The Future is Grim: No Country is Safe
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A Climate change analysis

The Climate Change report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August 2021 is loud and clear confirming our worst fears that: ‘‘Human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years’’. The report was much anticipated because of the improved processes of data gathering such as improved knowledge of climate processes, availability of climate information for risk assessment and regional adaptation, and new methodologies that help integrate results from many lines of evidence.

The impact of climate change is more pronounced and widespread making the goal to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 as set out by the 2015 Paris Accord more urgent. In the wake of catastrophic climate disasters happening all over the world, the target appears far remote than previously thought. This brings to the fore governments commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to secure our future from collapse.

Scientists are concerned that some of the changes occurring now are irreversible including sea-level rise every region and country is already experiencing extreme weather events including heatwaves, heavy precipitations, wildfires, droughts, and tropical cyclones. For example, Greece, Turkey, Algeria, Australia, California, British Columbia, to name a few locations are currently grappling with wildfires, while Hurricane Ida and its remnants pummeled eight states including Louisiana, New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York killing at least 67 people.

 An important observation in the IPCC climate analysis is that since 1970 there has been a shift in climate zones poleward entailing a lengthening of the growing season by two days per decades since the 1950s. Scientists recommend immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions.

Climate activists argue the report could not come at a better time within the horizon, where world leaders, organizations, and environmentalists would be expected to take action and amplify the alarm bell. But can it change anything? Each new report released by the IPCC comes with the same familiar warnings, animated conversations, and a return to business as usual only to be reminded by summer fires, torrential rains, and extreme heat events signaling a general malaise that has hampered climate actions that ought to have been done decades ago.

High waves during Hurricane Ida, in New Orleans, August 29, 2021. Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP
A Photo of the 2019 bushfires in Australia

The question is, can the world be trusted to turn things around six years into the signing of the Paris Agreement? The Paris Accord was hailed as groundbreaking and unprecedented but just like its predecessor accords, most countries are yet to make appropriate and far-reaching climate legislation to implement the articles. On the contrary, Morocco and the Gambia are doing so well to keep their temperature rise within 1.5 °C by 2030. For example, by 2017, Morocco had invested massively in renewable energy that put it on track to get 42% of its electricity from clean sources by 2020 and has further built a solar farm that is equal to the size of the city of Paris.

Climate Action: An Arena for Competition among Nations?

Climate change is big business and competition among players in the oil and gas sector. However, competition and solidarity could be counter-productive in addressing environmental concerns, and it’s discouraging for country A to invest in clean energy to protect the environment while others get away with flouting international agreements by unremorsefully engaged in the use of environmentally toxic fossil fuels without accountability.

The United States is the second-largest polluter next to China and both countries are expected to set a good example by contributing financially, technologically, and investing in clean technology to reduce their share of global emissions. Yet, global trade warfare, protectionism, and tit-for-tat tariffs on goods between U.S. and China, U.S. and European Union, U.S. and Canada witnessed under the Trump administration hampered efforts to fight climate change, protect the environment and fight poverty. Trump’s withdrawal encouraged other countries to renege on their commitments depriving the world of vast resources and climate action in the fight for our lives.

One could say without equivocation that conflict over trade eroded the trust and degraded cooperation associated with discussions on environmental concerns. Rejoining the agreement and committing to making climate change a key component of U.S. foreign policy calmed diplomatic nerves in terms of the Biden administration’s commitment to reduce emissions to 25% by 2025.

As pressure mounts from all quarters including climate activists, civil societies, and children demanding world leaders to deliver on their promises, most leaders act reluctantly to keep good press. Hence, they can announce bold actions publicly to calm protesters down but in reality, they do not change course. Hypocrisy, procrastination, hesitancy, irresponsibilities are the names of the game and the political agenda.

As news of the IPCC grim report became public, it sent shock waves down the spine of interest groups and attracted headlines including “Now is the time to act’’. Alyssa Battistoni, a Ph.D. student at Yale University and editor at Jacobin, reacted after the report to remind us that all the reactions are understandable but all too familiar. Alyssa observes that each report is grimmer than its predecessor and warns us to take immediate action but unfortunately ‘every time we don’t. Instead, everyone freaks out for a few days, and return to business as usual while the climate cliff grows wider and bigger.

The responsibility for climate action is a collective enterprise requiring cooperation from all countries to find solutions, which was impossible with the Trump administration. As people continue to reflect on the report ahead of COP 26 in Glasgow it remains to be seen how much of the responsibility can be blamed on the Trump administration’s inaction or how much Biden can do. To his credit, Biden’s commitment to the Paris Accord and all other international agreements in the immediate aftermath of his inauguration brought diplomatic tensions down. That is a big victory already in this very difficult fight.

Canadian banks have been called out for investing religiously in fossil fuels. Indeed, Canada ranks higher among other G7 & G20 countries in fossil fuel investments. However, since assuming power in 2015, the Trudeau administration is determined to cut emissions by 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This includes already implemented plans—investing $100 billion towards climate action and clean growth, committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, and promulgated Canada’s net-zero goal into law, banned the single-use plastics, putting a price on pollution—as well as 2021 reelection platform in which the liberals promise to eliminate subsidies and public financing of fossil fuels, and committed to double its international climate finance contributions to $5.3 billion over the next five years just to mention a few. But commentators say these commitments do not go far enough to get Canada where it ought to be to avoid the grim impacts of climate change.

Climate Anxiety and Implications for Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

Climate change is both a global threat as well as a problem for development. Climate change and its impacts on vulnerable communities vary greatly, but climate change is superimposed on existing vulnerabilities. The macroeconomic costs of climate change including food and water insecurity—amidst the novel COVID-19 pandemic—leave poor communities in a state of precarity due to less adaptive capacity and are expected to endure the greatest adverse effects. This is because many of the world’s poor are found in geographically susceptible places, and dwell in perilous environmental, socioeconomic, institutional, and political conditions.

It’s part of the reasons why the Paris Treaty engineered support mechanisms within its framework to help LDCs navigate their way to stay the course of achieving a climate neutral world by mid-century including building resilience to climate impacts, protecting nature, and aligning development transition to net-zero carbon futures.   For example, under Article 9, 10, 11 of the Paris Accord, a financial mechanism, which has existed since the Kyoto Protocol was reinforced and entrusted to the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The object is to allow countries with more resources to assist poor countries in their mitigation and adaptation efforts in the areas of finance, technology, and capacity-building. This international climate financing arrangement reaffirms the obligations of developed country parties while advocating for voluntary contributions through other ecosystems.

In this arrangement, rich countries made a firm commitment to mobilize $100 billion annually to help developing countries and small island states between 2020 and 2025. To this end, four different financial streams—Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), the Green Climate Fund, and the Adaptation Fund (AF) are set up.

Regrettably, the $100 billion pledge hangs in the balance as envisaged by a recent UN release. The OECD estimates that only $78.9 billion had been reached as of 2018. This pledge is unlikely to be met because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, COVID-19 has shown that $100 billion each could be raised if there is adequate political will given the trillions of dollars being spent by governments for COVID-19 recovery packages. Oxfam is proposing that instead of disbursing the agreed fund, rich countries grant loans. This proposition, however, is counterproductive as it will further put a debt burden on developing countries that have been hit hardest in the global economic crisis.  What does that live poor countries? Who pollutes less but suffers from debilitating climate anxieties?

The Way Forward

The science is clear. Humans are causing the world to heat up, and if we travel along this path our children and grandchildren will have to deal with extreme and frequent catastrophic changes. We need to act now. However, the next few years will be crucial if we miss the opportunity, the future may be grim for life on earth.

While extreme weather events continue to pummel more parts of the world with greater intensity; vulnerable people continue to suffer its debilitating impacts including loss of livelihoods. Climate action is not the burden of only one country; it requires cooperation, assistance, and political will if global society is to make the important transition to a net-zero carbon, cleaner and greener future. It is a process that will succeed in building trust and honoring commitments.

It is now crucial for governments and other critical shareholders to take effective decisions and change direction for energy sustainability enabled by new policies and the deployment of new technologies.  It is possible to sustain strong economic growth while responding to climate change, but collective action is needed. Leaders need to take bold action by making sure we are prepared for the transition including infrastructure that’s both resilient and sustainable.

As former IMF President Christian Lagarde said climate change is life and death. The world is at an inflection point now that the IPCC report tells us by 2040, we would have “irreversibly reached the 1.5 thresholds”. This revelation constitutes a slap in the face of COP26 goals, in particular goals 1,2 &3 “Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach”; “Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats” and “Mobilize finance”. These goals remain largely unfulfilled. COP26 should not only reflect on the history of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and find out whether its very structure is linked to the constant non-implementation of its resolutions by signatory parties. That might be a crucial point to investigate.

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