The COP26 meeting has been taking place in Glasgow, Scotland since 31 October. The conference takes place almost three months after the publication of the first part of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that dominated international news and public debate. The IPCC scientists point out that the role of human action in the climate crisis is indisputable, that much of the damage caused and the processes in motion are already irreversible, and that the trend is for the conditions arising from the crisis to worsen in coming years. It is also clear from the report that the next few years are crucial for avoiding the most devastating effects of the climate crisis. To stay within the “acceptable” limits (preferably 1.5ºC, maximum 2ºC), there must be international cooperation for a radical transformation of the way society is organized at various levels: energy matrix, food production, land management, preservation, reforestation, means of transport, and others.
In addition to the burden placed on this year’s meeting by the opinion of the IPCC, the COP also has the important responsibility of making a first assessment of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015, and whether signatory countries have implemented changes and actions compatible with the goals set by this treaty. All these issues, along with a summer full of extreme weather events that caused destruction and death in the northern hemisphere, put a greater burden on COP26 than on any other climate conference ever held.
Despite the importance of concrete and coordinated action for containing the climate emergency, what COP26 has demonstrated is a repetition of old practices hoping to get new results. What prevails at this year’s meeting is a heavy wager on the “carbon market”, on “green investment funds”, and the financialization of nature that results. Essentially, what all these measures propose is the continuation of pollution just as before, a shifting of the burden to the countries on capitalism’s periphery, and the maintenance of the profits of those most interested in continuing the destruction that has led us to this point: the big businesses and investors in the fossil fuel industry and those businesses that derive from it. For two decades false solutions such as carbon markets have been applied without any significant result, and their ineffectiveness in reducing carbon emissions is evident.
The central focus on financialization is one further step in investing in ineffective measures of “green capitalism” that subordinate ecological protection and the tackling of the climate crisis to the interests of investors and shareholders. Thus, any initiative to mitigate the effects of the emergency we are experiencing must first be approved not with scientific criteria derived from climate science, or with social criteria derived from environmental justice, but first and foremost with economic criteria arising from the standards of capitalism.
Another aggravating factor is the consensus around placing the solution to the crisis in the hands of companies. Even though the COP is held under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), and therefore, the signatory countries to the convention, private investment has always had an important space within these meetings. This year, with the continuation of proposals that are centrally focused on market mechanisms, the tendency is to deepen the dependence on the private sector.
Besides the ineffectiveness already mentioned, this in particular places countries on capitalism’s periphery at the mercy of private interests, making them subject to global financial market speculation and leaving them with considerably less power to influence these issues. While countries at the center of capitalism will be able to rely on partnerships with the private sector, the countries on the periphery will be exploited within this dynamic, only further deepening their subordination to imperialism.
Brazil at the COP26
The ecological destruction caused by the Bolsonaro government is unprecedented in the country’s recent history. After assuming the presidency and taking over the Ministry of the Environment, this government has implemented a clearly defined project of deregulating protection agencies, making inspection and enforcement more difficult, harassing and persecuting civil servants, drawing the government closer to the companies and individuals involved in illegal deforestation, and facilitating ‘garimpos’ (small scale, informal mining). These and many other actions can be summed up in one word: ecocide. With the rates of forest clearing and burning breaking all historical records, the government has managed to make the Amazon Forest emit more carbon dioxide than it captures. Given the importance of the preservation of all forest systems for combating climate catastrophe, the carbon-capturing capacity of the Amazon is even more vital.
The fact that ecological destruction in Brazil is at such a level that the Amazon now “contributes” to atmospheric pollution is a clear sign of the current government’s barbarity. The replacement of Salles for Joaquim Leite as the minister did not bring any change in the project carried out by the government, on the contrary, it demonstrates full continuity with it.
Taking advantage of the fact that the byword is the financialization of nature, the Brazilian government is betting everything on what, within capitalist logic, is considered one of the greatest riches in the “green market”: the forests. As the Bolsonaro government deliberately acts to destroy these systems, which has caused justified international concern, Brazilian forests gain “value” in the market. Brazil is already undergoing a rapid process of the privatization of its forests, seen in schemes such as the Program for Structuring Concessions of State Parks set up by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), and ‘Adote um Parque’ (Adopt a Park).
Both programs aim to hand Brazilian forests over to the private sector and follow capitalism’s age-old practice of making something public as precarious as possible to then sell it off later. By passing the responsibility of preserving these natural areas to companies, the right to determine how to preserve them, what will actually be preserved, and the relationship of these areas in the already established socio-environmental context are also passed on. All this is now left to the decisions of the private sector.
The situation tends to get worse with the entrance of national forests into the logic of carbon markets. Under the banner of environmental protection, the great international powers and the private sector will prioritize Brazilian forests in their efforts to compensate for their own emissions. But in the same way that national programs do not guarantee the maintenance of already established socio-environmental relations – such as the relationship of local, original and traditional communities with the region – these international policies do not guarantee climate justice for the nations of the global periphery that will have their nature negotiated and traded. The only guarantee is that foreign interference will dictate the way in which preservation takes place in Brazil, all while the devastation of nature and emission of more and more greenhouse gases continue. This is all done, of course, with the consent and interest of the Brazilian government.
The most exclusionary COP
The world witnessed the largest climate demonstrations ever in 2019. These demonstrations mobilized millions of people, especially young people, around the planet, and brought the climate issue to the center of international political debate in a way that had never before occurred. Their impact was felt at the COP25 meeting of 2019. The expectation was that these protests would occur again in 2020 and put pressure on the COP26 meeting originally scheduled to take place that year. However, the pandemic completely changed the situation and abruptly interrupted the rise of the climate struggles, and postponed the COP until now.
There are already many complaints and claims about the exclusionary and anti-democratic nature of the current COP meeting. The previous editions were hardly milestones in democracy, but the COP26 has drastically reduced the possible space for intervention by civil society movements and organizations. With the pretext of the pandemic, conference organizers have done everything to keep the meeting as far removed from the participation of anyone with minimal popular support as possible. With the impacts of the 2019 protests and the gradual resumption of street demonstrations, the anti-democratic character of the current meeting may be preventive: to keep popular participation well away from the private business and the profit. As Greta Thunberg points out on her Twitter: “COP26 has been named the most excluding COP ever. This is no longer a climate conference. It is a Global North greenwash festival.”
For a real alternative
We are on the edge of an abyss, but instead of stopping, we are picking up the pace. The seriousness of the climate crisis is evident; it is no longer just a possible future, but a concrete reality that is already beginning to demonstrate its most destructive effects. Unfortunately, with each passing year, the situation only tends to get worse, and the very possibility of the perpetuation of the human species is at risk. We have much to change, but little time to implement such changes. Meetings like the COP, which can bring the main world leaders together in the same room, should be where the boldest and most audacious projects and the most effective initiatives are proposed. However, what is seen is a veiled denialism disguised under the cloak of “green capitalism” and market solutions. Even when proposals that can really have an impact are made, such as seen in the Paris Agreement, the result always falls short.
What should be clear from all of this is the need to propose a real alternative to the climate crisis. Not an “equilibrium” between profit and preservation, but a project that puts life at the center of any initiative and concern. Capitalism is not capable of offering any solution that moves in this direction. The seriousness of the climate crisis imposes on us the historic challenge of completely transforming the foundations of today’s society. Ultimately, this means overcoming the system itself.
Any way out of the climate crisis will not come from those who caused it, and even less through old solutions that have already proved to be failures. The way out can only be built through popular mobilization that is constructed by the First Nations peoples, the black population, and the periphery of the world. Those who profit want to continue profiting, but their profit is our death. It is up to us to say enough is enough! If their road is one of extinction, ours must be ecosocialism. A real and sustainable alternative to barbarism.