Après Paris

Jeremy Corbyn’s Paris’ meeting with Naomi Klein is the closest the Climate Summit will come to the Storming of the Bastille.

Paris is a City under siege. Everyone and their dog is there, with ideas about how much (or how little) we should do to secure human existence on this planet.

A billionaire’s club has turned up with a business bailout plan. Nuclear lobbyists fill the corridors with bankrolled delusions of how only a nuclear renaissance can save us all. And global leaders haggle over every small departure from ‘business as usual’.

The non-salvation army

The Saudis want the afterlife to be based on oil. India and Poland want it full of coal. Aviation and shipping want to pretend their carbon footprints don’t exist. And poorer nations just ask where adaptation and mitigation funding will come from.

In their hearts, neo-Cons believe that salvation can only be found in a Free Trade Agreement, so prefer a distracting debate on distinctions between ‘the poor’ and ‘the vulnerable’. Britain doesn’t particularly care about the outcome, just as long as speculators in the City don’t get asked to pick up the bill.

If the world could be saved by dots, commas and conditional clauses, the Paris Summit would do it. But it can’t. At best, Paris will leave the planet with a 1C overshoot into climate chaos, and a figleaf promise to come back and try do better.

Another world is possible

In contrast, both Corbyn and Klein bring a more urgent message: it is that the game of global governance itself has to change. And this is what global leaders find so hard to face.

Across the planet, millions of people are looking for a bigger plan. They represent the antidote to a Summit which again (sadly) demonstrates the inability of the rich to abandon its addictions to oil and exploitation. But this a movement that also needs both clarity and leadership.

Blame and recrimination will not fill this space. It requires vision and courage.

Post-1945, global institutions were re-configured to deliver stability, re-construction and the avoidance of war. Today, a new institutional framework is needed to bring an end to the war we are waging upon ourselves. This is far more than a dot and comma exercise.

Corbyn took his own shopping list of ideas for this to Paris. Its presumptions are straightforward.

The world has to tax ‘bads’ far more than taxing ‘goods’.

It needs markets where non-consumption takes priority over more consumption.

Global institutions must be freed from narrow national constraints, taxing monies that move internationally and using them as funding streams to deliver climate stability and repair.

Taxing carbon (and double taxing those who subsidise non-renewable energy sources), and

Re-founding the World Trade Organisation within a remit that unambiguously puts ‘world’ before ‘trade’.

This is the space that cries out for a modern French Revolution. Amusingly, it is the one space in which the rich, as well as the poor, will find ‘security’.

Life beyond the playground

Far beyond the preoccupations of his Parliamentary Labour Party, Corbyn knows that this is what today’s real politics is all about. The generations that follow won’t give a toss how he ties his tie, what he sings in the bath, or whether he kneels before the Queen. They will bother about whether they have air fit to breathe, storms they can survive, energy they can replenish and eco-systems they live in harmony with.

Sadly, this will not be the coverage given to Corbyn’s speech. Britain’s parliamentary press corps is now little better than a festering of gossip columnists. Obsessed with trivia, it hunkers down with MPs who, in all honesty, have little to bring to big picture politics. Commentary struggles to get beyond the playground politics of personal ambition and bile.

For the third time in a decade, great swathes of Northern England (and Scotland) are submerged in ‘once-in-100-year’ floods. But Britain’s ‘upstream’ flood defence/avoidance budgets have been consistently cut. Britan has no Climate Resiliance Plan. And its Chancellor is more obsessed with selling off the Green Investment Bank than using it as the bedrock of a different economics.

At £3m a throw, he will send an unlimited number of planes to bomb Syria. But no such unlimited pot will be found to rescue and rebuild the lives of citizens in Carlisle. The climate politics that should be the centrepiece of strategy never gets beyond the level of special pleading.

You don’t need a Weatherman

Internationally, you can say the same about political responses to drought in California, Ethiopia or in Kenya. It applies equally to crop failures and climate turbulence almost anywhere. Wherever you look, the planet comes last.

Like it or not, the world must enter the Age of Reparation; an epoch in which survival itself will depend on our ability to put back far more than we have presumed to take out.

Corbyn knows this. And in quiet, non-abusive terms, it is the message he brings to every meeting. When he warns that ...”Human fortunes will evaporate like water under a relentless sun if climate change is not checked soon”, Corbyn knows that a queue of ‘colleagues’ will instantly denounce him as the would-be destroyer of markets. Few will bother to check that it was the IMF saying this, not Marx, Lenin or Mao.

Across the country, tens of thousands of people voted for Corbyn because he stands for something better. When I look at my children, I hope we have the sense to do as he asks; to think – boldly, radically – for ourselves. When I look at the state of parliament, I’m not sure we do.

Alan Simpson

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