THE POLITICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The whole of the globe is too hot for human habitation, even if survived; humans would soon die of heat. Diseases will increase and mutate. Food shortages will be chronic due to the difficulty in the adaptation of agriculture to the changing climate. The world map will lose certain countries as they submerge into the waters. There will be a shortage of freshwater. Oceans will dry up and air will get dirtier. This is a picture of the last stages of climate change; there would be a lot more difficulties during the transition. Between now and the end, we will come across socio, political and economic chaos as refugees flee the land that no longer can sustain humans. This alarming picture was presented by David Wallace-Wells in his book ‘The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming.’

Climate Change Politics

This frightening yet soon to be reality picture tells us to expect the end of the climate change problem if not addressed. Human imprint on climate change has grown since the 18th century’s Industrial Revolution. Climate change in the early stages began due to the changing composition of the earth’s atmosphere. This was due to the large emissions of the Greenhouse Gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide and methane which are primarily released with the burning of fossil fuels.

GHG emissions are mostly effected by economic activities, but with the damages reaching an irreparable stage, it is vital to include the political factors to curb these damages. Yet, natural scientists believe that the political efforts to solve this problem are slower than what is deemed necessary.

Initial Moves to Curb Climate Change

The first global climate problem was when the Ozone Layer was depleting in the 1980s. This was due to the wide use of the chemicals that impact the Ozone. Depleting Ozone has wide implications with the increased UV radiations which are detrimental to agriculture and production, and to human health leading to skin cancers.

The global institutions came up with the Vienne Convention of 1985 and Montreal Protocol of 1987 to curb the depletion of the Ozone Layer. This was done by substituting the ozone-depleting chemicals with other alternatives. This was an easier shift as the change didn’t cost much for the masses to retaliate and soon the Ozone layer started to get back to its normal.

With the need to still address the climate challenges, the United Nations’ 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets a general goal – to stabilize GHG concentrations and to enable economic growth in a sustained manner. Later in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was introduced which gives specific GHG emission limits for 37 industrialized countries and transition economies, and the European Union. The USA which was the then-largest emitter of GHG in the world withdrew from the protocol in 2001. The Protocol came to an end in 2012 with no successful results. Industrialised countries slightly reduced their emissions but the emerging countries have increased their emissions.

Read: Gendering Climate Change

Due to the disparity in the countries’ take on the climate change, let us look at what challenges the countries to work for the betterment of tomorrow.

Why is Climate Action a Challenge?

Climate change is a global concern and requires that all the countries take part. Even if one country fails to help contribute to the reduction of global warming, the end result remains unchanged. No matter how disconnected the world is, how different the countries are, we are connected by one nature.

Impediment to global collective action is the nearly 200 sovereign countries that come with the baggage of political problems within and between states. Reducing emissions and avoiding more emissions is costly. The problem is aggravated by the asymmetry in the benefits and costs of problem-solving, mainly across richer and poorer nations. Trying to avoid dangerous levels of climate change involves opportunity costs of GHG emitters and the free-rider problem (being benefitted without paying the costs).

It is natural to say that large, rich countries with large GHG emissions have to contribute the greatest in solving the problem. These countries will have to experience the highest opportunity cost but suffer the least as they have a high ability towards adaptation to climate change. To reduce the global free-rider problem, they have an incentive to invest in adaptation rather than mitigation of the problem. Developing countries, on the other hand, are likely to suffer greater due to smaller adaptation capabilities. Even if these countries tried to reduce their economic output to zero, they wouldn’t be contributing in a significant way to reduce GHG emissions. Emissions restrictions on emerging and developing countries are very challenging. Due to this challenge, these countries have a different social rate of time preference (discount rate) than the industrialised countries. They want to grow first and then clean up.

Challenges are not only due to differences in the backgrounds of the countries but also on the attitude of the general public. There can be a policy only when the public endorses it and fight to have it. After all, the governments, in the case of democracy, which is the most likely form of government in many countries, tend to work according to the demands of their voters. If there is weak public pressure, then there would be no way that any policy on the mitigation of climate change is possible. Another problem is that of political uncertainty. Again, governments change after a certain time period and each government might not have the same incentives and preferences on the various issues. The government which is working for the mitigation of climate change might not be in power the next term. The next government might or might not take up this issue. This hampers the long term mitigation measures.

Cost-benefit distributions within the countries is also a trouble to climate change. People would participate in mitigation if the cost of it was less and the benefit is larger than the cost. Unfortunately, the substitute for the reduction of GHG emissions is quite high and has led to protest in many countries like Chile and France. Also, there has been mismanagement by the large industrialised countries that have relocated their pollution-intensive economic activities to poorer South and Southeast Asian countries and dump their waste in poor African countries.

Recent moves to curb climate change

After the Kyoto Protocol ended in 2012, we had a Paris Agreement in 2016 which deals with GHG emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance. 188 countries and the EU signed the agreement. In 2019, the USA withdrew from the Paris Agreements but its 24 states along with Puerto Rico showed solidarity with the agreement and decided to abide by it.

The latest interaction on the Climate action was the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid in December of 2019. This conference mainly dealt with the methods by which the countries were to take up Paris Agreement and to discuss the rules on the Carbon market on which, unfortunately, countries didn’t come to a common consensus. 2019 especially was a very active year in terms of climate change with the rise of young activist Greta Thunberg who protested for a safe future for her generation and the ones to follow. There has also been a rise of Green political parties and organisations and initiatives like Fridays for Future.

Also Read: India’s Greta Thunberg – Ridhima Pandey

Conclusion

It is the need of the hour for every one of us to become conscious of Climate Change and take action to curb the spread of this manmade pathogen. Countries like Tuvalu, Haiti, Kiribati, Nigeria, Yemen, The Philippines, territory Puerto Rico, and etcetera are paying the price for the global climate crisis. Few of these countries might not even exist in the coming years. Many from these countries have relocated to save themselves and their families and for a better livelihood. Of course, there are many challenges to mitigate the crisis. Shifting from fossil fuel to other alternatives are not just costly but also time taking and need a complete change of lifestyle. But the change has to be initiated now for us to be able to provide the future generations, from whom we have borrowed our present, a decent life.

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Sunaina is an undergraduate student pursuing Political Science and Economics from the University of Delhi. She finds herself in a never-ending quest!