Climate Change: Why there can be no agreement

UN Climate Change
Credit: UN Climate Change

World leaders meet again for the Conference of Parties (COP) 25 talks to discuss what they can do to fight Climate Change (CC). The aim is to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C will require that the world economy reaches a zero net carbon emissions by 2050. This ambitious target means that the world absorbs as much carbon dioxide as it emits by then.

Just as the Paris CC talks held in 2015, this year’s CC talks have started with a dilemma. The talks are being held in Madrid even though Chile is the host. A change of venue became necessary due to unending weeks of unrest in Chile before the scheduled start of the talks.

A major source of unending disagreement is the influence of politics. Politicians, especially those from the world’s most developed nations, are unable to stick to pledges made during CC talks because such decisions will no sooner than make them unpopular with their electorates when faced with the consequences of implementation on their nation’s economic and social life. The average politician spends a term of four years with a prospect of another four. While the issues to address CC are long term, policy makers are normally in position for a maximum of just 8 years. For example, following a change of regime from Democrats to Fossil Fuel leaning Republican Party in the United States of America (USA) in 2016, the new President pulled out of the agreements reached at the CC talks held in Paris a year earlier. With the largest economy in the world out of sync with the proposals, the agreements reached were dead on arrival.

Every country that signed up to the Paris CC agreement had a nationally determined contributions (NDC) – promises made by each country to cut global emissions. However, more than half of the countries willing to exceed their NDC targets contribute less than 8 percent of total global emissions. Thus, the huge polluters of the earth are the least determined to cut emissions which will reduce their rate of economic development but they are happy to ask poorer countries to remain poor by not pursuing industrialization through fossil fuel.

Carbon Trading is at the heart of the required technicality. By this, a global carbon trading market will be created whereby countries which are struggling to cut their net carbon emissions can offset them as they are free to pay other countries to do more in cutting their emissions beyond their pledges. Parties are not agreeable to what the rules should be. This is because it is open to manipulations on various fronts. What will be the common basis for measurement? What will be the reference point? How do you validate submissions from different countries?

Another source of disagreement among world leaders is which countries should take the lead in climate action and why? Should it be the industrialized nations who have contributed the most to global warming by burning fossil fuel which equates to development in the last 2 centuries or the underdeveloped nations, that have non-functional electricty, transportation, aviation, industrial and manufacturing systems (equates to underdevelopment), and as such have not contributed much to CC? The main problem is that those underdeveloped nations will, in trying to pursue a development agenda in the manner as was achieved by the already developed nations (burn fossil fuel), worsen CC effects. Essentially, they must be forced to avoid fossil fuels (equates to they can’t become industrialised without huge financial interventions which they clearly don’t have). So who should take the lead in cutting global emissions?- the world’s wealthiest and already developed or the underdeveloped poor countries with the prospect of no future development? Sadly, it is also the world’s poorest and underdeveloped that are worst hit by the consequences of CC.

In order to fight CC, alot of investment in technology and transfer of know-how will be required. There is huge disagreement among parties as to who should bear the cost of this humongous investments. The disagreement is over the interpretation of the “principle of equal but differentiated responsibility”. The poor countries that are being asked to lead the cuts in global emissions are corrupt and experience shows that financial foreign aids provided by the affluent countries to assist with social and infrastructural developments in such countries are normally embezzled by a select power hungry and short-sighted few. Therefore, the financially able don’t trust that financial interventions to assist with climate fight will achieve any impact by putting money in the hands of the leaders of poor nations. The western and rich nations themselves are financially handicapped since the global economic meltdown of 2008 from which most are yet to recover. Apart from this, most of these countries have political problems with the tenets of globalization which encourages financial aids gradually being replaced with nationalism and “each country firstism”. There is simply not much available to share!

Scientists themselves are not able to agree on the scientific basis for CC as we have climate denials everywhere. Even those who believe in the so called anthropogenic (man-made) CC can’t agree whether the target should be to reduce global warming to below 1.5 °C or 2°C.

In the midst of all these dither and delay, China seems to be the clear winner- continue to pollute the earth by using fossil fuel for developing a strong power system, investing in manufacturing, industry, transportation, telecommunications, and even in renewables to confuse parties at conference further.


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