this equates to growth. Capitalism must grow or die. Martin Wolf, the chief economic commentator for the Financial Times, writing about the Paris Climate Conference states:

“But growth of the world economy has overwhelmed the fall in emissions per unit of output. If growth is not to be sacrificed (which humanity will not tolerate) this rate of decline must accelerate hugely.”19

In other words he sees the solution in increasing productivity which allows for growth without increase in carbon emissions. He cannot even contemplate a reduction in growth. He is forced to admit, however, that there has not been a fall in global emissions per capita. In fact, global emissions per capita have risen from about 4 tonnes of CO2 in 2003 to 5 tonnes in 2014. The significant point which Martin Wolf emphasises is that growth cannot be sacrificed, come what may. The capitalist class, whose spokesman he is, cannot envisage any system of production other than capitalism and therefore sees the interests of capitalism as being the same as those of humanity. They conclude that since capitalism will not tolerate any reduction in growth nor will humanity. In fact the complete opposite is the case. Capitalism is leading humanity to catastrophe precisely through its demand for growth. If the world economy grows at 3% annually it will double in size every 25 years and this means CO2 emissions will double and instead of needing 1.5 planet earths to be sustainable, capitalism will require 3. Infinite growth, which capitalism demands, is simply not feasible with a finite planet and a finite limit to atmospheric CO2 pollution. In reality the truth is that humanity cannot tolerate growth under capitalist relations of production. It is a recipe for mass extinction.

The perilous situation in which humanity finds itself is a direct outcome of the capitalist system of production. It is not because our rulers are corrupt or stupid, which they often are, that they act against the long term interests of humanity, it is because the imperatives of capitalism are dictating their actions. The imperative of profit will always take precedence over everything else. Green capitalism will only be achieved if it is more profitable than carbon capitalism. Zero growth under capitalism, even green capitalism, is a total myth. It is clear that the environmental problem cannot be solved under capitalism since capitalism is its primary cause. How can this be solved?

A communist planet

Saving the planet is, even now, technically feasible it’s not happening because it’s just not profitable and the system demands infinite growth. Humanity could, for example, generate all its electrical energy from renewables. The potential of solar electricity, to give just one example, is illustrated by the statistic that the entire amount of electrical energy consumed globally in one year is less than the energy received by the world’s deserts in only 6 hours20.

The human interchange with nature needs to be determined by sustainability rather than capitalist profit and growth. Capitalist production because of its class divisions and class contradictions also undermines any common will to address the problems of global warming and ecological destruction.

Capitalist production is based on the system of wage labour, which in turn depends on the separation of workers from the means of production. The fact that workers have no property forces them to sell their labour power as a commodity to those owning or controlling the means of production. This results in a system in which labour takes the form of value and the aim of production is simply that of increasing value. The capitalist engages in production to generate profit or surplus value. The worker sells his/her labour power to the capitalist to survive, to get what he or she needs to keep the family alive and, of course, to get the strength to carry on working. There is an immediate conflict of interest between these two main classes in society. This makes cooperation in a common project such as saving the planet difficult if not impossible. On the one hand the capitalist sees ending pollution as reducing his profits which he cannot tolerate, on the other hand the worker sees cuts in his consumption of energy or commodities as the capitalist’s method of reducing the value of his labour power and his living standards.

As has been mentioned above capitalism requires continual growth. Technical innovations to increase productivity exclude labour from the production process. The process results in the expulsion of workers from production and the formation of a reserve army of labour while the active army of labour is subjected to increased productivity, speed-ups and longer working hours. The increased productivity of labour, which should benefit humanity, actually makes conditions worse. For workers it results in either unemployment or worse working conditions, while for the system as a whole it results in decreased rates of profit and crises. This illustrates the stupidity of capitalist production. As Marx wrote;

“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth.”21

To achieve a sustainable interchange with nature the capitalist production system needs to be replaced. Instead of production for profit we need to create a system of production for the needs of humanity and balance these needs with sustainability. Ending capitalist relations of production will also end the need for continual growth. The system of wage labour needs to be abolished together with capitalist private property. The factories, mines, farms, in short the productive forces of the planet need to be converted to social property, controlled by the vast majority of humanity and used to satisfy human needs. Once capitalist conflicts and contradictions are eliminated a serious attempt can be made at rolling back the dreadful damage which 250 years of capitalism have inflicted on the planet. This can succeed since the conflicts of interest which are inherent in capitalism will have been eliminated. Humanity will have a common purpose. The old communist slogan:

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”22

will become a reality, and the world will become a communist planet23. That is a planet where the state, national frontiers and money have been abolished and power is exercised by the overwhelming majority of humanity in worldwide organisations such as workers councils.

Apart from being riven with contradictions and class conflict capitalism is an inherently wasteful system. Massive amounts of the work carried out under capitalism are completely useless. We mention only that carried out in commerce, in finance and in speculation. These things would no longer be necessary in a world where products are distributed freely according to need, and money is abolished. Some work carried out under capitalism is not just wasteful it is harmful in that it destroys products of labour, for example, military work and arms production. Once capitalism is abolished the unproductive and destructive labour which the system now demands can be channelled into useful work on a massive scale. While we do not claim to be expert on what precisely needs to be done to save the planet, programmes such as, renewable energy production on a global scale, energy storage, electrifying transport, organic farming, local food production, water efficiency and recycling, reestablishment of fisheries and coral reefs, reforestation, etc. would appear to be a priority. Energy could also be devoted to developing new techniques and inventions which permit industrial production to use less energy or, for example, the capture and storage of the carbon already in the atmosphere.

The key point is that only with the establishment of communist production relations will there be the common will and the energy to devise such programmes and to undertake them.

All the above leads to the question of how a communist world can be achieved. This, of course, cannot be answered in a discussion on climate change. All we will say here is that a communist world can only be achieved if the majority of the world’s working class see it as necessary and are prepared to fight to bring it into being. To create a communist planet requires a political assault on capitalism which is the fountainhead of all that is wrong in the world. Capitalism needs to be fought now and a fighting organisation, a global party of the working class, needs to be created to assist that fight.



1 The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 and is the only binding treaty to have come out of the COP meetings, obliged only the developed countries to curb emissions. China, which was not obliged to decrease emissions, is now the largest emitter of GHGs emitting 27% of the global total.

2 The US Republican Party is already manoeuvring to block the agreement. They have threatened to block $3bn of climate finance the US administration offered ahead of the Paris agreement if the administration passes the accord by executive agreement. See FT 14/12/15

3 Increase in temperature allows the air to hold more water vapour. In Britain temperatures in December 2015 were 5oC above normal. For each 1oC rise the air can hold 7% more water vapour. This led to devastating floods as one storm after another swept into northern England and Scotland from the Atlantic.

4 See Financial Times 25/11/15

5 See report

6 According to the IPCC these amounted to 4% of the total GHG emissions in 2012.

7 This is the process whereby GHGs reflect radiation from the earth back to earth. This radiation, which should normally leave the earth, and is the mechanism for cooling the planet, is unable to escape and results in heating. Radiative forcing has increased from approximately 0.65W/m2 in 1950 to 1.4 in 1980 to 2.4w/m2 in 2010. IPCC considers 8.5W/m2 in 2100 is likely. See IPCC report AR5.

8 See

9 See Financial Times 14/12/15

10 Kellingley was the last deep coal mine in Britain

11 Average figure for coal plants is 940g/kWh. The figure for wind generation is a whole life figure including manufacturing and construction carbon generation. See

12 $270bn was invested in renewables in 2015.Biggest investor was China $83.3bn, followed by US $38.3bn and Japan $35.7bn.

13 See

14 See Financial Times 4/03/15

15 Quoted in Financial Times 28/11/15

16 Quoted in Financial Times 27/11/15

17 See

18 This illustrates the absurdity of the capitalist system. Increased productivity of labour which should benefit humanity actually threatens it. At the same time as enormous social wealth is produced at one pole, enormous social deprivation, unemployment, a reserve army of labour struggling to survive on the fringes of society is produced at the other pole.

19 See Financial Times 19/12/15

20 Quoted in Jonathon Porritt The World We Made.

21 K Marx Grundrisse p.706

22 Karl Marx Critique of the Gotha Programme.

23 This has no relation to the state capitalist societies which were created in Russia, China and elsewhere. Communism has never been established on earth.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


I sent the following mind-blowing paragraph from the above excellent article to a friend. from leftcom "Saving the planet is, even now, technically feasible it’s not happening because it’s just not profitable and the system demands infinite growth. Humanity could, for example, generate all its electrical energy from renewables. The potential of solar electricity, to give just one example, is illustrated by the statistic that the entire amount of electrical energy consumed globally in one year is less than the energy received by the world’s deserts in only 6 hours20." He replied with this. "As for energy, you may be interested to look into anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge which is catching on in the US and the UK. Producing bio-gas from waste has had some advances. Now it is possible to generate electricity achieving 130% net gain meaning the energy inputs into obtaining and processing sludge are negated by the output. The Asian Francisco Bay Area has eleven 2.3 million gallon digesters in operation. They get a shit load of power for their poo." I supose poo is renewable. But if the bourgeois is into it in a big way - like using it to feed fish - then their must be a catch somewhere and I smell a rat - or is it poo? Any comments?

Anaerobic sewage sludge digestion captures energy which would otherwise go to waste. Sugars and fatty acids in sewage are digested by bacteria (in the absence of oxygen) producing methane and carbon dioxide, so-called biogas. To generate electricity this biogas is compressed and burned in a turbine or an engine which drives an alternator. Although the process produces carbon dioxide it is carbon neutral since the carbon was in the food we ate in the first place. Hence it is an environmentally clean process but there is only a limited amount of energy available. No sewage plant is self sufficient in energy as far as I am aware. This is because of the energy required for other processes such as aeration, pumping, heating etc. is large. It is not going to save the planet!

The digestion of sewage sludge has become more widespread because of the increase in energy prices and the ability to sell electricity to the grid at peak demand times for a higher price while importing it at other times for a lower price. It is therefore determined by profit, not any desire to save the planet. If energy prices remain low, as at preset, biodigesters won't be built. As the article makes clear capitalist production relations determine what happens. However, it is one of a number of technologies which could be used more widely in communist society.

Thank you azdak for your helpful and most informative post above. I will pass it on to my friend. I also take on board your comment about capitalist relations of production dictating all that happens - - - till we get rid of them that is.

I had suspected that "the digestion of sewage sludge" (evocative expression!) wouldn't be the answer on its own, but also that there must currently be something "in it" for the bourgeois (profits and money lovely money) else they wouldn't be interested at all.

It seems there are various technologies around only waiting their liberation from capitalism (aren't we all?) to help usher in the society of abundance, peace and prosperity for everyone and the planet too.

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