The postponement of COP-26 in Glasgow, announced this week, is a decisive defeat for the longstanding impotent institutionalism made evident by the climate crisis.
Faced with such an overwhelming health crisis as the Covid19 pandemic and with an economic recession that threatens to pale the Great Depression in comparison, the British government has decided to postpone the climate summit. The conclusion must be this: governments and institutions still deal with the climate crisis as if it didn’t exist, despite the unequivocal fact that the worst scenarios for climate change are being surpassed even before the predicted times in which they were supposed to occur.
The health crisis has swept the climate crisis out of the media and the public debate, and with the succeeding economic and social crisis this tendency will be further exacerbated.
The climate crisis is civilizational and existential.
This is a high level of alienation that is structural and constitutive of the system of production and social organization that dominates the globe today. The climate crisis is civilizational and existential. The resolution of the health crisis will not solve the climate crisis. The resolution of the economic and social crisis will not solve the climate crisis. If the climate crisis is not resolved, no other crisis will be solved. The conditions for the existence of civilization as we know it will cease to exist. The word ‘crisis’ will lose its meaning.
Therefore, to postpone a summit for logistics and health reasons that has for the last quarter of a century presented itself at the political centre of the struggle against climate change, instead of searching for another way to proceed with the negotiations is the final confirmation of the culture of defeat that is instilled in these institutions and governments. The previous 25 years were ones of negotiation failure, since emissions only dropped once (in the 2008 financial crisis). The postponement of 2020 is the sign needed for a final rupture with institutionalism as a means to stop climate collapse.
While the COP is postponed, initiatives to break or rescind the frail initiatives that represented any form of advancement have blossomed in recent years: in the US, Trump uses the excuse of the Covid19 crisis to stop regulation on automobile emissions. In China the stimulus packages for economic recovery will heavily rely on large-scale infrastructure projects and probably on reinforcing the Belt and Road Initiative.
Initiatives to break or rescind the frail initiatives that represented any form of advancement have blossomed in recent years.
In the EU, carmakers’ association ACEA, led by DieselGate’s own Volkswagen have demanded a slow down on the implementation of new regulations for CO2 emission cuts in their vehicles. The oil and gas sector will be confident of bailouts in Canada and the US, as the price war takes its heavy toll on expensive non-conventional extraction. Most governments can only think about how to recuperate economic growth through the burning of more fossil fuels, bailing out and nationalizing the industries that guarantee our collapse.
“Glasgow Agreement”: an alternative to institutionalism
This is the time for climate justice movements to create a very necessary alternative to institutionalism. It is time for them to create an agreement amongst themselves to guarantee emissions cuts through social power, after decades of institutional impotence.
Direct action and civil disobedience must be at the centre of this initiative. Climate justice, articulating social justice, historic responsibility and level of development is the framework necessary for the creation of a socially just transition to avoid climate collapse and the crushing of the peoples of the world.
We need to cut 50% of the global 2018 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. A group of grassroots climate justice movements have been working for a while on such a proposal, under the original name of the “Glasgow Agreement”. It will possibly need to change its name, but we will push it onwards. It is necessary for the most powerful revolutionary social movement ever seen to substitute this for the impotent Paris Agreement.
There are no political vacuums. Governments and institutions have “suspended” the struggle against climate change, as if physics, chemistry and biology could be suspended. The movement needs to occupy this space and lead the way. The institutions that for decades have sat and blocked the path to victory are no longer in the way. It is time to fight to win.
This article was originally published in Open Democracy on 6 April 2020.