Climate Watch #3: Trump’s axis of climate catastrophe VS a global Green New Deal

This year’s US Presidential election is of seismic importance. To put it bluntly the prospect of Donald Trump securing another four year term poses a truly dire threat to the future of human civilisation. A victory for Trump would accelerate the world towards climate catastrophe.

Trump is public enemy No.1 on climate change

  • Donald Trump represents the powerful interests of the fossil fuel industry and his orientation is to expand US production of oil and gas.
  • The US has become the world’s number one producer of oil and gas and the US Energy Information Administration is forecasting that US crude oil production will reach a new record high in 2020 and 2021. The big expansion of US fossil fuel production over the past decade is a result of the “fracking revolution.”
  • Trump’s recent trip to India (February 2020) underlines the damaging impact US expansion of fossil fuels is having globally. Trump is aiming to increase US oil and gas exports to India. Over the past couple of years India’s oil imports from the US have already increased 10-fold from 25,000 barrels per day to 250,000 barrels per day. Instead of importing more US oil and gas, India should be embracing the huge opportunities for a green and sustainable future by investing heavily to expand its renewable energy sector – for which the country has enormous potential to do.
  • It is this orientation of Trump towards the fossil fuel industry which drives his attempts to not only withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement but to try and wreck the whole process. That is why Trump will attempt to sabotage the vital climate talks at the UN COP26 meeting that is taking place in Glasgow later this year. With Britain chairing proceedings Trump has a reliable ally in Boris Johnson in an influential position to do his bidding.
  • Internationally Trump is building an axis of climate catastrophe – with US intervention in Brazil, Bolivia and Britain facilitating the coming to office of governments that will further undermine the struggle to tackle the climate emergency and joining the ranks of Saudi Arabia and Australia who are also part of Trump’s alliance against taking action to stop climate disaster.
  • The US has the biggest historic responsibility to make the fastest and deepest cuts in carbon emissions – being the largest all-time emitter of greenhouse gases. But under the current administration of Trump the US is heading in the opposite direction.

Humanity can be saved with a radical Green New Deal

The left globally is moving towards a consensus on what needs to be done to prevent climate catastrophe and save the planet. If we’re going to achieve the targets that have been agreed upon by the world’s leading environmental scientists – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent of current levels within a decade, and achieving net zero emissions by 2050 – we’ll need an enormous investment in green energy and energy efficiency, coordinated by governments and international bodies. In short, we need a Global Green New Deal.

China has taken some crucial steps in this direction over the last few years, with its world-leading investment in renewable energy and electric vehicles, as well as its work on reforestation. Over the last decade, China has reduced its reliance on coal from 80 percent of the power mix to 60 percent. While this is still high by international standards, it’s continuing to decline, largely thanks to the increased role of renewables: China was responsible for 32 percent of global renewable energy investment in 2018.

Beijing’s investment in renewable energy has been so extensive as to push prices down globally. Due to the economies of scale achieved (China accounts for around 70 percent of solar panel production), solar panels are now in many places the cheapest source of electricity. Meanwhile, China has been able to double its forest coverage from 12 percent in 1980 to 23 percent in 2018. More details can be found in Barbara Finamore’s very useful book, Will China Save the Planet?

China’s investment in renewables could provide a boost to US efforts to reduce its own environmental footprint (per capita CO2 emissions in the US are still double what they are in China). The availability of low-cost solar panels and associated technology could serve as a springboard for a vast rollout of solar energy, creating jobs, stimulating demand, and reducing emissions at the same time. Unfortunately, since Donald Trump supports fossil fuels and is desperate to slow down China’s growth, this project is currently going nowhere. That makes the Democratic primaries currently taking place even more important: not only is Bernie Sanders the only candidate that can beat Trump, but he’s the most committed to saving the planet from climate breakdown.

Sanders has spoken recently of a global Green New Deal: “a multilateral campaign to coordinate investment in green technology and make that technology widely available through long-term financing for the poor countries that currently depend on coal and other fossil fuels”. This is exactly the sort of vision the world needs the White House to have.

Domestically, Sanders’ plan involves moving purposefully towards full decarbonisation of transport and power generation by 2030, the effect of which would be to lower US emissions by over 70 percent. The projected cost of the investment needed is $16 trillion, which would be raised through a reduction in military expenditure, sales of green energy, and income taxes from the millions of jobs created under the plan.

Sanders’ plan is detailed and fully-costed, and aims to pay for itself within 15 years. In economic terms it’s important also to bear in mind that the cost of inaction – i.e. doing nothing now but having instead to pick up the bill for massive displacement, the rendering of whole cities as uninhabitable, dealing with the aftermath of ever more frequent extreme weather events – is far greater than the cost of taking serious pre-emptive action. Climate scientists and activists agree that this deal is exactly what’s needed to tackle the crisis.

The Sanders Green New Deal would create millions of good, unionised jobs and provide an unprecedented boost for the US economy. Needless to say, however, the dark forces of fossil fuel capitalism are desperately spreading fake news about how the deal would impoverish American families and increase fuel prices. These powerful voices will only get louder as Sanders continues to gain popularity. As such, defending the Sanders plan and debunking the myths put about by the US ruling class and its media hirelings is a key component of class struggle this year.

Plans for a new third runway at Heathrow are effectively dead in the water

Environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Plan B were successful in winning a case against the Tory government on several grounds – notably the government’s wilful failure to take into account its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement when supporting Heathrow expansion.

As the Guardian noted:

“The court’s ruling is the first major ruling in the world to be based on the Paris climate agreement and may have an impact both in the UK and around the globe by inspiring challenges against other high-carbon projects.”

This is a victory for a revitalised climate movement that is rightly making climate change one of the top issues in Britain.

What happens over the next few years is decisive in the fight against climate breakdown. Britain and all other developed countries that have contributed the most to the crisis have the greatest responsibility to act. That means ending investment in climate-wrecking projects such as Heathrow and road building schemes, and instead investing in high quality cheap public transport, 100% clean energy from renewables, and mass retrofitting insulating homes and installing low-carbon heating.

Prominent Labour MPs such as John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, and trade unions such as PCS, have been vocal against Heathrow expansion as incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. Unfortunately some of Britain’s larger trade unions along with a number of Labour politicians argued alongside the Tories and developers for investment in this climate-wrecking infrastructure on the grounds of creating jobs and growth. It’s clear there is still a significant job to do to ensure that the climate emergency is taken seriously throughout the labour movement. Enormous numbers of decent jobs and green growth can be created through large scale investments in clean transport and energy.

As Britain reels from flooding, Australia smoulders from fires and Trump organises an axis of global climate-denial socialists should organise for a global Green New Deal that can deliver climate justice, create green jobs, tackle inequality and drastically cut emissions. This victory against Heathrow expansion is a great battle to have won, but it’s very clear that we’ve got a long way to go to win the war of saving humanity from climate catastrophe.

Climate Watch is a new e-bulletin for the left published by Socialist Action. Sharing regular news, analysis and opinion on the global struggles to stop climate change.