CLIMATE CHANGE: Taking Responsibility
from Flourish, Spring 2022 pt.2
The world is warming up.
This should be a statement of fact to everyone by now; we are seeing global unprecedented changes in our climate year on year, leading to desperate scenes as populations around the world struggle to cope with the fallout. Remember 2021’s wildfires in California, Australia, Turkey, Greece? The extreme flooding in Germany and the Netherlands? The devastating impacts of Storm Ida on the USA’s eastern coast? These are just some of the climate disaster-related headlines that have hit the news during the last year alone.
There are some things, however, which are frequently go under-reported by most Western media sites. These are the disasters – often bigger in scale, more devastating in impact, harder to recover from – that are experienced by countries situated in what is often termed as the ‘Global South’. Such areas (as a generalisation) are usually less well-developed, and thus lack the infrastructure to cope with the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Extreme flooding caused by heavy rain in India and Nepal last year left over 180 dead and thousands displaced. Successive dry seasons in Madagascar, amongst other countries, have left entire populations facing acute starvation and famine. Several Pacific Island Nations, on the other hand, are among some of the first to face real danger from rising sea levels. Some of the Marshall Islands, for instance, lie only 2m above sea level, meaning they are at a very real risk of disappearing. Of the people living in areas classed as being at ‘high risk’ due to
rising sea levels, 90% are from still-developing countries and small island states, meaning that as waters rise, they will struggle to stay afloat.
It is undeniable that all countries are beginning to notice the impacts of the climate crisis. However, the core issue lies in the fact that those who are set to face the worst impacts are, on the whole, the least capable of dealing with them. This is because those living in these lesser-developed countries are often primarily reliant on industries such as agriculture, which are more at risk from problems such as drought, rising sea levels, and changing seasons. All of these issues are being exacerbated by the climate crisis, making it even harder for these populations to continue developing economically.
Even at the other end of the spectrum in more developed nations such as the USA, UK, Australia, and China, those who are most at risk from climate change are generally counted amongst the most vulnerable in our societies – as evidenced by the ongoing impact of the current energy crisis in the UK. However, many of these countries who have historically produced the most carbon emissions have the advantage of being overall better suited, in economic terms, to facing up to the climate crisis and leading the way towards a greener future. Right?
Delegates at COP21 back in 2015 certainly thought this should be the case. One of the main resolutions in the Paris Agreement was to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2050. This is a goal we are currently projected to overshoot by some margin. Research carried out before COP26 last year suggested 85% of the carbon budget needed to keep the chance of a 1.5°C warming to 50% had already been used. Another key point from the Paris Agreement was that developed countries should lead on reducing emissions, while providing financial assistance to less developed nations. Yet so far, these nations have on the whole failed to make good on their promises.
A 2009 agreement saw developed nations pledge a collective $100 billion per year by 2020 to a fund which could be used to help struggling nations face the worst impacts of the climate crisis. However, current projections suggest this target for contributions will only be reached in 2023. Whilst this is a massive amount of money being mobilised as ‘climate finance’, the delays do not help countries who are counting on this funding to safeguard their futures. Some are calling for the difference to be made up in future contributions, but this so far seems unlikely. Furthermore, much of the money is being provided in the form of loans, which will need to be paid back. Rather than guaranteeing these countries’ futures, this instead leaves them open to a longer-term vulnerability by providing desperately needed funding, but with the strings still attached.
Developed nations are also largely failing to provide effective leadership on the climate crisis. While COP26 did manage to provide some direction, with various agreements reached on deforestation, phasing out methane, and emissions reporting, the COVID-19 pandemic provided some key players with an excuse to not attend. At the same time, it prevented many representatives from the most vulnerable nations from making an appearance. Lavetanalagi Seru, an activist from Fiji, said in an interview that increased prices for flights and isolation requirements meant the cost of his attending was about £7000, a prohibitive amount for someone from a country where the starting salary for a government employee is £4200 per year. He made it by relying on donations and support from NGOs. However, many others remained unable to attend, thus removing some of the most critical voices from the summit. Instead, pressure from China and India meant a key pact to ‘phase-out’ coal had its wording changed to ‘phase-down’.
Overall, once COP26 had ended, activists around the world were left feeling pretty underwhelmed by many of the decisions made. However, their thoughts were only shared in the immediate aftermath of the conference, and then the media moved on. The world moved on past COP26, and we are still waiting to see whether the next planned conference – due to be held in Egypt this year – will produce more of the same, or if decisive action will be taken to turn around this crisis which is already happening.
There are many things that still need to be done.
It is currently unlikely we will be able to keep warming within 1.5°C, or even 2°C. According to forecasts published by the UN after the conference ended in Glasgow, if all countries manage to uphold their current targets, we will still reach up to a 2.7°C warming by the end of the century. In order to prevent this, governments around the world need to take responsibility by phasing out fossil fuels, protecting forests and biodiversity, and investing in renewable energy generation and future research. They need to fully commit to decarbonisation, instead of just paying ‘lip service to real climate action’, as the chief executive of Climate Analytics put it last year. Part of the problem lies in the fact that many government’s plans for decarbonisation rely on technologies that are still in their infancy, and thus will probably not be rolled out for a while. If and when they are, like any new product, it will still take time for their use to become widespread. There exists no magic wand we can wave, no deus ex machina that will suddenly appear to make the greenhouse gases return to pre-industrialisation levels. But there are solid actions we can take to limit global warming and its impacts, remembering all the while that those on the front lines of the crisis do not have the luxury of time or empty promises.
After all, the climate crisis is shared by all of us. It is up every government, every corporation, every individual to step up; to act in order to limit its effects, and take responsibility so the future we look towards is a brighter, greener, more secure one for everyone on this planet.
By Penelope, Y13