REMEMBER a thing called climate change? It was the big issue way back before the pandemic, the lockdown, Black Lives Matter, the global outcry over the shooting of George Floyd, the (latest) fibs of Dominic Cummings, the pending economic collapse, and the stuttering debate about when to return to “normal”.

All this stuff – important stuff admittedly – has rather pushed global warming down the agenda. After all, a lethal virus lurking just outside your door takes precedence over other worries.

At the same time, the lockdown has given Mother Earth an unexpected relief from the ravages of global capitalism. For instance, in China – the original epicentre of disease – quarantines and travel bans resulted in an estimated 25% reduction in carbon emissions during the early phase of the lockdown.

This precipitate fall in CO2 discharge could save perhaps 77,000 lives in itself – close to China’s official Covid-19 death toll. A similar huge drop in carcinogenic nitrous oxide emissions from cars was also monitored. Of course, any eventual return to economic normality will ratchet up global emissions again, but for four or five months the planet got a bit of a reprieve.

My first worry is that this obvious side-effect of the lockdown will blunt efforts to reduce global warming. Eyes will be taken off the ball. Folk will come to believe the temporary cessation of industry due to the lockdown, followed by an economic slowdown slated to last well into the next decade, means our date with irrevocable climate change has somehow been put off. Certainly, it might buy us a few precious years to decarbonise and shift away from the rampant consumerism that is eating up the biosphere. But don’t bet on it.

To cap global warming at 1.5C over the start of the industrial capitalist era requires reducing CO2 emissions by 7.6% every year this decade. Alas, this year’s likely fall probably amounts to only a 5% reduction. Why is it so hard to reduce emissions? Even after the lockdown, the industrial cycle is geared to endless expansion of production and markets. This cycle takes place against a background of competition to the death with other corporations and economies.

If anything, the global economic downturn triggered by the lockdown will only intensify competition as companies vie for reduced markets. In this endeavour, companies will demand and receive help from their respective governments.

Already the pandemic has forced governments and central banks around the globe to print cash by the trillion to prop up affected businesses. The world is entering a new era of unbridled state capitalism. With little fanfare or media publicity, the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of England have all announced unlimited printing of money to save their respective economies. This amounts to the biggest state economic stimulus ever.

Consider the inveterate gambler who doubles his bet every time he loses, surmising he will recoup his losses eventually. It never works. But this is where the international economy is heading. Around the globe, governments and central banks are pouring in unlimited cash to protect “their” industry.

The result will be a massive, state-sponsored increase in global competition. It will end in a new wave of protectionism as the rival economic blocs seal off their markets from each other. Local resources will be pillaged to feed demand. Rising political tension will unleash a new arms race. These are not the conditions needed for global

co-operation in beating climate change. This is the point where Covid-19 and climate change intersect. Far from being two different emergencies, they are intimately and irrevocably linked.

For the pandemic has inadvertently created the conditions that will accelerate global economic competition; and with it, usher in a new stage of state capitalism and state intervention. These new material divisions are more likely to hinder the fight against global warming than encourage it.

THERE is an alternative vision. Across the world, pressure can be brought on governments to ensure the end of lockdown is used to refashion the global economy along different lines – ending the threat of competitive meltdown and decarbonising industry.

Already there is pressure from below to do this. On May 26, some 350 organisations representing more than 40 million health workers from 90 different countries wrote an open letter to the G20 leaders calling for any global economy recovery plan to focus on decarbonisation, and improving health and wellbeing rather than maximising output. Can the post-emergency world use the medical crisis to establish a new economic reality rather than reinforce the worst of the old?

Here, Scotland is now the eye of this storm. Next year’s postponed COP26 international summit in Glasgow, on November 1-12, will determine the fate of global co-operation on climate change.

As it stands, the prognosis does not look good. Big business knows that decarbonisation is inevitable but is pushing for a more gentle timetable and massive state subsidies to pay for it.

Of the top 10 most profitable companies in the world in 2018 (in terms of absolute earnings), seven were energy producers and two were car manufacturers. As far as they are concerned, the pace of change cannot be at the expense of profits.

Which explains why President Trump has already signalled the US will go its own way and ignore international co-operation on global warming.

Even if Trump is booted out in November, expect President Biden to arrive in Glasgow trailing bonhomie and false hope. Doubtless, Biden would arrive with his in-house climate change adviser, Heather Zichal, an energy industry insider, and a known opponent of radical New Green Deal policies.

READ MORE: COP26 conference delayed until November 2021 over coronavirus

Whether it be Trump or Biden, COP26 is chaired by the Tory UK Government’s obsequious Business Minister, Alok Sharma. A virtual political nonentity, Sharma is a former investment banker with Nikko Securities (which trades oil funds) and the Swedish bank SEB, where he worked in acquisitions and mergers.

Sharma has been a major supporter of a third runway at Heathrow. He also believes “there will be plenty of scope for expansion at other airports too”. Forget Sharma’s dissembling: Boris put him in charge of COP26 to drive a pro-business agenda.

Nevertheless, Glasgow in November 2021 is important as a focus for a mass movement to force governments along a different path. Tens of thousands of climate change activists will descend on Scotland.

Their debates will shape the future, perhaps more so than the crafted platitudes in the plenary sessions. Glasgow 2021 has to show the politicians that the world demands a different sort of economy from what it has now.

We might start here at home. Last week, the Common Weal think tank published a major report on what it calls “resilience economics”, as a path from lockdown to a new sort of Scottish economy based on self-sufficiency, cooperation, and local wealth building.

It argues that post-virus Scotland should not seek to return to an economic normal based mainly on exporting primary commodities and on tourism. Instead, we should turn to reinforcing local internal supply chains, so avoiding the repeated, debilitating shocks transmitted from the global neoliberal economy.

It’s a bold agenda. But the climate change emergency requires nothing less.