Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.More info ×
When the G8 meets in Scotland one of the two issues at the top of the agenda is climate change. And rightly so: even Tony Blair has described it as “long-term the single most important issue we face as a global community” while the Pentagon has suggested that “the risk of abrupt climate change& should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern”.
The other top issue on the G8 agenda, poverty in Africa, is a conundrum with no hope of resolution without a relatively stable climate. The cost of environmental degradation in Ghana is estimated to be 2 per cent of national income. Africa’s dependence on ecosystems under severe pressure from unpredictable weather means that by 2080 the continent may be home to up to 80 per cent of those people who will be at risk from hunger. Despite a compelling combination of concern and need, effective G8 action on climate change is about as likely as a pre-Christmas turkey dash to the slaughterhouse. The forecast for the G8 summit is looking bleak.
One of the fundamental obstacles to G8 engagement with climate change is that all of these industrialised countries are reliant on that key driver of climate change: oil. The G8 produce around 47 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions and are home to most of the world’s top 20 oil companies. Russia, which has the biggest oil reserves of all the G8 countries, would struggle without its fossil fuel exports. At the World Bank, another forum dominated by members of the G8, support for fossil fuel projects amounts to around 94 per cent of the energy portfolio while support for renewables is around just 6 per cent.
Reliant on fossil fuels and so reluctant to engage in the shift in energy sources that climate change demands, the G8 countries are investing in the other end of things: capture of the greenhouse gases emitted when these fuels are used. G8 members are supportive of the idea of storing carbon dioxide both above and below ground to prevent it being released into the atmosphere and are pledging to invest in Carbon Capture and Storage technology.
Underground burial involves great stashes under land or sea, with no guarantee against leaks at a future date. Those G8 countries involved in the Kyoto process have expressed support for overground capture in the form of “carbon sinks”, through planting trees or the conservation of forests. While trees do soak up carbon dioxide, methods of accounting for just how much a tree can store are far more complex. Forests and tree plantations are subject to unpredictable influences, including fires, pests, diseases and the availability of nutrients. Temperature change from global warming is a fairly predictable factor but the changes this will bring in trees’ behaviour are not. And human behaviour, fortunately, can be equally unpredictable.
While in Scotland, one project the G8 may wish to reflect on is a carbon sink in Espirito Santo, Brazil. It is funded by BP to make up for carbon dioxide emitted in the company’s operations at Grangemouth (Scotland’s major oil refinery on the River Forth) and across the globe. However, the people of Espirito Santo are not so keen on their role as passive components in an accounting system in which over-consumption by rich countries is the bottom line. This May, indigenous people in the area reclaimed 11,000 hectares of land, including eucalyptus plantations, for restoration to native forest and construction of new villages.
The reclaimers point out that monoculture eucalyptus plantations are an environmental pest, not an environmental solution. The plantations allow for pesticide run-off and poisoning, consume vast amounts of water resources, devastate local agriculture and support little biodiversity. Heidi Bachram of Carbon Trade Watch has suggested that such carbon sink plantations act “as an occupying force in impoverished rural communities dependent on these lands for survival”.
In terms of the issues to be addressed at the G8 meeting, indigenous participants at a 2003 Forest Peoples Programme workshop in India released a declaration stating that “the carbon credit approach (to climate change) may trigger a new wave of debt mechanism and inequity on the South. The more carbon a person or company in a Northern country emits, the more land it will be entitled to grab in the South for its carbon emissions”.
The trend of richer countries taking resources from poorer countries, while keeping those countries poor through the system of international debt, is likely to be made worse by the G8’s approach to climate change. Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation, has described climate change itself as an issue of debt – of ecological debt, rather than cash debt. In a recent book, Ecological Debt: The Health of the Planet and the Wealth of Nations, he describes how the G8 countries are using up environmental resources and running up ecological debts. This process, Simms claims, is a bigger threat to global poverty eradication than the foreign debts of poor countries.
Alongside carbon storage, nuclear power is another technology likely to be boosted by the G8 summit. Although a draft G8 climate change communiqué leaked prior to the summit did not indicate a position on nuclear power, both Bush and Blair are known to be keen on this outdated energy source, despite the long term problems it creates.
The tragedy of all this is that tackling climate change is not impossible. Far from it. In a report for the International Climate Change Task Force this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) reminded readers that, according to the G8 Renewables Energy Task Force itself, the barriers to the deployment of renewable energy are financial and political, rather than technological.
The IPPR report outlined steps that could be taken to de-carbonise the global economy, reconcile climate policy with trade and competitiveness, and make climate policy contribute to poverty eradication. Aimed at a forum bringing together government, business and top scientists and co-chaired by former transport secretary Stephen Byers, the report was framed in language that G8 policy-makers could understand.
Elsewhere, commentators on both left and right have suggested that, alongside reduced energy consumption, a wholesale re-think of energy systems – such as a shift from large and remote megapower energy developments to micropower systems sited close to the point of use – is both needed and possible.
But little will happen at Gleneagles this month in terms of climate change. The US refuses to sign up to a timeline for emission cuts – a basic first step to slow climate change. Other G8 members may resist further emission cuts from fear of being out-competed by US companies with limited restraints on energy use.
Meanwhile, the G8 summit takes place at a time that may be the endgame for life on Earth. Global temperature change, species extinction and upheaval in biodiversity are taking place on a scale never seen before in human history. Despite all this, the G8 leaders are likely to congratulate themselves just on getting agreement that yes, something possibly serious really is going on out there.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency