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The threat of climate change has been at the forefront of global environmental security. National leaders gathered together at a UN summit in Poland to discuss and find solutions to this global phenomenon. Due to the severity of the situation, the United Nations climate chief said that the aforementioned “threat has never been worse,” making the timing of the summit extremely crucial. The summit followed up on the arrangements from the 2015 Paris Agreement and focused on the major concerns of smaller and poorer countries.
The lack of progress since the 2015 Paris Agreement has accelerated stress on UN members. This is because one of the agreement’s goals was for countries to agree to limit the rise of global temperature to under 2°C (or preferably 1.5°C). Lowering global temperatures by 2% would create massive progress whereas a one-degree rise would have devastating impacts.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told reporters in Geneva that “It is worth repeating once again that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it.” In relation to this, WMO Deputy Chief Elena Manaenkova said, “Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life. It makes a difference to economic productivity, food security, and to the resilience of our infrastructure and cities. It makes a difference to the speed of glacier melt and water supplies, and the future of low-lying islands and coastal communities.”
The United Nations stipulated that global temperatures in 2018 are predicted to be the fourth highest on record and stressed the need for immediate action. The World Meteorological Organization, a UN agency, stated in its provisional report that “This would mean that the past four years – 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 – are also the four warmest years in the series.” This consistent pattern shows that climate change is rapidly increasing global temperatures and extreme weather patterns are to follow.
Not reversing the damage would lead to extreme weather including flooding, heatwaves, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. Additionally, this would lead to many climate refugees because certain countries would be inhospitable. In fact, Gina McCarthy, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commented that the recent wildfires in California are an example of climate change, leading to significant air pollution and the death of 80 people.
A major complaint from smaller and poorer nations which are often the most at risk is that they are not major emitters of greenhouse emissions. Poorer countries also do not have the means for newer or cleaner energy. As such, often the responsibility goes to Western democracies and established states. At the COP24 climate talks, all 183 parties to the Paris Agreement signed a new rulebook to ensure cooperation.
Past UN climate summit presidents have often called on members to confront these issues and create the necessary change. However, the difficulty in getting states to adhere to climate commitments comes from their unwillingness to act. A state may have good intentions and make promises but not do anything. In other cases, they may back out of agreements, such as Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris Accord.
Leaders at the Buenos Aires G20 summit agreed on 1 December that the Paris Agreement was “irreversible” and that the U.S. had reiterated its decision to withdraw from the accord. This makes it difficult as the aforementioned country is key in regards to climate change. Therefore, it was unfair for Trump to withdraw because this puts the initiative on every other member. Achieving progress on a global scale is difficult as there is no way to ensure equity among different nations. This creates a chaotic atmosphere where realist states put their own interests above global peace and security.
One way of ensuring equity is to have other powerful states pressure the U.S. The nation isolating itself also creates resentment and further insecurity which will impact the balance of power. The UN could also put pressure on the U.S. as it often refuses to participate in other important agreements, such as UNCLOS. If this country continues to remain power-hungry, realism dictates they will eventually be challenged which will lead to conflict.
Criticism for the inability to act came from Amjad Abdulla, the chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States of the UN who said that “A failure to act now risks pushing us beyond a point of no return with catastrophic consequences for life as we know it.” This criticism is deserved and although it is a common part of liberal relationships between nations, it is more important to work towards cooperation than to give up and simply stand alone.
The UN’s environmental program stipulated that the voluntary state contributions agreed to in Paris would have to triple for the international cap to fall below 2°C (or increase fivefold for 1.5°C). Therefore, it is vital for global leaders to put their differences aside and address the issues at hand. According to Laurence Tubiana, the CEO of the European Climate Foundation and the main architect of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. withdrawal may have a domino effect. In fact, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, claimed during his campaign to follow America’s lead. This is extremely alarming, especially considering the Brazilian Amazon and the impacts of its deforestation.
It is extremely important that people are educated on the impacts of climate change and that they pressure their governments to act. Leaders must also make the difficult but necessary decisions. It is even more important that nations put pressure on other states to act as if it were life or death because it is. Without rapid change, future generations will have no chance of withstanding the impacts of the aforesaid global phenomenon. This will only cause extreme regret and death.
Across the world, people are beginning to become fed up with government inaction. Protesting has become popular and is necessary because future generations will suffer due to the inaction of today. Therefore, people need to put pressure on governments to make changes now. Leadership is often more concerned about popularity than about creating revolutionary changes through “confrontational” and “radical” moves towards a safer climate. This, however, will need to change before we see more extreme weather, food shortages and energy shortages which will result in a surplus of displaced people.