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Climate change, corporations and profit

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent report. “Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.”

No surprises there, then. As Graham Readfearn points out in the Guardian the IPCC has been saying pretty much the same thing since its first report in 1990. The result? Since 1990, annual global emissions from fossil fuels have increased by 60%.

This time around, though, things are going to be different. Apparently. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said about the report,

“I hope these facts will – for want of a better word – jolt people into action.”

And John Kerry, US Secretary of State, put out a statement in which he said,

The clock is ticking. The more we delay, the greater the threat. Let’s make our political system wake up and let’s make the world respond.

And the co-chairman of the working group, Christopher B. Field, an earth scientist at Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, seems optimistic that good things will come out of this report:

“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do.”

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change came into existence two years after the first IPCC report. And in more than 20 years it has failed to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels.

But while governments may be slow to take action, corporations, banks and investment firms are jumping at the chance to profit from climate change. “Environmental pain might be corporate gain,” as Fred Pearce puts it in his review of Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by journalist McKenzie Funk.

Funk is a great journalist. The book is a beautifully written glimpse into our dystopian future. The companies that Funk looks at are not investing money to address climate change. Instead, they are figuring out ways of profiting from the climate crisis. Funk looks into investors buying up farmland in Africa, companies buying water rights in Australia and the USA, companies exploring for minerals in Greenland and for oil in the Arctic, companies building walls between countries to keep out climate refugees, snow makers from Israel, sea defence builders from the Netherlands, private firefighters, insurance firms, geoengineering firms, and scenario planners from Shell.

There’s not much in the book about either carbon trading or REDD. Which is a pity. It would have been interesting to read Funk telling, say, Pedro Moura Costa’s story and the US$10 million he made when he sold some of his shares in EcoSecurities, the carbon trading company that he co-founded. But maybe that’s a tale from a different age, before the collapse of carbon markets.

In a recent interview with Mother Jones, Funk explains that there are two messages that he hopes readers will take from his book. First, that mitigation is democratic, in that cutting emissions benefits everyone, but adaptation is “not at all democratic. In fact, it is deeply unfair.” For rich countries “to be able to buy our way out of this problem or to profit off it is systemically dangerous”, Funk argues.

Funk describes the second message from the book as not “a moral point, but sort of a practical point” – capitalism isn’t going to address climate change:

We can’t trust capitalism to just fix this. We can’t trust self-interest to fix this. If those who have the most to gain from climate change happen to be the ones who are emitting the most carbon — if I’m that person, am I really going to do too much about climate change, just to save myself?

 


CARTOON Credit: Kudelka.
 

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