Suits weren’t the only baggage I brought to COP26. The deep scepticism I brought to Scotland about the likelihood of sensible policies being proposed at the summit, and the subsequent future of our global economy and environment, weighed heavy on me. But despite the gas-guzzling car cavalcades, Presidents and Prime Ministers napping, and China and India’s inaction on coal, free-market fringe events meant COP26 can be considered a success for clean capitalism.
The abolition of my apathy began at Britain’s largest in-land windfarm, in Whitelee. I dispelled my visual opposition to turbines with an electric bus tour through the rewilded landscape; with integrated sheep farming, and “rights to ramble” permissions for bikers and dogwalkers. The turbines were even placed in consultation with the RSPB, to not disrupt bird migration patterns. In conversations with technicians, we heard how even the renewables industry backs nuclear as a baseline for the grid while their inertia generation and battery storage capacity play catchup.
Politicians setting 2050 targets have acted like spoiled kids who set a date for their birthday celebrations, then force all their friends to plan the party, before showing up at the last minute to claim all the credit, criticise the music, and bring China as their unannounced plus +1 to drinks everyone else’s beer. As a young person in the policy sphere, who isn’t marching in the streets for eco-socialism, I’d often felt like my invite had been lost in the mail. I’ve spent the last eighteen months isolated not only from my peers, but from the audience for — and consequences of — my articles and advocacy efforts. I approached COP feeling disaffected and nihilistic; believing politicians’ commitments to wealth redistribution and social control left no room for effective and ethical approaches to conservation.
But my attitude changed when politicians and professionals attended our youth-led fringe events. The likes of the British Conservation Alliance, American Conservation Coalition, and C3 Solutions assembled in Edinburgh and Glasgow for the Youth Environment and Global Conservative Climate summits. I moderated panels and had conversations with leading economists, renewables innovators, and sitting senators, who thanked us for doing something so simple as speaking to them sensibly from a fresh young perspective. Scottish Power even took notice of our Whitelee visit; meaning market solutions proposed by young voices are on the radar of state-partnered industry experts.
COP26 was a crucial opportunity for international collaboration on conservation efforts. While various countries’ commitment to reducing fossil fuel consumption is laudable, many contentions in the COP26 resolutions remain insufficient or unresolved. The abstinence of Presidents Xi and Putin, and defection by China and India from 2040 coal abolition targets, mean pledges remain disproportionate to polluters. The compromised resolution continues to enable state-sanctioned environmental degradation. The inability to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies discourages transitioning to sustainable energy technologies, and squanders tax revenue on emissions which end more lives annually than smoking.
Ethical and effective free-market policies must be the fulcrum on which negotiations rest if we aim to conduct a just transition to net zero. Reframing environmental issues as a national and energy security imperative becomes a vote-winning issue for politicians. But this is only possible through a free and fair trade framework.
Supply-side tax cuts and the ratification of Article 6 of the Paris Accords must be enacted to encourage the private sector participation in cultivating important innovations. So long as clean capitalism is treated like a pariah by elected leaders and vocal activists, important innovations and infrastructure will go underfunded and unadopted. This means waning global prominence for the developed world; and increasing reliance on China’s predatory Belt & Road loans for developing nations.
The Earth now rests as a burden on the shoulder of conservatives, whose elected representatives have largely forgotten the etymological roots of their movement in the concept of Conservation. The Republicans’ climate caucus remains remarkably small, given its youth base’s concern for climate issues. Meanwhile, in the UK, the Conservatives aren’t using their dominant government mandate to enact fiscally responsible policies. They’ve forgotten the wisdom of Thatcher, who was as concerned with state spending as she was with conserving Britain’s greenery.
When Amber Rudd was asked at the Global Conservative Climate Summit if she’d considered supply-side tax cuts as a way of funding carbon-neutral infrastructure alternatives, she said nobody in the party had heard that idea. The intricacies and application of the Clean Capitalist Leadership Council’s clean assets bonds idea are a novel proposition; but the fact that lowering supply-side taxes was never discussed by a supposedly free-market party is perplexing.
Our voices have been excluded from the climate conversation long enough. We have the right answers: they just need to reach the right ears in the right rooms.
Obviously we’d all rather governments finance these vital innovations with supply-side tax cuts, instead of picking winners (and often choosing losers) by pilfering working people’s paycheques for grants and subsidies. There is enough technology, capital, and motivation to counter conserve our ecosystems; but governments must rescind market intervention, and empower investors and innovators through frameworks which incentivise environmental consciousness with a profit motive. If we are to conserve a world worth living in, we must solve any climate crises with freedom as a first principle. And, fortunately, our COP26 fringe events asserted that as their foremost argument.
International corporate tax extortion rackets, energy insecurity, and eco-authoritarian policies like “emissions lockdowns” and consumer carbon credit caps are the present political agenda. But as the likes of Piaget and Hayek agreed: enforcement costs involved in instantiating planned economies will deplete our Keynesian political class of energy eventually. The alignment of markets with inalienable human rights means the two operate in effective and ethical tandem. The universal utility of free association, speech, and trade cannot be ignored forever, and can never be erased.
COP’s fringe events were a success, and a cause for optimism on climate policy. All that’s required now is for those market voices on conservation issues to penetrate and percolate the UN’s main event, and have the self-evidentiary superiority of their solutions outshine inefficient socialist spending. As a young conservationist, the encouragement shown by those attending the Youth Environment Summit made me more optimistic about my future. Now let’s turn that principled advocacy into practical action.
Connor Tomlinson is the Policy Director for the British Conservation Alliance, and a Young Voices UK contributor. He makes regular appearances in American Spectator and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson