By Alex Rutherford and Rose Tedeschi
THE RECENT Climate Change Committee (CCC) report to Parliament, demonstrates the UK’s abject failure to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. This is the third report of its type. Each one is essentially a ‘five year plan’ for adaptation to climate change. Sadly, even its limited recommendations are unlikely to be implemented by the British state, which is far more interested in the profits of the major corporations whose interests it defends, than the living conditions of its citizens.
The key findings of the CCC report are the following: that the second national adaptation programme has not adequately prepared the UK for climate change; that the impacts of extreme weather in the UK indicate the urgency of adapting to climate change; and that the next adaptation programme (which will be termed ‘NAP3’) must be much more ambitious, and fully embed adaptation across the UK economy. In a damning indictment of the current state of preparedness for the severe events that are coming, the report concluded that ‘no sectors are as yet well adapted to climate change’, and that ‘credible planning’ was only found for five of the 45 adaptation outcomes examined in the report (never mind the implementation of these plans!)
The UK lacks a strong strategy for managing agriculture, and recent shortages of imported vegetables have highlighted the exposure and vulnerability of food supply chains. As a result, the UK has seen increases in household food insecurity, which will likely magnify the impact of food price spikes and manifest in a further squeeze on low-income households.
Provisions for improving the water supply have fallen far short in delivering or implementing the adaptation outcomes. The water supply is further threatened by a failure to deal with leakages, resulting in large losses of water and a continuing state of drought in parts of the country. Of course, this is not to mention the increased risks to food security caused by the increasing great power rivalry, pandemics, and the reversal of globalisation, of which the huge impact of the war in Ukraine on global food supplies is just the latest example.
Flood risks are also largely being ignored, with new developments being built on areas at future risk. There is a severe lack of funding for flood safeguarding, and no clear mechanisms to monitor or mitigate impacts of abnormal weather and temperatures. There is a lack of policy to address overheating in existing homes, and local councils are failing to plan or report on climate adaptations. Transport systems and crucial infrastructure are also threatened by extreme weather events.
Healthcare has seen heat-related mortality at an all-time high. The small changes that have been made have only been recorded in hospitals. But other healthcare providers, like GPs, have failed to record the impact of high temperatures. Across all of these areas, some of the worst performing areas covered in the report, it is clear who will suffer from the effects of a lack of adaptation to climate change—as usual, the poorer households, the people who have to rely on public services, the people assigned to housing that is unsafe. In a nutshell, the working class. The report calls for increased incentives to drive investment towards adaptation from financial institutions, which fails to address the root of the problem: fossil-fuel based energy, and a profit-driven, environmentally destructive economic model.
By its nature as a parliamentary report to the British state, the solutions proposed by the report are either utopian or inadequately reformist. It talks for example of ‘community engagement activities (such as citizens assemblies) … to put fairness at the centre of efforts to implement a vision for a well-adapted UK’. and ‘the maintenance of energy sector codes and standards, with a clear mandate to ensure climate and weather resilience’.
These measures for mitigating rather than combatting and reversing the effects of climate change, capitalist agriculture and extractive industries are so pathetically inadequate because they start from the premise that the climate crisis can be resolved within the matrix of private interests which result from capitalist property relations. The state represents the interests not of the population as a whole, but rather of the capitalist class, many of whom are reliant on polluting industries to maintain their enormous profits.
The contradiction between necessary production for human need and preventing the long-predicted series of environmental disasters requires a general plan to eliminate the main causes of this looming climate catastrophe. But you cannot plan what you do not own. Thus the means of production and exchange must come into social ownership.
This in turn means a state that is not in the hands of the capitalist class and its bureaucratic servants. The state that can plan to combat and reverse climate change needs to be one under the control of working people. We need a workers’ government that serves the interests of the people not the private profit of a few super rich individuals, one which is able to mobilise the majority to implement a rational, sustainable plan of production.
While the report is of course very alarming for workers, we must also remember that it is not just Britain which needs to adapt to prepare for the impacts of climate change. As an imperialist robber nation, Britain has historically been one of the main contributors to global emissions and environmental degradation. We therefore have an urgent responsibility to the entire global working class and small farmers, particularly those in the semi-colonial world, to share our resources and technical knowledge to help the entire world adapt to the impacts of climate change.
As the recent flooding in Pakistan or the latest famine in the horn of Africa demonstrate, for billions of people throughout the world the impacts of climate change are not in some distant future—they are happening now. Semi-colonial countries are already seeing much more extreme weather than the UK, and their pleas for aid are largely ignored or only partially answered.
Although the new ‘loss and damage fund’ agreed in principle at COP27 is a major step forward in recognising the enormous debt owed by the imperialist countries to the semi-colonies, it is just a first step. We urgently need an internationally planned economy to direct the resources of the globe to reversing climate change, while protecting the most vulnerable from the devastation it causes.