Last Saturday afternoon the G20 finance ministers gathered in Baden-Baden, Germany, for their annual summit. During these meetings, the wording of a joint statement on trade is usually agreed upon. This summit, however, resulted in some significant and surprising alterations to the content and tone of the document. Not only had the normative pledge to reject national protectionism been dropped, but more worryingly, any mention of financing action on climate change had been entirely axed.
Global warming and climate change at large lie behind the largest contemporary threats to our world. Water shortages, crop failures, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, extinctions of economically and culturally important species, increased forest fires, the list goes on. The financial officials representing the world’s largest economies, under the pressure of the Northern American and Saudi Arabian members, chose to simply set aside these momentous issues. What is the purpose of international bodies of governance if any one member may force regression?
“Putting off discussion of global warming because it is an uncomfortable prospect to address is not only irresponsible governance, it is foolish and dangerous.”
Reuters have reported that the United States of America, Saudi Arabia and other countries opposed the desire of German representatives to include a commitment to fund action on climate change. What replaced such a commitment? The following: “We reaffirm our commitment to rationalise and phase out, over the medium term, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, recognising the need to support the poor. Furthermore, we encourage all G20 countries which have not yet done so, to initiate as soon as feasible a peer review of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.”
On the surface this may appear to be a rather enlightened and proactive approach to anthropogenic climate change. It is nothing of the sort. There is no argument that could ever support “inefficient subsidies”, nor “wasteful consumption”, whether in relation to fossil fuels or not. This is not even simple finance but simple logic, dressed in the flowering and insincere language of conciliatory platitudes.
The influence of Trump
“Trump’s position on climate change, like his position on so many things, teeters over the dividing brink between incorrect nonsense and bizarre ramblings.”
As dispiriting as this news is, it is hardly surprising. There is no secret as to where the USA’s revitalised stubbornness has sprung from. On November 6, 2012, Donald Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Having read extensively on global warming for my degree I can pinky-promise this is not the case.
Trump’s position on climate change, like his position on so many things, teeters over the dividing brink between incorrect nonsense and bizarre ramblings. Mr Trump insists that the US has been treated “unfairly” in international dealings. However it is the US that is refusing to engage in conversation.
I remember watching Mr. Trump grasp the podium during the speech he made in Rochester, New York last year. It was October, during his election campaign. “It’s freezing here! We need some global warming. It’s freezing!” We could go into detail about the weather in New York last October. I could discuss how global warming disrupts wind and ocean currents resulting in some areas actually cooling considerably.
However I find that people tire of this constant chore of explaining to a few, that which is obvious to so many. I’m not necessarily referring to scientists in ivory towers, but the people who are seeing their crops fail, their soil crumble and the sea creep up their shores. It’s simple, there’s evidence – so why won’t they listen? Why is political apathy toward climate change so rampant in affluent regions?
Life and death
“Let us not forget that for the majority of the human population, climate change does not mean wearing a warmer jacket but the difference between life and death. The economies of developing countries are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.”
Let us not forget that for the majority of the human population, climate change does not mean wearing a warmer jacket but the difference between life and death. The economies of developing countries are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. Their economies are predominantly extractive – dependant on export of minerals as in the case of many African nations, or on the export of timber in the case of some Southeast Asian states. Additionally, a much larger proportion of the population in developing countries are subsistence farmers or fishers.
They are people who are reliant on the patterns of the weather to manage their land and economise their resources. In the Maldives, ancient calendars which tracked the patterns of the tides, and the distribution of schools of fish, are falling into disuse. Climate change and the resultant unpredictability of the weather systems in response means farmers cannot plan and harvests fail.
Rich and poor
“It’s simple, there’s evidence – so why won’t they listen? Why is political apathy toward climate change so rampant in affluent regions?”
Climate change magnifies the injustices and imbalances of power in our societies. Women are more likely than men to die during and in the aftermath of natural disasters and climate change-related events. For those survivors, the disparity in rights to property and assets ensures that women who survive struggle to find the power and resources to recover.
In Barack Obama’s final address to the U.N. General Assembly as president, he warned that climate change would create unrest and inequality of the kind that spurred a global refugee crisis. Putting off discussion of global warming because it is an uncomfortable prospect to address is not only irresponsible governance, it is foolish and dangerous.
The G20 members have the richest economies in the world. Perhaps they (we) think that climate change will not affect them, and perhaps they are right. Wealth can buffer against the global climate crisis in the form of reinforced buildings, sea walls, high tech irrigation systems, and more. These are short term solutions only.
Climate change, by nature, is all encompassing. Carbon dioxide in the air neither recognises nor respects the borders and boundaries which are established between the world’s rich and poor. Raytheon, the Massachusetts-based defence giant, wrote in 2012 that the company expects to see “demand for its military products and services increase as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change”. If the world’s largest security corporations recognise this threat as a reality why can’t our governments?