When the Paris Climate Agreement was announced in 2016, many sighed in relief. It seemed as though the world had finally banded together to deal with an issue that threatens to render our planet dangerous to all life in the not so distant future (by which I mean, the coming century, or less, depending on which scientists you ask).
The Paris Agreement was indeed a good compromise between 195 signatories, with the aims being as follows:
(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
Not too long after the agreement was signed and ratified, the new US administration, led by incoming President Donald Trump, made it clear that the US would no longer be party to the deal, alleging that the deal penalises advanced economies, and allows emerging markets like China and India to continue to pollute and develop their national industries at their expense.
Moreover, President Trump asserted that by continuing to form part of the Paris Agreement, the US would lose $3 trillion in lost GDP (whether that is growth, or part of the existing economic performance is unclear) and some 61/2 million jobs, citing restrictions on the US coal industry particularly poignant. Unless something changes, the US will be leaving the Paris Climate Accords on 4th of November 2020 – just one day after the US Presidential elections.
Does Trump have a point? According to scientists, not really.
The scientific community was vociferously against leaving the Paris accords, But Trump’s calculations are likely not environmental, but political, and perhaps economic. A lot of his support stems from areas where the coal industry is vital for jobs and economic growth. Following Obama’s initiative to put more emphasis on “greening” the economy, at the expense of this segment of his voter base would have damaged Trump’s political standing. In addition, switching from fossil fuels to green technology takes time and investment, neither of which Trump would have the inclination to divert any attention or resources to, as the outcomes are unlikely to be seen during his Presidential tenure in earnest. Politically, he has all to lose, and little to gain.
On the other hand, the European Union has taken up the torch for being the world’s foremost political power on climate change. According to The Climate Action Tracker (also known as CAT, which is “an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement aim of “holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.” ) the world will warm by 2.8° Celsius by the end of the century – which nearly twice the 1.5° Celcius agreed under the Paris Accords. That is a tall order. The EU is well placed to make progress on the issue, given that it possesses a considerable amount of influence around the world, at least, from a ‘soft power’ perspective. But even the EU has problems internally on how to move forward on climate change.
The name of the game is economics.
A lot of emerging market economies were not particularly keen on signing up to the accords. Not because they hate the environment, but because some of the more heavily polluting forms of energy generation, such as coal, are cheaper than the alternatives. Whereas advanced economies have been weaning themselves off of dirtier forms of energy generation for years, post-communist countries, for instance, have only recently joined the capitalist party and are working hard to catch up. That is where Poland comes in – it was the only country to oppose Europe’s effort to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2050. Its economy has been steaming ahead for years. If it were to abandon its current energy policy, for instance, there are legitimate fears that its economy could be dealt considerable damage as it transitions to cleaner energy, and reduces its carbon emissions. In fact, the EU will be looking to find ways to help ease some of that pain, through offering funding to those countries who are heavily dependent on fossil fuels to help them switch to cleaner energy.
That is not to say that everyone is looking at the future and only seeing dangers. Some, like Russia, are seeking to exploit the melting ice caps to lay claim to vast territory in the north pole, in order to put them in pole position to claim the energy resources that lie beneath the ice at present. There have been accusations of Russia beginning to militarise the north, which are not completely unfounded. Russian naval forces, including submarines and icebreakers are known to regularly frequent the area, and to effectively control parts of the north pole which may yield energy resources.
Ultimately, it will be important to get the US and other major powers around the table to ensure that the Paris Climate Accords are properly implemented. According to CAT, at this point only two countries are on track to meet their obligations of 1.5 degree Celsius – Morocco and Gambia. The EU, Australia, and a number of other important G20 countries are making “insufficient progress” at best, and such as the case of Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, “critically insufficient” progress to the Paris goals.
Political will is needed, and the ability to deliver on promises as well. Failure has enormous costs for all involved. In the words of a famous Greek proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. By that measure, we are some way off greatness.
This article appeared first on Diplomatique.Expert (Edition 23) and is compiled by CiConsulta for Corporate Dispatch