Multilateralism and Cooperation must win to ensure world survival


by Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

The G20 summit on Climate Change ended last week with an agreement on climate that commits its member nations to end coal financing by the end of the year and aims to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  Caribbean Prime Ministers (PM), Jamaica’s Andrew Holness and Barbados’ Mia Mottley urged the world leaders to act now to save the planet and to give climate change the same level of urgency they gave to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As with every Summit, the countries that account for most of the global total emissions and whose economies are still dependent on fossil fuels are not ready to sign any agreement.  In fact, the G20 members are off track to meet their 2018 emissions reduction targets, and not all G20 members have ratified the Paris Agreement.  My concern is that with only 12 years left to transform the global economy to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the G20 must impose strict compliance penalties; however, it does not have the authority to impose it.

Compounding the issue, research published by Nature Climate Change show at least 85 percent of the planet’s population has already begun to experience the effects of climate change.  These changes are creating heavy burdens on government, especially in countries with limited financial resources.  Financially strong countries are acknowledging that the transition will be expensive and are alarmed at the growing social unrest and weakening of public support as the costs of transition from fossil fuels impact poor and middle-income households.  Such as demonstrations against high energy bills in Spain, demands for social protection in Greece as coal mines close, protests in French rural areas and small towns over spiking petrol prices.

Rich nations have promised but has not delivered on the 100 billion annually to help poor countries address climate change, and US president Joe Biden promised to launch a new program to help developing countries adapt to climate change which he hopes will provide $3 billion in financing per year by fiscal 2024, however, he has to go to congress for approval; I doubt it will be approved.

Transitioning to a decarbonized planet is costly, disruptive and difficult, but it must be done to avert what PM Mottley calls: “A death sentence to the people of Antigua, the Maldives, Dominica, Kenya, Mozambique, Samoa and to the people of Barbados.”  And other countries impacted by global warming.  To address the cost issue, the European Union plans to raise money directly from financial markets by issuing up to €250 billion worth of green bonds.  Poor countries should be able to tax polluting companies that operate in their country and the wealthy business people who primarily benefit from these business transactions.

The transition will herald a seismic upheaval in the way goods and services are produced, will affect millions of jobs globally in fields as diverse as energy, agriculture, construction, shipping, finance, engineering, retail and even fashion, altering the social welfare needs of people who will require new skills and training to adapt.  Middle income and poor people must pay mortgages or rents, buy food, clothing and other necessary items monthly; they must think about the end of the month before they can think about climate change or the end of the world.  Governments must make financial contributions to ease this transition.

Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial revolution became the first country to legally mandate reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions through the Climate Change Act in 2008.  It has reduced emissions by 44 percent from 1990 levels and plans to end the sale of gasoline and diesel-fueled cars by 2030, and end the use of coal and gas fired plants and fossil fuel heating systems by 2035.  Britain is serious about taking action, PM Johnson urged participants to “make this summit the moment when humanity finally began to defuse that bomb.”

Scientists report that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. The effects on Canada’s environment include more extreme weather, meaning more heat waves and a higher risk of wildfires and droughts in some parts of the country.  PM Trudeau has increased Canada’s international climate finance contribution by $5.3 billion over the next five years, and $57.5 million to developing countries.  He emphasized that since 2015 Canada has invested $100 billion to cut pollution, create new middleclass jobs, and protect the environment.  

Russia didn’t attend the summit but has set 2060 as its own target date for carbon neutrality. More important, rising temperatures have opened up new economic opportunities in mining and energy projects in Russia’s Far North, especially year-round Artic shipping with specially designed “ice class” container vessels, offering an alternative to the Suez Canal. Also, farmers are planting corn in parts of Siberia where it never grew before, winter heating bills are declining, and Russian fishermen are catching pollock in thawed areas of the Arctic Ocean. 

The EU-US agreed to suspend steel and aluminum tariffs; however, Japan, China, India, Australia and Russia ensured that the language in the G20 communiqué did not include firm commitments around decarbonizing power systems.   Coal will be with us for a while since China and India are the world’s largest consumers of coal, and Australia and Russia are the world’s largest coal exporters and consumers. 

Biden told delegates at the COP26 summit that the U.S. will seek to become a “net-zero emissions economy” by no later than 2050, and that the US want to do more to help countries around the world, especially developing countries accelerating their clean energy transition, address pollution and ensure the world we all must share a cleaner, safer, healthier planet.”  Biden is sincere, but he has an antagonistic opposition and two “Dixiecrats” that opposes most of his policies.

The pandemic has shrunk government revenues and disrupted supply chains, hampering adaptation projects, particularly in developing countries.  Caribbean experts have pointed to the negative effects of warmer waters on coral reefs which are crucial to aqua tourism, and expect more hurricanes, which are gaining strength in an open Atlantic and destroying communities.  Changes in the condition of weather such as drought and shorter but more intense rainfall will negatively impact health and contribute to problems like flooding, food insecurity, and migration, Haiti being the most disastrous example.

This past year recorded the greatest transfers of wealth in history, as more and more working-class people slipped into debt, or faced eviction, or used their savings to stay afloat during the pandemic, the world’s 3,000 billionaires are billions richer.  Wealth inequality permeates every aspect of life under capitalism.  The world faces a choice between our grandchildren’s future and corporate greed.  Corporate greed has been winning since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The world’s largest economies spent $16 trillion globally to jumpstart their economies during the Covid-19 pandemic. World leaders must now decide to spend trillions for climate adaptation to ensure the survival of the planet.  Leaders of island nations made impassioned appeals at the U.N. climate summit, arguing not only that the rest of the world should act in its own interest, but that it has an obligation specifically to them.  Protectionism, unilateralism, nationalism must be rejected; multilateralism and Cooperation must win to ensure world survival.

(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)