More than 130 of the leaders of the world’s nations are about to sign the Paris agreement on climate change, New Politicshad the opportunity to interview Daniel Tanuro, the founder of Climate and Social Justice, a Belgian based environmental organization and author of Green Capitalism, Why it Can’t Work. Tanuro’s writings on ecosocialism are well known to those in the European ecosocialist movements. New Politics co-editor Dan La Botz had an opportunity to interview Tanuro about the Paris agreement at the Swiss Solidarity Spring University.
New Politics: Do the Paris agreements begin to solve the environmental crisis?
Tanuro: No. The Paris agreement won’t solve the climate crisis. The nations signing the agreement have adopted the goal of a global temperature increase of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. But this is a phony claim. The important things in this agreement are the INDCs, that is the “intended nationally determined contributions,” or each nation’s contribution to reducing the global temperature. If one takes the INDCs and globalizes them and make projections on that basis, the likely increase in warming will between 2.7 and 3.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, or double what the agreement says.
There are among the world’s leaders, some smart people, who understand the seriousness of global warming and the threat it poses to the capitalist system. For example, the former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore; Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England; and Nicholas Stern, a professor at the London School of Economic. They want to fight within the bourgeoisie over climate change. The Paris agreement is a victory for this current. Their problem will be to find a way to make up the difference between the goal of 1.5 degrees of warming and the INDCs 2.7 degrees, which is the overall objective of the agreement. If they’re serious in their strategy against climate change, they will have to find ways to make up that difference, at least partially.
NP: How might they that do that?
Tanuro: It’s extremely difficult because given the climate budget remaining for this century, in order to have a 66% chance of achieving the 2 degree goal, the world must emit less than 1,000 gigatons (GT) of carbon between 2011 and the end of the century. The carbon budget for 1.5 degrees is only 400 GTs. The annual emissions at present are about 40 GTs, so the remaining budget today for 2°C is about 800 GTs and for 1.5°C only about 200 GTs.
To stay within those budgets is totally incompatible with capitalism because it is incompatible with growth, and capitalism without growth is a contradiction in terms. There’s no doubt that the carbon budget will be exceeded, so the only way to try to fill the gap, even partially, between 1.5C and 3.7°C will be the use of the so-called “negative emissions technologies.” That’s why I say the agreement is not only insufficient, but it entails new threats, threats from geo-engineering on the one hand and threat of a massive appropriation of the ecosystems to capture carbons on the other.
NP: What do you mean by geo-engineering?
Tanuro: The British Royal Society’s definition is this: Geoengineering is human intervention to change the climate system. The massive use of fossil fuels from the beginning of the industrial revolution until today was a kind of geo-engineering, so those who want to stop global warming will have to find something similar to reverse our current direction.
NP: They need a technological solution then. Is there one?
Tanuro: Yes, there are various things that can be done. The first thing would be planting trees, for example. Some research suggests that one could capture10 GTs of carbon yearly simply through the planting trees on a massive scale.
But, there are two social problems with this. One is the appropriation of ecosystems and the other is competition with other land use, such as the production of food, of course. The appropriation of ecosystems would mean a new era of enclosures, something like Marx’s description of “primitive accumulation of capital.” For example, in Africa, where this is already happening, businesses investing in the carbon market expropriate the land from farmers and then turn those former farmers into workers to plant trees.
We should be very critical of this approach because of its social implications. But there are also environmental issues. They aren’t planting forests. They’re engaging in monoculture, that is, planting just one specie such as eucalyptus tress. Or they may plant genetically modified fast-growing trees. I think we should oppose all GMOs, including trees, because new problems can be introduced. If one, for example, one introduces GMO trees, they might create new allergies that would affect humans