Why we need a new political class that makes climate its top priority, writes Imre Badia Laczko
FEW countries that signed the landmark Paris Agreement are respecting what they promised, the United Nations’ 2018 Environment Program annual report confirmed. What can we expect from this year’s Madrid UN climate summit, when it is plain obvious the world won’t act in time to cut emissions?
Four years ago this month, almost two hundred nations agreed to ‘determine, plan and regularly report’ on the contribution each of them is undertaking to attenuate the effects of global warming. Moreover, one of the main goals of the agreement was ‘to keep global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels’ — while it also called for urgent efforts to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Paradoxically, however, no mechanism was agreed to force countries to set any specific target by any specific date. With no strict control, it is no surprise countries aren’t making the changes they promised.
In June 2017, US president Donald Trump announced he was ‘pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement’, arguing he had been elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh and not Paris. To Trump’s frustration however, the accord requires a minimum of five years before any country can officially withdraw — the earliest effective date of withdrawal for the United States will be in November 2020, shortly before the end of Trump’s term and at the doors of election.
But changes in US policy contrary to the Paris Agreement have instead been put in place and damage to the world’s ecosystems is continuing. Doubtless, the United States under Trump is overtly hostile to the climate emergency — his administration is scrapping countless environmental regulations and is instead increasing the use of fossil fuels.
With little time left to adopt more ambitious policy measures to curb countries’ emissions, it is crucial that countries respect what they signed four years ago. This year’s summit should put the focus on countries that are not doing enough and pressure them to act (India is the only major carbon-emitting country doing enough to keep the rise in temperatures below 2 degrees Celcius).
There is no time to waste in the race against the climate emergency. While the clock keeps ticking and with global emissions still rising, liberals like myself like to absolve ourselves by blaming the inaction on climate deniers like Bolsonaro or Trump — she can be as green as she wants but Elizabeth Warren won’t save the planet either — and yet if we lose this still undisputed fight against global climate change, it will be everyone’s fault.
Unfortunately, this is not like a children’s football match where the team loses in the last minute because of a defender’s own goal and teammates solely blame the defender for the loss — Trump won’t be the only one to blame for the defeat against climate change. (Pulling out of the Paris agreement was in effect scoring an own goal in the last minute). In order to be vanquished, or merely contained, climate change must be fought collectively as the global challenge it is.
Furthermore, it is encouraging to see Democratic presidential candidates campaign to make America carbon-neutral again by 2050 — but will they be able to live up to the fairytale of eternal economic growth and still transition the country towards a ‘green new deal’? You either go green or grow, but you can’t have both.
In August this year, Greta Thunberg sailed to New York and from there hoped to attend the UN Climate Summit in Santiago, Chile. Yet due to mass protests and a strong police response in Chile’s capital, the summit has been relocated to Madrid. She now has to cross the Atlantic again, if she wants to attend the summit, that is. Yet with her combative spirit and firm personality, I wouldn’t be surprised if she hopped onto another sailing boat and sailed her way to Spain.
Not every sixteen year old has the guts to cross the Atlantic on a petrol-free sailing boat with no toilets and scarce food. It is easy to mock her and her famous ‘how dare you’ speech at the New York conference, but yet again, few people would have the guts to call out with tear stained eyes the dollar-crazed ruling political class in front of the world.
At a time of turmoil where our very survival is at stake, it is crucial to raise social alert and awareness of just the scale of the catastrophe we’re about to face. It is fair to say that without Greta, the world would probably still be asleep on the climate issue. Now that it has half-woken up, it needs to stand up and do something.
The fact that the present political class is unprepared to deal with such an unprecedented climate issue clearly does nothing to help — but that doesn’t mean the battle is over. We need a political class obsessed in taking on the entire fossil-fuel lobby and greedy corporations. We all know what has to be done, so why aren’t our governments doing everything they can? Our planet will be fine; it’s us who will disappear.
OpenDemocracy.net, November 9. Imre Badia Laczko is an environmental activist based in Barcelona.
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