It is a long time since activists spray painted ‘We are winning’ on a wall at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organisation in December 1999. Movements for global justice have had little to celebrate since then. Will things be any different for the ‘carbon movement’ that is emerging around the Climate Camp – which meets again at Kingsnorth power station this August – and engaging in direct action campaigns on aviation and coal?
Some victories have already been chalked up. When we started to campaign against the EU’s 10 per cent target for agrofuels in transport by 2020, it seemed unwinnable. Activists pointed out that turning crops into fuel would increase food prices, exacerbating poverty and even resulting in starvation. A World Bank report leaked in July backed this up – finding that up to three-quarters of recent food price rises can be explained by the switch to agrofuels.
Other scientific studies have shown that deforestation caused (directly or indirectly) by agrofuels means that they are actually damaging the climate. In response, the European Parliament environment committee has now recommended that the 10 per cent target be dropped. The UK government’s Gallagher report, released in early July, also found the introduction of agrofuels should be ‘significantly slowed’.
Yet look elsewhere and the picture is decidedly more mixed. On the face of it, the UK renewable energy strategy (RES) was also a victory. ‘The government has at last begun to take renewables seriously,’ concluded George Monbiot. And, indeed, it contains many positive proposals, ranging from renewable energy for heating to the promotion of electric cars.
Yet delving further into the details reveals a murkier picture. The most remarkable point is that the RES separates out any investment in renewable energy from the issue of reducing emissions from the power sector. These are supposed to be dealt with by the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), but there is strong evidence that it doesn’t work.
The idea is that the ETS places a ‘cap’ on emissions. Yet in the first phase of the scheme, corporate lobbying resulted in these caps being set so high that they did not actually cap anything. Even if this is corrected, the ETS still offers companies numerous ways to reduce emissions ‘on paper’ without closing fossil fuel plants.
In other words, the RES offers an approach whereby investment in renewable energy will be promoted alongside further investment in coal and nuclear power (with seven new coal plants and ‘at least’ eight new nuclear plants planned). In this framework, the whole point of the exercise is lost. Renewables are being promoted as a supplement to coal and nuclear, a ‘green goldrush’ that has more to do with capital accumulation than a transition to a post-carbon economy.
The problem is then compounded by suggestions that ‘domestic’ reductions might be met from projects elsewhere in the world, largely the global South. In essence, this suggests that the UK can meet the EU’s target of 20 per cent of renewables by 2020 through investments in schemes elsewhere – weakening the pressure that the target might otherwise impose for a reduction in power output from fossil fuel sources.
Yet wind farms off the coast of Scotland are not the same as wind farms in Maharastra, India – where large-scale renewable investments have already resulted in the appropriation of common land used for farming, without even providing local residents with electricity. Counting investment in such projects towards domestic targets is another form of offsetting – making the global South pay for over-consumption in the North.
It also provides a useful complement to industrial outsourcing. In effect, these renewables investments can be used to power factories that have relocated from the UK, driving a race to the bottom on labour conditions and wages, while at the same time artificially lowering UK emissions figures. Already, about a quarter of emissions in China are actually ‘exported carbon’ (according to a 2004 calculation by the Tyndall Centre) – generated in the making of products for export back to the North. It is worth recalling such figures when the G8 tries to hold industrialising countries like China and India responsible for the continued rise in global emissions.
At the G8 Summit the UK pledged funds towards a World Bank ‘clean investment fund’, which will promote investments in ‘clean coal’, as well as reintroducing the ‘conditional loans’ that, post-Seattle, global justice activists successfully discredited as holding the South to ransom.
It is hard to conclude from all this that we are winning. But what it points to is the need for a carbon movement that emphasises the repayment of our ecological debt to the South, and one that places climate justice at its heart.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry