Is there a political path towards Paris (COP 21 – December 2015)?

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The essential issue of transitioning to an ecological economic system that does not destroy the planet and climate has been deferred by the 2008 “crisis” (undoubtedly one of the numerous benefits the crisis gave banks and multinationals…) Not just deferred in terms of passions and agendas, but also, very concretely, in terms of efforts deployed. More than €1000 billion have been spent by European states to save the banks – money which could have been spent to transform our economy ….

So we are left today with inoperable technical responses (eg., the perverse effects of “carbon markets,” or the European Commission on CO² Emissions’ feeble commitments), or even references to personal responsibility which only lead to blaming and powerlessness (I can put on a heavy pullover and lower the heat, but what’s the sense if my government encourages industry to maintain production methods which pollute in one second a thousand times what I could save in a year… ?)

Nevertheless, there’s no longer any doubt that greenhouse gas emissions (and more so an economy based on plunder, waste and pollution) are destroying our habitable areas and vital resources. Faced with this danger, next year’s Paris Conference will be determinative. If it is a failure, we will have lost one of the greatest challenges of our time. And it seems as though Paris will be a failure1, if there isn’t a powerful social movement providing a solution encompassing the following:

1. A comprehensive political option (not just an adjustment to the present system) that truly affects the plunder of resources and pollution
2. That is realistically financed (not a list of pious devotions)
3. That responds not only to the urgency of the ecological situation but also to the basic needs of full-time and precarious workers, in both poor and rich countries. Demanding that workers choose between the climate or their jobs, salaries, and families’ security will lead to losing both.

In this context, it seems encouraging that plans are being published, based on the following double point:

  • austerity is an economic failure after having socially ravaged numerous countries – and so the demand, even in management and financial sectors, is for massive investment
  • saving the banks demonstrated that when governments really want to find the money (a great, great deal of money!), it’s not a problem…

The first issue is obviously to assess how these plans respond to the 3 conditions proposed above. We present here a short analysis of two projects: the “a new path for Europe” plan proposed by the CES, and the “thousand billion for the climate” proposal advanced by Pierre Larrouturou. Details on these proposals can be found on the sites mentioned (see below).

There remains a second issue, affecting social movements throughout the world and clearly stated by the Alter Summit and its members: if an appropriate plan exists, will there be a strong enough, long-term (from now on), highly coordinated commitment to enforce it? What we definitely need is not just a “plan,” but an entire planet!

It remains to be seen what kind of wide-ranging and truly European coalition can be constructed around one or the other of these plans. It’s notable that at this stage, neither of the proposals described here has developed much concerning 3 issues that undoubtedly deserve further discussion by the movements:
1. What must be developed? Of course home insulation, but what else? Transportation development? What kind? And which activities should be reduced in return? In short, what are the essential goals of an economic policy for a “just transition”?
2. How should democratic discussion about these economic policy issues be held? How to avoid it only being a panel of experts, with little chance of building a large consensus among the people….
3. Finally, like in Tim Jackson’s bestseller 5 years ago, and in nearly all discussions about the “transition,” we’re not speaking here about the driving force that runs this wasteful and destructive economic system: the insatiable need to accumulate capital. Without a doubt, couldn’t we all ask of a proposal… that wanting a transition without seeking the means to bring capital under control, would be a little like putting out a fire without stopping the pyromaniacs?

By Felipe Van Keirsbilck
(Translation by Danica Jorden)

The CES Plan A new path for Europe
The CES begins with the fact of austerity policies’ total failure: “Average salaries falling in 18 EU member states over the last 5 years, with rising poverty and inequality: The EU and European governments’ response to the financial crisis and the debt has been to cut public spending (…)”

The CES wants to believe that even EU leaders are conscious of this failure: “Economic growth is nearly zero. The economy is contracting in Germany, stagnating in France, and Italy is experiencing a new recession. European leaders are starting to realise that austerity is not working.” Based on this, they propose an investment goal of 2% of the EU’s GDP over a ten year period, or about 10 x €250 billion for “a massive investment plan that combines public and private funds necessary on both the European and national level.”

Billions to do what? The CES composed a list of possible investments:
• Transformation of energy sources;
• Transportation networks and infrastructures;
• Education and training;
• Development of broadband networks;
• Future industrial support adapted for small- and medium-sized businesses;
• Public and private services (for ex., urban renewal, healthcare and social services);
• Infrastructure and housing for the elderly;
• Public housing;
• Promotion of sustainable water management.
— -
A thousand billion € to « Save the climate »
P. Larrouturou takes another starting point, which is money creation: “to save the banks, the European Central Bank provided 1000 billion euros between December 2011 and January 2012. In July 2014, the ECB announced it would provide another 1000 billion at “zero” percent interest. Since it could be done for the banks, why not for the climate, lowering our bills and creating employment …” He recalls, “that in ten years, more than 2,600 billion were created by private banks and for private banks – and nothing by the member states. It is time to return money creation to serving the public good rather than in service of the banks,” proposing a pact “that would allow each nation state to borrow 1% of its GDP at 0 percent interest each year for 20 years through a European investment bank.” So this would be total amounts similar to those discussed by the CES (here 125 billion per year for 20 years, the CES 250 per year for 10 years.)

The idea of relaunching public money creation is becoming less and less controversial (the EESC discussed that path in its latest notice on financing the transition to other sources of energy), and it would be “possible without changing the Treaties: the ECB could make the loan to the European investment bank, which in turn would loan to member states.” One issue remains however: a zero interest debt is good, but it is still a debt, something today forbidden to almost all member states by the sinister TSCG.
Billions to do what? To insulate buildings, develop renewable energy and research renewable energy on a European level, as well as transportation and energy efficiency: “the transition to alternate energy could possibly be a source of savings (up to 1,000 € per household per year, according to the European Commission) and create employment (200,000 key jobs in France alone …).”

Another characteristic of the proposal to “save the climate” is seeing the willingness of movements and citizens to support it. The idea (disastrous in my opinion) to submit to an ECI (European Citizens’ Initiative – a measure provided by the treaty, but run and secured by the Commission) was abandoned by project initiators.