Why UN declarations and “green new deal” growth strategies are doomed to failure.
I’m writing this as the UN Montreal Biodiversity conference concludes with what many are declaring as a landmark agreement to protect 30% of the earth’s surface for nature by 2030. On paper a strong commitment by 190 nations to try and prevent the accelerating loss of wild species and their associated ecosystems. Interestingly the USA was conspicuous by its absence. US formal participation was blocked by republican lawmakers lobbied and paid by large corporate interests. Another alarmingly related fact is at the last 3 UN climate or biodiversity conferences the number of corporate delegates including many top finance, fossil fuels, and mining firms outnumber NGOs by at least 4 to 1! What did the presence of these large number of corporate delegations and their intervention achieve in Montreal? I would argue their intervention killed the aims of the declaration before they are even signed off!
Clearly no chance of realization!
I think the agreement has no chance of being realized. For one, there was a similar declaration in 2010 in Aichi, Japan. Of the 20 targets agreed then by the same nations, the UN has now admitted not one has been fully implemented, and many not at all. This blatant failure and the corresponding failure to keep to a 1.5-degree climate change goal agreed at the UN Paris conference is clearly a willful, systemic global failure.
Let’s just look at why the new Biodiversity targets will fail to be implemented:
- Corporate and government lobbying prevented nations from formally having to pass and change national laws to the effect, making the declaration only voluntary.
- Last-minute intervention also allowed for only voluntary monitoring of the targets and the effects on species and ecosystems. There are no formal targets for individual species or specific ecosystems.
- Again lobbying by corporates allowed for the incorporation of “biodiversity offsets” or a Biodiversity credit system for firms.
- No agreement was reached on changing systemic over-production and consumption or a de-growth strategy.
All four of these weaknesses will prevent the implementation on the ground in any meaningful way. Points three and four are the most critical, so let’s look at them in more detail.
The “biodiversity offsets” is the most insidious and damaging amendment introduced by corporate pressure. This is a similar system of credits set up to be used by large corporations after the climate change deals. In essence, rather than actually reduce output to slow C02 emissions or protect land for nature, a firm or government can pay an “offset” tax or credit. This allows them to carry on pumping out C02 or building on nature reserves and then take out an IOU credit which can be traded on the international market. The aggregate effect is none of the real goals needed is met and corporates offset their credits by trading with poorer firms and nations or getting tax breaks to pay for the credits.
Just one example of this recently highlighted by Friends of the earth is the promotion by Rio Tinto, the mining giant of their “biodiversity offsets” in Madagascar. The firm carries on mining in the threatened Rain Forest of the southeastern Anosy region, causing irreparable damage but then pays the national government financial compensation in the form of an “offset credit”. This model is a disaster for this unique ecosystem and endemic species occurring nowhere else in the world. Once lost this Rain forest and its species are lost for good. In reality, local people have no voice and the national government is facing massive debt-related poverty and real starvation issues, so none of the offset compensation goes to restoring nature or protecting species.
Green is the new black
Point 4, a real lack of a meaningful global de-growth strategy is the real crux of the problem and why these UN climate change and biodiversity declarations continually fail. Governments are so lobbied by and interchangeable with corporate capitalist multi-nationals they have in effect become their de-facto legislative arm. Using their influence, they continually delay, hinder or alter any policy designed to prevent unabated growth and unconstrained use of raw material and labour. So-called “green” politicians have been fully integrated into this pro-capitalist system and corporate agenda. The most poignant example of this is in Germany. The country has by far the most mature green party in Europe with representatives being elected to regional and state positions of power since the 80s. Its left wing progressive radical roots of anti-growth, anti-fossil fuels and pacifism have now been completely abandoned to “realpolitik”. The party’s leaders approved repeated NATO bombing with the death of innocent Serbs in Novograd in 1999 (Joschka Fischer, the then German foreign minister). Right now, with green German Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock saying she will back NATO in its war in Ukraine even if the voters that elected her disagree! To a green agricultural minister Cem Özdemir with the support of the multi-national corporate farming lobby, legalizing the ploughing up of protected nature reserves across Europe. Finally, Robert Habeck the green industry minister making deals to gain access to climate-polluting LNG contracts from Qatar, a country with a more than questionable human rights record. The centre-left in Germany has no better record in government on any of these issues. The record of centre-left and greens in other European countries are also just as poor and have been instrumental in implementing corporate policies detrimental to climate change and biodiversity. Why is this so and why do we need to radically reallocate resources or “de-growth”?
A marxist view and solution
The blurring of the line between the state and private capital has a long tradition in Europe. It has been the case for the last 200 hundred years of imperial capitalist production but with its roots in the European discovery and consequent colonization of the new world starting in the 16th century with state-sponsored private enterprise. The mass production of goods and the transformation of travel through rail and steam allowed for the global expansion of European and US imperial capitalism into all continents of the world.
Marx realized that in the longer-term, global rates of profit will fall in a capitalist production model due to changes in the organic composition of capital with a corresponding dilution of value per unit produced. Thus, the accumulation of wealth by the northern hemisphere capitalist countries can only be sustained by the continued exploitation of the south. Continual excessive growth is needed to sustain and compensate for failing profit levels and this is again solely dependent on cheap inputs: labour, raw material and energy obtained by exploitation of the south. As northern hemisphere markets became exhausted of raw materials and organized labour fought for better conditions the imperialist capitalist north became more and more dependent on the developing world for its existence. Today we have reached such an extreme level of dependency, to the point where any small disruption in the supply of cheap inputs from the south leads to slumps and recessions in the north. Any attempt at self-determination by governments in the south, in ways that would allow for fair distribution of the country’s natural resources by blocking western capital ownership, has been met by extreme state-sponsored military aggression. The examples are numerous. Military acts of suppression by the French and British in Egypt, Cambodia, Algeria, and Kenya. Destabilization of democratically elected governments and replacement with military dictatorships by the US in Chile, Congo, Indonesia and Nicaragua. Wars and covertly sponsored putsches in the middle east and North Africa over access to cheap oil supplies. In unison with these clandestine acts of aggression to prevent self-determination, came the neo-liberal policies of the IMF and world bank euphemistically named “structural adjustment programs” in the 80s and 90s and still active policy today. These link development funds to “foreign liberalization” of local markets and ownership, public spending cuts, and the dropping of any national capital controls. Mainstream economic and political commentators have named the global south as “developing” to imply they are just in an earlier stage of development and will catch up to the more developed nations in time. This is absurd when one realizes the wealth of Northern Capitalist countries relies on keeping those in the south poor. Work from economics Prof. Jason Heckel shows the scale of the widening gap alone in the last 60 years. Whereas the average GDP per capita in the north moved from under $10,000 in 1960 to well over $40,000 today, in the global south the figure changed hardly at all and is today only slightly over $5000. These countries are not poor they have been systematically and purposely kept poor by Capitalist corporate wealth and resource accumulation.
Green growth or saving the planet through new sustainable technology is an illusion!
Many leaders of the centre-left and green parties in Europe and the USA are championing “green growth” with sustainable innovative technology, to tackle global poverty, prevent climate change and create a sustainable future. In the mainstream media, we have politicians calling for a “green new deal”. New innovative high-paid jobs will be created in renewable technologies replacing fossil fuels and allowing for a de-coupling of GDP growth from aggregate resource use, so saving the planet. Unfortunately, this is simply untrue with de-coupling or sustainable growth proved empirically not to be the case. Just comparing global GDP to resource consumption, we see the opposite both growth and resource use are rising together not de-coupling or declining.
Why do growth and resource use rise together with the introduction of innovative new technology and why is it non-compatible with goals of climate change, re-wilding and protecting ecosystems? Marx showed clearly that the capitalist use of innovative technology allows for a reduction in unit labour time and thus a change in the organic composition of capital, increasing productivity. If due to new technology any resource use per unit is reduced, then capitalist firms will translate this into cheaper prices per unit or higher profit margins. Selling more units or increasing profit margins causes the firm to expand production and gain market share and thus use more resources in total. There is no incentive in a profit-orientated system to save resources or produce less. Re-wilding of land and protection of existing ecosystems to protect species and trap CO2 emissions to reduce climate change require a radical de-growth strategy. More precisely a reallocation of resource use. A tiny elite of rich individuals in the northern capitalist countries use and waste many times more resources than are needed to live a normal life at a high level, causing destructive climate change, whereas the majority of the world’s population is well under this reasonable level and will need major reallocation of resources just to prevent starvation. Creating new jobs in renewable energy for capitalist corporate profits in the northern hemisphere will only perpetuate the problem with more growth and more land and resource use and a further widening of the gap in inequality in the global south.
A Marxist Solution
The mainstream media portray the command use of resources under communism, with the brutal totalitarianism of Stalin’s 5-year plans in the 1930s. Yet today nothing could be further from the truth. The advent of modern computing with large data sets, self-learning systems and AI has seen a huge leap in our understanding of complex systems and our ability to apply new algorithms to multivariate problems. Solving complex questions in a wide range of fields from bioinformatics and genomics to engine design and financial market dynamics. The same applies to global resource allocation with many scientists producing very viable computer-generated simulations of resource management allowing for fair distribution and the creation of a sustainable model for global development without capitalist profit. New work by economist and IT engineer W.P Cockshott and others outlined in their book “Economic Planning in an Age of Climate Crisis” prove that this can be done and also highlight the fact that both in the US and UK wartime emergency command allocation of labour and resources even without modern IT modelling were far more proficient than before or after.
Radical Marxist reallocation of resources based on modern computational simulations of the global supply chains is gaining some exposure and discussion even in the heavily vetted mainstream media. “Less is more” by Jason Hickel a London economics Prof. and “Capital in the Anthropocene” by Kohei Saito a Marxist Prof. from Osaka, Japan both advocating these solutions have caught the public imagination with the latter book selling over 500,000 copies with a few months of release in Japan. The world is already suffering the terrible results of climate change and we can all see the destruction of habitats and loss of species at an alarming rate. As it becomes more and more obvious that mainstream politicians are paid for by multi-national corporates to water down proposals and prevent real change the time for radical reforms and a move to a sustainable future through communism becomes an ever more viable option worth fighting for!