Geopolitics is holding back the global climate

By Niamh Moody-Paterson

Climate change is a recurring theme in the media and public consciousness and yet there is seemingly no solution for this pressing global issue. On an international scale, countries have committed to reducing emissions in order to achieve a relatively safe level of warming. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was a huge step, setting a precedent for future emission reductions, leading to the Paris Agreement being signed in 2015 by 175 countries.

This, to most people, was seen at the time as a victory for global environmental politics, with countries being able to set aside their political agendas for the good of the world and push for a step in the right direction. Countries committed to keeping global climate warming below 2 degrees through implementing carbon cutting policies.

Once the glamour of the Paris Agreement faded, it brought with it a formidable sense of reality. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stated that if carbon reduction practices were to be immediately implemented, the target of remaining under a 2 degree temperature rise only offers a mere 50:50 chance of the human population avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

The perceived success of the Paris Agreement is inherently wrong. I myself am a victim of being blinded by the media suggestion that international policies will be able to commit countries to enforcing mitigation and adaptation policies. The Paris Agreement itself has no mention of greenhouse gas sources or fossil fuels and therefore, no means of regulation.

So, we must ask ourselves, how is it that the Paris Agreement was seen as such a triumph – when in reality it is merely are packaging of the failed Kyoto Protocol, signed 18 years prior.

The premise of the agreement was constructed by corporations who pushed for economic growth as the solution to climate change with the development of the green economy.

How does society on the whole strive to make money out of a global disaster? The answer falls down to the general consumerist society that is inherent of the west. It is these politicians who ultimately decide the international climate policies and therefore, it is the same mode of thinking that drives forward the idea that a slow transition towards a green economy will be enough.

This approach to global environmental politics is what drives Greta Thunberg and the climate change movement. During her speech to the UN last month, she highlighted that a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees does not include tipping points, most feedback loops or additional warming as a consequence of toxic air pollution. She points out that the world is waking up to the reality of climate change and is demanding action.

The fires that raged through the Amazon earlier this year is just one example of the devastating impacts of the warming world and a failure of politicians to act. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest and is considered to be the ‘lungs of the earth,’ absorbing 25% of the earth’s CO2 emissions.

The fires were a result of illegal forest clearing in order to create more farms.

At its peak, satellite imagery proved that there were 9507 fires spread across the Amazon, resulting in a loss of 9060 km 2 . Failure of politicians to act on this global crisis demonstrates that agreements such as the Paris agreement and many more are merely a way to placate the global population, as geopolitical tensions continue to play a large role in mitigating climate change.

This follows after Germany and Norway decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds for sustainability projects in Brazil, claiming that there is a lack of commitment to fight deforestation. Onyx Lorenzoni, the Brazilian President’s Chief of Staff claimed that the rates of deforestation were not as high as the rest of the world is reporting, and that the world was ‘exaggerating environmental problems’ and trying to ‘undermine economic development’.

I am not sat here asking you to strap yourself to a tree or protest outside of parliament. But what I am asking for is consideration. I implore you to consider how climate change policies are portrayed in the media and whether or not they truly represent a step in the right direction. It is not enough to accept international action towards climate change at face value. We need to understand that there are deep geopolitical tensions that run behind it – the simple act of reducing emissions is not so simple.

Image by john.gillespie via Creative Commons

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