Global climate change strategy an opportunity for growth
How much more scientific evidence that climate change is real, is manmade and is the greatest danger to the survival of humanity must be presented until world leaders act in accordance with the magnitude of this impending disaster? There is an ever-growing body of research making it clear that we humans, by our wasteful and irresponsible attitude to nature, are heading for an environmental cataclysm unless we act very quickly indeed.
But worse is that we might already be very close to reaching the point of no return. While what is required is an urgent, global and holistic strategy to contain this existential danger, the best that we currently see are either some patched-up policies that don’t adequately address the problem or more comprehensive agreements that are only half-heartedly implemented, if at all.
By the end of 2018, it is expected that the last four years will have been the warmest on record, while the 20 warmest years have occurred since 1996. The Paris climate agreement, which was signed two years ago, was intended to create a desperately necessary central global mechanism to tackle the threat of climate change. It was supposed to tie together the entire world — and especially the biggest polluters, such as the US and China — in an agreement that could avert environmental disasters derived from climate change. In order to achieve its objective, it was imperative that the countries agreed to a plan that would keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to set an even more ambitious target of an increase of no more than 1.5 C if possible.
Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has described the climate situation we find ourselves in as acutely dangerous, and observed that: “We are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it.” Indeed, we have to put enormous resources to work in order to engage with and understand this phenomenon, and we must also have the courage to accept that doing so will affect every aspect of our life.
Among their many other dire consequences, erratic and extreme weather conditions endanger food security and threaten the very existence of low-lying islands and coastal communities through rising sea levels caused by the melting of the polar ice caps. Though it is common knowledge that the wide and imprudent use of fossil fuels is the major cause of global warming, we are nowhere close to meeting the targets set by the Paris climate agreement for reducing their use. Hence the only logical conclusion is that the warming of the planet will continue.
In its recent annual statement on the state of the global climate, the WMO warned that the overall risk of heat-related illness or death “has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30 percent of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year.”
If, in the past, politicians could assert that there was not enough scientific evidence to support claims of climate change and global warming, mainly to avoid taking tough decisions that require bold policies, that excuse has long lost its validity. There is ample evidence originating from a whole string of diverse and reliable research centers and universities that climate change is real, is manmade, and is the cause of ever more frequent, extreme and unpredictable weather conditions.
One can, of course, ignore the reality of climate change, but not its consequences.
The gap between science and politics derives mainly from politicians’ fear of the short-term implications of introducing a more environmentally friendly economy, with its impact on certain industries and consequently jobs, and the general resistance of the public to changing their habits, thus affecting those politicians’ popularity. However, these fears derive mainly from ignorance and a lack of imagination. There are massive economic and job creation opportunities in exploiting new, clean and sustainable energy sources, which will only accelerate the economies of those countries that have the courage to invest in them.
Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, as has been suggested by US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro (with the latter ignoring the impact on his country’s Amazon rainforest), is a case in point. Typically, Trump — pre-empting a conclusive report composed by 13 federal agencies outlining the devastating impact of climate change on individuals, communities and the US economy — tweeted “whatever happened to global warming?” after a cold snap hit parts of the country. Not only was he dismissive of this well-researched and considered Fourth National Climate Assessment report, but his administration made sure the report was released on Black Friday, when people were more interested in hunting for bargains than considering the consequences of their shopping habits.
One can, of course, ignore the reality of climate change, but not its consequences. And the Fourth National Climate Assessment is bold in its verdict that climate change has both introduced “new risks and has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States,” which endanger human health, safety and quality of life, and hamper the rate of economic growth. What more is required for governments to take urgent action to reverse this situation?
We must scale this slippery slope of living in denial of the dangers — both immediate and long-term — of climate change. And we must realize that reversing the impact of global warming can take place only through a global, integrated and determined strategy. Only a global alliance gives us a fighting chance to save the environment, and with it humanity, from a self-inflicted and painful destruction. Such a strategy will require cooperation between governments, international organizations, and businesses big and small, as well as between individuals. And we must all accept and internalize that, although the age of wastefully and dangerously exploiting our planet is over, this fact also presents humanity with endless opportunities for healthy and sustainable development.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg