Drunk driving at G8

Oxfam's Kate Raworth gives her take on the achievements of the G8 summit and compares the outcome to

"After today's G8 summit we agreed to set the aim for a reduction of the entire global emissions of gases to 50 per cent by 2050, as a target to be taken up by the entire world".

This was Japan's Prime Minister Fukuda speaking on behalf of the G8 leaders last Tuesday. What an extraordinary situation: eight people from eight countries setting policy with such huge implications for the whole world. But hey, they said they would halve global emissions – that's got to have been a good thing, right?

Wrong.

First, it's not even a policy. Without stating a base year to make cuts against, it is meaningless. Without setting a mid-term target for 2020, it is un-ambitious. And without a commitment that rich countries will take on the biggest share of cuts, it is unjust. South Africa's environment minister rightly dismissed it as 'an empty slogan without substance'.

The world's climate scientists are clear: we need global greenhouse gas emission cuts of at least 80% against 1990 levels by 2050 in order to stay safely below 2 degrees warming. By "safely" they mean we would still have up to a one-in-three chance of overshooting into dangerous climate change. But this is the safest target anywhere close to being on the table for discussion.

In 1990, global greenhouse gas emmissions were 36 Gigatonnes of CO2e. They're 47 Gt today and rising. By 2050, therefore, they must be just 7 Gt for "safety". Yes, it is hugely ambitious. But the alternative is to choose an irreversible increase in floods, droughts, hurricanes and sea-level rise, which would cause chronic food shortages, water scarcity, homelessness, and health crises for well over one billion of the world's poorest people for generations to come.

So what is the G8 actually proposing?

If they mean that we should halve global emissions by 2050, measured against 1990 levels – the most generous reading we could give to their words – then we would end up with 18 Gt of greenhouse gases in 2050. That's more than double the safe limit.

Or, if what they actually mean – and it's only too possible – is that we halve emissions by 2050, but only starting from now, then that will put us more than three times over the safe limit, at 23 Gt.

This is equivalent to a serious, jailable offence of intentionally drunk driving – and with the rest of the world forced to ride in the back seat. In any other situation, the police would take away their car keys.

Kate Raworth is Oxfam's senior researcher on climate change

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times