Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the Environment Committee in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on April 16, calling for “cathedral thinking” on climate action – a reference to the huge and immediate mobilisation of empathy, panic and money at the sight of the Notre Dame in flames. The real panic, she said, should be about the “house on fire” – the planet – leading to a mobilisation of funds, emergency emissions reductions and state-led direction of the transition.
The European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group, a coalition of left parties in the European Parliament, launched its Climate Emergency Manifesto in Strasbourg on April 15, ahead of the European elections at the end of next month, firmly marking “just climate action” as the group’s number one priority.
The manifesto, which explores six overarching demands for effective climate action, comes off the back of two recent developments: the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report strongly pushing for policymakers to limit global warming to 1.5°C; and the global social movement known as “Fridays for Future”. These two developments have shaken the political foundations of the European Union (EU) in particular, and called into question its climate credentials.
The IPCC report paints a dark picture of the current pathway we are on. It gives us less than 12 years to enact “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to every aspect of the economy to stay below 1.5°C of global warming. We are already at 1°C of warming above pre-industrial levels. At 1.5°C the chain reaction of climate catastrophe will be unleashed as we surpass the tipping point. We are already at the climate chaos cliff edge: the emergency brakes need to be activated now.
At the 24th UN Climate Conference (COP24) held in Poland last year, Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, stood up on a platform with the Canadian environment minister and other posing ministers to hold a big banner with the words “High Ambition Coalition”. This was their way of trying to affirm that they are the leading parties at these high-level climate negotiations — leading for higher climate ambition. Needless to say, no one was really convinced.
The EU’s feeble attempt to promote itself as a global climate leader looks even more pathetic in the context of more than one million students coordinating a world-wide strike on March 15.
These young people are clearly not impressed with the self-congratulating Arias Cañete’s level of ambition, nor any state that claims it is doing enough. After all, the CV that qualified him for the portfolio he runs is based on his family ties to the oil industry. The next global strike, scheduled for May 24, will set the tone for the European elections, demanding that radical climate action is on the agenda.
As students gathered last month with their placards and chanted in more than 1000 locations in more than 100 countries worldwide, there was not any rallying to congratulate the EU or the “High Ambition Coalition” ministers. Nor did young people chant “Carbon Tax Now” or “Secure the Rulebook!” They demanded climate justice.
The manifesto presented by GUE/NGL is a response to this call and is commensurate to the demands of the striking youth. A central demand to the global movement is a declaration of climate emergency — to effect an emergency response to an emergency situation. This manifesto is the GUE/NGL’s way of hitting the panic button and declaring a climate emergency, as well as putting its climate commitments out there before the elections for all voters to see.
Left approach rejects the market’s pseudo-solutions
The anti-capitalist GUE/NGL has a nuanced approach to climate action – one that is clearly distinct from the Greens and social democrats, and of course, the liberals and beyond who always appropriate the language of climate action to cover up their prioritisation of profits.
The Greens and social democrats prize the market and economic growth just as much as conservatives, and consistently vote for the liberalisation of the EU energy market for instance, withdrawing the directional control of the energy sector away from elected governments.
Any real leftist would reject this. We demand that governments get behind the wheel on the transition rather than watching markets fluctuate, and crucially, we are the only ones that reject the perpetual growth mode — the root cause of the climate crisis.
By removing the responsibility for climate action from governments and lawmakers and placing it in the invisible hands of the market, the Greens and social democrats have actively played an important role in this climate disaster.
While their intentions may be well-motivated, the Greens have been the driving force in pushing climate responsibility off the desks of world leaders, by pushing for the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) carbon market, commercialised energy markets, the monetisation of pollution and carbon pricing — all policy recommendations from the fossil fuel industry.
Climate crisis requires anti-capitalist action
The conclusion here is clear — only by being anti-capitalist can one be a climate activist. Anything less is the preservation of the status quo. Greening capitalism is indeed the most sinister form of climate action delay.
The GUE/NGL manifesto goes to the very heart of the economic model that has created climate change. Overturning global capitalism may not be realistic within the next 11 years, given how it morphs and self-replicates in the search for commodities, but the forces of capitalism can be resisted. It is precisely here — in counteracting capitalist forces — where an effective response to the climate crisis lies.
The solutions to climate change must come from outside the capitalist framework, beyond the logic of a market transition. This is why this manifesto is about directly regulating the fossil fuel industry — keeping fossil fuels in the ground and phasing out their use altogether, with strict time-bound targets.
It is about massive public investment, matching the financial responses already seen at times of war, responding to terrorism, or saving the banks. It is about regulating sectors to ensure sustainable practices, stopping the wild flurry of extraction and environmental abuses produced by capitalism. The GUE/NGL is the only group bringing forward this critique and this response.
Core to this manifesto, and a prism used throughout it, is that of the principles of climate justice. For the GUE/NGL, these are not just pretty words to speckle our manifesto — they are guiding tools and tests. We stand for climate policies that empower communities, not debilitate them. We stand for a rights-based approach to climate action, including a right to renewable energy. We want an integrated sustainable development approach to climate action — ensuring the fight against climate change interlinks with the struggles against poverty, gender inequity and socio-economic inequalities.
Just and effective climate action is our number one priority, and anything less than this is a climate crime.
[Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left and the climate campaign coordinator for GUE/NGL. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.
Reprinted from Irish Broad Left.]