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The growing disconnect between China (as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation / SCO) and the West is now self-evident but it is worth noting that confrontation is now shifting to the climate change agenda. One of the central tenets of establishment ‘Westism’, now under siege from below as much as from overseas, is the primacy of the climate change agenda in international relations. This preceded the current crisis and was part of a much broader alliance between ‘capital’ and progressive politics in which the former took the sting out of the latter and the latter infiltrated and managed the former in a shared soft corporatist and internationalist agenda. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this shared agenda appeared so dominant that it was assumed that emerging powers would naturally be drawn into this ideological position as part of an ‘inevitable’ process of neo-liberal modernisation and ‘bourgeois’ democratisation.
Greens and neo-Cons
This situation has changed remarkably quickly but is a highly complex change. The first stage was the emergent alliance of ‘Greens’ and hard-line Atlanticists or neo-cons because of a shared interest in weakening Russian fossil fuel power. This shifted progressive and green politics into the NATO agenda leaving behind its own far left because of class issues but also much populist sentiment already critical of the Green Agenda because of its household and SME economic effects. The next stage was the set of compromises required in order to ensure energy security. This resulted in a partial return to fossil fuels as a ‘temporary measure’ forcing Greens to double down on their positions which created strains in their relationships with the neo-liberal establishment.
This situation was not helped by Bidenomics which disregarded the interests of Europeans and heavily subsidised American Green businesses at the expense of their European equivalents. The latest shift derives from the resilience-based green strategy of China and the network of alliances centred on OPEC+ which brings Russia, Saudi Arabia and China into some sort of economic alignment. The Chinese have adopted a strategy of heavy investment in green industries in order to out-compete the West undercutting European manufacturers with cheaper product while simultaneously being prepared to maximise fossil fuel use if it reduces their cost base. Discounted Russian fossil fuel becomes an asset as far as the emerging world is concerned to the extent that its growth rates on this and other grounds now look to be superior to those of the Europeans.
Although US progressives (Democrats) are committed to the Green Agenda they see it primarily in free market and capitalist terms within a large and coherent market. State subsidy ‘does not interfere with the market’ but kick-starts it. The European Commission does not have the same political capital to do as the USA does, and may be left eventually with protectionism as its only option for clawing back an industrial base for the climate change agenda with potential inflationary risks. The latest twist in the saga is the criticism China is getting for allegedly ‘wrecking’ the G20 climate talks. In other words, the loss of geo-cultural hegemony for the West has undercut completely the shared climate change agenda that the West would like to separate out from other sources of confrontation and treat as ‘planetary’. In the last eighteen months, the non-West has tended to see through the special interests embedded in the global policy.
Culture Wars & the green agenda
There is another factor. The culture wars have positioned climate change not as a shared problem across the political agenda but as the agenda of liberal progressives associated with all their other nostrums (diversity, LGBTQ, ‘authoritarianism’, pro-migration, de-platforming, de-banking, controls over use of language, identity politics and so forth) so that the war on Net Zero has become a marker for populist resistance to progressivism. The main source of this might be thought to be Trump’s populism alone but Trump has merely responded to an instinctive scepticism about the economic value of the climate change agenda. The attempted mayoral control of car use around London has triggered calls for a national Net Zero Referendum in the UK in a campaign started from the Left but likely to be backed by the populist Right. Climate activists have also alienated voters with their extreme performative behaviour.
Finally, on the basis that what lives by the sword dies by the sword, capitalism itself is moving partly against the Green tide because of Green criticism of greenwashing, the costs of green bureaucracy and the problem that ESG-based growth equities no longer look so attractive from a market perspective. We now have two Anglosphere banking situations where cultural politics have back-fired on reputation (Silicon Valley Bank and NatWest/Coutts), more public criticism of over-enthusiastic progressive public relations and marketing strategies and more awareness that half any customer base is observing corporate-based cultural engineering through gritted teeth. Although the Green Agenda remains dominant within corporate capitalism, the associated cultural baggage is becoming more problematic.