The fraud of ‘net zero’ versus the real hope from Glasgow

Glasgow climate protest, November 6, 2021. Photo: Oliver Kornblihtt
Glasgow climate protest, November 6, 2021. Photo: Oliver Kornblihtt

Greta Thunberg told the massive Fridays for Future rally in Glasgow on November 5 that it was already clear that the COP26 climate summit was a “failure”.

However, the day before Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency told the summit that the COP had been a “big step forward” because individual country pledges (if implemented “in full”) could limit global heating to 1.8⁰C above pre-industrial levels.

This is a lot less than most predictions before the conference and would put the Paris goal of 1.5⁰C within reach if further measures were taken.

Who was right?

Birol’s wildly optimistic claim was immediately contradicted by Selwin Hart, the United Nation’s assistant secretary-general for climate change. Hart told the conference that the world is still on a “catastrophic pathway” towards 2.7⁰C.

This view was echoed a few days later by Carbon Action Tracker (CAT), which monitors countries’ climate policies.

Bill Hare from Climate Analytics and CAT told The Guardian: “We are concerned that some countries are trying to portray [COP26] as if the 1.5⁰C limit is nearly in the bag.

“But it’s not, it’s very far from it, and they are downplaying the need to get short-term targets for 2030 in line with 1.5⁰C.”

Similarly, the Washington Post published an analysis on November 7 said that “many countries under-report their greenhouse gas emissions in their reports to the United Nations”.

This results in a “giant gap between what nations declare their greenhouse gas emissions to be versus the greenhouse gases they are sending into the atmosphere”.

The gap between promise and reality could be as high as 13.3 billion tons a year — almost a quarter of global emissions!

This shows that capitalist governments around the world are still more deeply committed to maintaining the polluting status quo than taking the action needed to avert climate catastrophe.

Despite his post-Glasgow conversion to electric vehicles, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stands exposed as a climate laggard.

But the Labor Opposition is still walking down both sides of the street. Labor climate spokesperson Chris Bowen gave a masterful demonstration of this on the ABC’s Insiders on November 7.

He claimed that Labor in government will “take methane seriously” and that it “has plans in place to reduce methane emissions working cooperatively with industry and agriculture”. He then argued against calling on the Morrison government to sign the international pledges to reduce methane emissions and phase out coal.

Bowen also justified gas exploration, including the Beetaloo Basin gas fracking operation in the Northern Territory, despite the International Energy Agency’s call for zero new fossil fuel developments.

Bowen and Labor want to appear as if they have a climate action policy, while telling big business they will continue to support fossil fuel extraction.

This approach is completely at odds with what is needed to stay as close as possible to the 1.5⁰C target and to give our species the best possible chance of avoiding an unliveable Hothouse Earth.

However it is in keeping with the policies of US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

While talking big on climate, Biden is so far refusing to halt at least 24 key fossil fuel projects, including the Line 3 and Dakota Access pipelines.

Similarly, Johnson is promising that Britain’s domestic power production will go fossil fuel-free by 2035. But he is still approving new fossil fuel developments, such as the controversial Cambo oil field off Scotland.

Targets for 2050 are decades too late; immediate term emission reductions are essential. However, on any time frame, “net zero” is a fraud. It is a means by which governments and corporations plan to continue polluting while supposedly offsetting these continuing emissions. This promotes the dodgy carbon accounting practices, highlighted in the Washington Post .

The real hope of Glasgow is the 100,000 people who protested on November 6 as part of a global day of action. Such grassroots resistance can force individual governments to take unilateral action to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels which could have a snowball effect.

That is the pathway to a livable future.

[Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]