Written by: Adhara Ayndrila
Following a global pandemic, we have come to the conclusion that nations all around the world have undermined the long-term sustainability of human civilization. Climate Change is the next greatest threat to our civilization, and now is the most critical time to confront it. In most countries, it is now one of the fundamental tenets of political debate. However, the real political possibility exists in the framework of developed countries, which will dictate and implement future environmental legislation.
The challenges of tackling climate change are intrinsically related to the incentives of national political parties and their compliance with regional and global institutions. There are multiple challenges on the path of achieving a comprehensive transformation in regard to climate change. The first challenge is to champion the cause of climate change beyond the environmental community. It is critical to remember that policymakers hold the most power in passing pro-climate legislation and reforms. Hence, we need to increase the scope of discussion in the context of global trade reform, regional security initiatives, the global health agenda, and international development. In the absence of a sustainable global agenda, regions such as the Middle East are warming at twice the global average and by 2050 will be 4 degrees Celsius warmer as compared to the 1.5-degree mark that scientists have prescribed to save humanity. These countries are run by incompetent governments, autocrats, or clerics, with crumbling energy infrastructure and deep-rooted structural flaws that hinder renewable energy promotion and technological progress. Experts say political and economic reforms that strengthen institutions and promote businesses to think freely are essential to reduce carbon emissions and ensure a shift to clean energy in the Middle East. However, even the most important environment-related agendas like shared water resources continue to make people suffer due to barriers in regional cooperation.
The second challenge lies on the part of developed nations and their lack of consistency while engaging with climate change. This was evident when the second largest polluter, the United States of America pulled out of the Paris Agreement which aggravated the leadership deficit in global climate governance. However, in addition to re-joining the Paris Agreement, on July 20th, President Joe Biden reiterated America’s pledge to triple its support to $1.5bn for adaptation in poorer countries by 2024 – part of a broader move to increase investment in mitigation in developing countries. Currently, the United Kingdom is under the limelight as it will preside at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). This has resulted in Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempting to lead the way to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Net-zero refers to the goal of reducing emissions to zero so that the United Kingdom produces no more carbon than it removes from the atmosphere. This will have to be accomplished by reducing the production of greenhouse gases through industrial processes, electricity generation, transportation, and intensive agriculture, while also removing emissions through carbon capture, tree planting and other mechanisms.
Even though, historically, the Liberals and the Conservatives have held different views towards the issue of climate change, the political climate in the UK is indicating a combined interest in the net zero project this year. The extent of this interest is still unclear because the Labour Party’s way of pushing for policies has been way more urgent. The Labour Party is trying to achieve a ‘socialist green new deal’ with the Green Party. The left this year will push for public ownership of industries including energy, water, transport, mail and telecommunications to aid the green transition – manifesto commitments from 2019.
Given Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s failure in bringing the ‘Green New Deal’ to life in The States, skepticism is at an all-time high regarding radical decarbonization. The actual delta of the two scenarios exists within the opposition. The Conservative Party has its own agenda of pushing for carbon neutrality through the Conservative Environment Network. We need to realize that the paradigm shift within Europe has been different than that of the USA. Representation of green parties is very prominent throughout the entirety of Europe, whereas the USA is stuck in the battle of polarization of voting blocs. To make this claim appear stronger, we can take a look at how the European Union countries gave the final seal of approval to a law to make the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions targets legally binding, as EU policymakers prepare a huge new package of policies to fight climate change.
If we were to point at a country that is devoid of any potential to strengthen its environmental policies, it would be Russia. The green parties that showed rays of hope in the 2000s ultimately formed coalitions with other parties which led to the dilution of their ecological agendas. In 2019, Ruslan Khvostov founded Green Alternative, a political party that supports Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement but the party lacks in laying out the foundation for any holistic change for the future. Along with having no significant electoral success, the party also has done little to nothing to collaborate with or address the international environmental accords. The anti-west rhetoric across the country fuels the climate change skepticism among the larger parties like the Communist Party (KPRF), Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPR), and Just Russia. However, it is impossible to conclude that climate change has become politically irrelevant in Russia and that is because of geopolitics and the economy. The European Union declared that it will explore introducing a carbon border adjustment mechanism (often referred to as a “carbon border tax”), which, if implemented, would make it more difficult for Russian exporters to access the EU market. Therefore, for its own economic benefits, the ruling government under the leadership of Putin needs to look into the possibilities of carbon reduction.
The third challenge is the breakdown in global collaboration. Except for the USA and the UK, none of the other G7 countries are contributing significantly in climate financing for the lesser developed countries. Despite a pledge by the developed world in 2009 to pay $100 billion (£70 billion) per year to developing nations by 2020 which has not been met, most G7 countries are yet to make new pledges on climate finance. Without the expansion of climate financing, poor countries will be vulnerable to destructive disasters and become more reliant on the investments offered by countries including Russia, China and oil-rich nations. Experts are also worried that much of the present climate money is in the form of interest-bearing loans and have stated that expanding climate finance is a vital condition for success at this year’s UN climate negotiations, which will take place in Glasgow in November.
When you look at the consequences of global warming in Asia, we also realize that the East Asian countries are failing to keep up with climate action. Japan, a country that was assumed to be an environmental leader, is now accused of being an ‘environmentally backward country’. It has set ambitious policies within the environmental framework but is not aggressively reducing greenhouse gases. In the case of South Korea, environmental policies cannot afford to take any backward stance as it is an important stakeholder to the Biden administration’s effort to show that other industrialized countries are acting strenuously against climate change.
At this point, we can see an almost identical pattern of countries not living up to their ambitious carbon reduction projects. The same applies for South Korea, where we observe that even though the country has pledged to get to net zero emissions by 2050, it has simultaneously been investing in 7 coal plants. South Korea poses significant problems in satisfying the expectations of the United States and environmental groups as a highly industrialized country that is primarily reliant on coal and imports practically all of its oil and gas. The absence of consistent engagement to climate policies by the developed countries within Asia only contributes more to disincentivizing the lesser developed countries to deprioritize their environmental targets. This also leads to weakening regional environmental goals within organizations like ASEAN, SAARC, etc.
The last actor, China, is supposedly the key actor in global politics of any form in the present. For a country that is expanding its production lines across Asia and Africa, the discussion of climate policies becomes a complex web as national legislation is not the only consideration here. Even if we take domestic emission into account, China’s emissions per person are around half those of the United States, but the country’s massive 1.4 billion population and rapid economic expansion have propelled it well ahead of any other country in terms of overall emissions. According to Tsinghua University in Beijing, China would need to stop using coal for electricity generation entirely by 2050, with nuclear and renewable energy production taking its place. Rather than closing coal-fired power plants, China is now developing new ones in over 60 places across the country, with many sites having multiple plants. Through its Belt and Road initiative, it has also sponsored coal-fired power plants outside of China, but it now appears to be reducing fresh investments.
We can continue statistics and counter statistics to prove and disprove China’s commitment to combatting climate change but when the interest of becoming a global superpower stays at the forefront and your economic ambitions are too high to spare the environment then your targets simply fall short to protect the environment.
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Featured Image Courtesy: UN Climate Change/Flickr