Only states’ actions will stop climate change – stop blaming the individual.

Highly developed states, including the United Kingdom (UK) and United States of America (USA) are not doing enough to stop the full impact of a changing climate. We are repeatedly told, year after year, that our climate is changing, but states are acting with little urgency to combat this crisis. To stop further deterioration in our climate, we need states to act now with radical policy change. This inaction, however, can be attributed to the demands of the global economy, and at its core, capitalism. 

As Marx argued, in a capitalist system, there is an integral relationship between those who accumulate enormous wealth via ownership of factories and companies and those in political power. This is fundamental to the climate struggles of today. We witness the inaction of our political leaders to implement effective policies that will stop climate change because there is little personal incentive. The government agenda and its policies often reflect the interests of the affluent elite – for example, we regularly see ex-politicians, such as David Cameron, exploiting their connections by lobbying the government to support companies they work for. Our state leaders do not implement effective taxes on fossil fuels and taxes on the wealthy to support climate-friendly policies because they are familiar with the dynamic between political power and those who own powerful corporations. As we saw with Brexit and debates surrounding corporation tax levels, if the government even dares to raise this tax, corporations threaten to take their base of operations abroad or rescind political support, directly manipulating government actions. This is a new kind of political corruption in the 21st century, whereby the power to prevent catastrophic climate change is in the hands of the wealthy, political elite. 

We cannot ignore the role of states, being that they are the single most significant emitter of carbon dioxide – China being the largest emitter of carbon dioxide globally, second to the United States. With a growing interdependent global economy built on capitalist principles, we are seeing unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide emissions, the by-product of a consumerism which our planet ultimately cannot support in the long-term. The relative ease to consume an unlimited number of goods is indicative of our consumer culture, and directly fuels the enormous accumulation of wealth in the top 1%. The BBC reports that “Europe ‘takes too much of Earth’s resources’”, affirming that this level of consumption is not sustainable, with companies such as Amazon being reported to have ‘disclosed a 15% increase in its carbon footprint’. Very few – if any – governments effectively tax these corporations, so their operations and impact on the climate continue to be met with inaction.

Rather than address the ineptitude of the state’s response to climate change, the responsibility of climate consciousness has been placed onto the public, and by extension, the individual. The public is told to change significant aspects of our lifestyle – to change what we eat, how we get to work, anything to reduce our carbon footprint. This, however, cannot have a long and lasting impact on the climate without action being taken at the state level. Indeed, whether or not we believe individuals can make a lasting difference, the responsibility should first and foremost be placed at the government’s door as the body which can tackle fossil fuel consumption on a national scale and implement direct infrastructural change – for example, the installation of more electric car charging points. Earlier this year we saw a report which stated ‘Brits are eating far less meat’, contributing to a narrative surrounding individual change despite this change being relatively insignificant. It does not stop the vast emissions of carbon dioxide, whose primary contributors are ‘fossil fuels and industrial processes’ undertaken by states. The EPA states that this accounts for 65% of global emissions, whereas methane, associated with ‘agricultural activities’ including meat consumption, only accounts for 16%. 

The world’s most developed states are simply not doing enough, with climate scientists regularly reporting that we are running out of time. We need urgent action from states, as the impact of a climate change has already been felt in countries worldwide. The IPCC reports that: “Warming greater than the global average has already been experienced in many regions and seasons, with higher average warming over land than over the ocean”. The consequence of climate change on the environment has been well established. Wildfires regularly seen in countries such as Australia and US states such as California are now a regular occurrence, with “indirect ties to climate variability or climate change”. Yet it is those states which suffer from the impact of climate change which demonstrate negligible commitment. 

The responsibility is in the hands of a few, particularly those states in the energy sector who thus far have shown little promise. Saudi Arabia, for example, “commits to net zero by 2060”, but many say this will be ‘too little, too late’. Its response to climate change has been met with little rigor, as it has no intention of ending oil production which contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. Its deputy prime minister and crown prince Mohammad bin Salman “stressed that Saudi Arabia would continue producing oil and gas”, much to the distress of climate scientists and detriment to the climate. 

On October 25 2021, the UN published a damning report of states’ failure to tackle climate change, as the world is “set for 2.7oC warming”. As if the climate crisis wasn’t already urgent enough, we are on course for unprecedented global warming which will permanently change the climate unless states act immediately. Despite these reports, states are still relatively unresponsive – we only see “‘vague’ net zero promises” which do not meet the level of commitment required. The UN reports that there are “raising doubts over whether net-zero pledges can be delivered”. As António Guterres at the UN reports, we need states to be specific in their plans, and yet even now we are seeing states actively avoiding even their vague climate commitments. In the post-Brexit political climate, the current Conservative government has forsaken the wellbeing of the planet in its recent trade deal with Australia – the priority for the government is to protect the economy rather than encourage other states to fulfil their climate obligations. The BBC reports that the new trade deal “does not include an explicit commitment to limiting global warming this century to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels”, emphasising the lack of commitment to preventative climate change measures by both the UK and Australia respectively. Moreover, this encapsulates the inability for international agreements to hold states accountable to their climate commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Environmental groups therefore see this as further climate injustice – our political leaders are still pursuing economic policies that will come at the cost of the planet. 

So, what do states need to do to prevent catastrophic climate change? 

Ahead of the COP26 summit, the Secretary-General António Guterres has clearly outlined what states need to do. These actions include putting “a price on carbon and channel that back to creating green jobs” and to “decarbonize every sector – from power, to transport, farming and forestry”. These policies are not unachievable – they are needed to save our climate. Despite reductions in coal consumption and increased investment in wind power, the UK still has a long way to go. Greenpeace reports that “the move away from coal and gas and towards renewable energy needs to be scaled up dramatically”, with a reliance on fossil fuels still being relevant to many sectors of the economy, including transport. The UK must improve its own energy security by putting a halt to the import of fossil fuels and instead create a transport sector which is self-sufficient and climate friendly. The recent panic-buying of petrol highlights the UK’s reliance on oil which contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. It is the state which must work in conjunction with businesses to “decarbonise” the transport sector. Urgent action is also needed to tackle landfills, which are a significant contributor to methane emissions. The UK thus needs a huge recycling overhaul; infrastructural changes must be made to enable the public to effectively recycle both its hard and soft plastics and other recyclable materials. The UN reports that methane “has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide” which, if tackled properly, could “curb warming in the short term”. It states that “with broader structural and behavioural measures” it could reduce “anthropogenic methane emissions … by approximately 45 per cent”.

This is a climate crisis unlike any other which requires all actors – including states and businesses – to work together to implement effective policy changes which will be fundamental to saving the lives of future generations. States’ relative inability to act thus far demonstrates that the consequences already felt will continue to exponentially impact our futures, and many will ask: why didn’t they act when they could? States must now bear the responsibility of the current climate crisis by working in conjunction with businesses to enact effective policies which are urgently needed. They must act now.

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