Siberia signals global dangers

Submitted by AWL on 22 July, 2020 - 7:31 Author: Zack Muddle
Siberian heatwave

Siberia has seen record-breaking heatwaves so far this year, over 5ºC above average. The Arctic is warming considerably faster than the global average, and researchers found that this heatwave “would have been almost impossible without human-induced climate change”.

Heatwaves on average kill tens — perhaps hundreds — of thousands of people around the world. They have been systematically under-reported in Africa, where the toll is likely higher than in Europe.

Arctic heatwaves and warming are driving rapid disappearance of sea ice, extreme forest fires and thawing of permafrost. Permafrost is carbon-rich. Its thawing releases methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, thus bringing higher temperatures and yet more thawing.

This all underscores the importance of a “green recovery” from the Covid-19 crisis, seizing the opportunities to reshape economies as they are booted back up again. One report suggests that an overwhelming majority of people in the UK would support recovery plans aiming to reduce emissions towards a net zero goal.

Yet globally, the opposite is happening. Environmentally “potentially damaging” stimulus packages still dominate the recovery measures compared to “green” ones. Without concerted organising to force a greener path, we can expect this trajectory to continue.

Depending on how you calculate it, China is the country with the highest emissions. (As an export-dominated economy, many of the emissions are part of the supply chains for goods consumed elsewhere.) It was also the first country to go into lockdown over Covid-19. Emissions fell 25% in the first six weeks following lockdown. Since then, CO2 levels have surged past pre-lockdown levels, to 4-5% higher in May 2020 than a year previously. The biggest drivers have been major increases in coal power use — construction of coal power stations has also increased — and from cement for construction.

It remains to be seen what the longer term trends will be, but a similar picture can be seen, for example, with coal in India, the world’s third largest emitter on the same metrics.

Some were hopeful earlier in the year that the lockdown and crisis would in themselves drive a faster phasing out of coal or fossil power in general. But systemic factors always meant it wouldn’t be so easy.

None of this is inevitable. The labour movement must fight, internationally, for energy sectors to be nationalised under democratic control, to rapidly phase out fossil fuels and transition to low-carbon energy sources.

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