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Planning Green Growth
Planning Green Growth
Climate change demo 2005, photo Paul Mattsson
To avoid embarrassment, at a time when famine is sweeping the region, some of the governments involved are making cosmetic cuts in their delegations and restricting extravagant consumption of luxury items.
This hypocrisy however, will only be matched by the quantity of hot air and empty commitments generated, if the pattern of the first Earth summit in Rio ten years ago is repeated.
The main capitalist countries have a cynical attitude to the summit, shown by the fact that although 100 world leaders will attend they are not expected to include Bush, Blair, Chirac or the Japanese Prime Minister.
When the 65,000 delegates arrive they will find a country devastated by the neo-liberal agenda imposed by the IMF, World Bank and the Western powers, where the gap between the, still mainly white, rich and the poor is greater than under apartheid.
The run-up to the summit could hardly have been worse for those hoping for a clear lead to tackle the growing environmental crisis.
Months before the delegates assembled in Johannesburg, the main imperialist powers were making it absolutely clear that they were not interested in making any binding commitments that would even begin to tackle the environmental threats facing us.
In April the US successfully forced the ousting of the Chair of the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Dr Bob Watson's crime, in George Bush's eyes, was to support the idea that the US, since it accounts for 25 % of all harmful emissions, should pay more than underdeveloped countries towards mitigating damage caused by global warming.
Flooding in the centre of Gloucester, 2007, photo Chris Moore
In Bali at the end of May, the UN called a pre-meeting to thrash out an agreed agenda and action plan for the Johannesburg summit.
After this meeting, the spokesperson for the pressure group Friends of the Earth (FOE) International, Daniel Mittler, said, "The US and its friends might as well come from Mars for all they care about the future of our planet." At the Bali meeting, the Bush administration successfully pushed for any deals on the environment to be based on 'voluntary partnerships', consistent with its neo-liberal, deregulation, agenda.
They also persuaded Australia and Canada to join them at the summit in opposing the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming.
While the Bali meeting was taking place, the Indonesian authorities intimidated a flotilla of local fishermen and forced them to abandon their protest against the 'free trade' policies promoted by the Western powers at the meeting, which threaten to destroy their livelihoods.
The conference put forward a meaningless wish list of aims for the summit that will never go beyond the paper it is written on.
One proposal is to reduce by half the 1.2 billion people who do not have access to clean water by 2015, another is to provide 2 billion people with electricity generated from renewable sources.
Basic healthcare needs, such as immunisation and access to essential drugs, should be available to all and the 2.4 billion people currently without it, should be provided with proper sanitation.
However the Western powers made it clear in advance that no more money will be available to achieve these targets and they will all be strictly voluntary.
Although it is possible that relatively minor issues such as a clampdown on illegal logging will be agreed, this will not be able to disguise the fact that the imperialist countries are treating the Earth summit as a cheap public relations stunt.
Even conservative commentators in the West have been forced to admit this glaring fact.
On all the key issues for environmentalists, including finance and trade commitments, health, education, debt reduction and above all, targets for renewable energy generation, the Bali conference broke up without agreement.
Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, was forced to call an emergency meeting in New York in late July, of the key countries, including the G8, comprising the leading capitalist powers, in an attempt to save the summit.
Environmental pressure groups and activists are pressing for the summit to adopt tough enforceable rules.
The key priority for Friends of the Earth is to establish a legally binding treaty which requires international companies, wherever they operate, to adopt best practice and to be accountable for their environmental and social damage to citizens and communities.
Daniel Mittler, the FOE spokesperson, has correctly said that voluntary partnerships will not deliver sustainable development.
Biofuels demo in Beckton, photo Paul Mattsson
The prospects for the summit delivering commitments with real teeth are almost non-existent. A statement issued by, among others, Greenpeace, Oxfam and FOE, before the meeting in South Africa, was clearly sceptical.
It said that it was embarrassing, in watching the build up to the summit, to see different nations and blocs single-mindedly pursuing their own narrow interests at the expense of poor people and the planet's future.
Furthermore they stated: "The system of horse-trading, back room deals and bullying by powerful blocks is becoming common practice in international negotiations.
Rarely has it produced so little by way of firm results. We have been appalled to watch governments renege on commitments made at Rio ten years ago..." Although socialists share this scepticism, we think it is necessary to draw all the necessary conclusions that flow from past experience, particularly as regards the role of the capitalist, market, system in the degradation of the environment and as the main barrier to sustainable development.
When the Bush government in the US dumped the Kyoto agreement, which aimed to reduce global warming, millions of environmental activists throughout the world were enraged.
The message was loud and clear: that the interests of the multi-national corporations- represented by the White House-come before the looming environmental disaster caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
Bush's blatant policy of defending the profits of US companies has brought into question the credibility of international agreements between rival capitalist powers and prompted a debate among left wing environmentalists about the way forward.
A socialist alternative to the destructive anarchy of the market system is needed, which will give a path to environmental sustainability- a term that has been defined as the establishment of conditions for life on earth to continue into the distant future.
Socialists agree with most environmentalists that sustainability issues cannot be separated from economic, social and political questions, but we think understanding the class interests involved is central to finding a way forward.
According to most environmental activists reducing global warming and other environmental threats to sustainable levels is not just a technical issue, but is closely tied to the question of reducing or reversing economic growth.
Since this has great implications for the possibility of abolishing poverty throughout the world, which is a pre-requisite for building socialism, a different strategy needs to be explored.
An important aspect of this debate, which is only just beginning to be considered, is proposing an alternative to the market system, whose single-minded quest for profit is the prime cause of unsustainable environmental destruction.
Although the collapse of the Soviet Union and the degradation of the environment in Eastern Europe during the Stalinist period, appeared to discredit the ideas of planning as an alternative to capitalism, the planned use of resources, as compared to the anarchy of 'free enterprise', will be the essential tool to tackle the problem of global warming and other threats.
Such a planned economy, if it is democratically controlled, is an alternative both to capitalism and to the perversion of socialism practised in the former USSR.
A social system based on need not profit would have enormous inherent advantages from the viewpoint of saving energy.
For instance, it would avoid the duplication of resources, planned obsolescence and wide-scale destruction of factories, plant and machinery in slumps, characteristic of the capitalist profit system.
Eliminating these features of the system will have a significant impact in increasing the efficiency of energy usage and therefore reducing pollution.
However, the biggest environmental advantage of a socialist society, where production is driven by need not profit, is the ability to tackle the threats facing us using democratic planning, compared to the inevitable environmental degeneration linked to the anarchy of capitalist production.
The developing world economic crisis, perhaps the most serious since the Great Depression, could divert attention from the problems of the environment, because the output of some forms of pollution will temporarily fall, along with the decline in economic activity.
However, the history of capitalism shows that after even a deep crisis, with its resulting suffering and devastation, a recovery eventually occurs and a new phase of unplanned anarchic growth ensues, leading to a further twist in the spiral of environmental degeneration.