Cognitive Dissonance - Climate Change
Climate change has been the most debated, deliberated, and calculated phenomenon in recent times. Its consequences are massive, often irreversible, not only for the flora, fauna, and socio-economic life, but almost every sphere of life on earth. As the threats from climate change become increasingly visible and felt, its inclusion in almost every multilateral and bilateral deliberation has become a must.
Image Graphics by Team Geostrata
Countries around the world have set different goals and pledged different technologies to curtail it, however, the geopolitical and economic priorities of countries have become impediments to their realization.
Though the leaders recognise the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation as indispensable, the collective ‘cognitive dissonance’ has taken over; as evident in the missed promises and misplaced priorities, especially from the biggest polluters.
Every time an international forum on climate change is organized, the most important among them being- the Conference of the Parties (or “COP”) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), each country comes up with an elaborate list of strategies and timelines. A few of the addresses at the forum, particularly the speeches from the leaders of the most powerful countries, make the global headlines for the next few days.
Like that of US President Joe Biden’s- ‘America is Back’ remark and the vow to tackle the climate crisis which he has described as an “existential threat” to civilization, promising a cut on fossil fuel emissions and progress towards green energy.
However, how many of these promises materialize into reality?
It's ironic to note that the same United States that pledged big on fossil fuel cuts has offered up 80m acres of ocean water to oil drillers, recently. At the Glasgow talks, namely COP26, the US also declined to sign on to an agreement to end coal mining, or to phase out gasoline and diesel cars.
Neither the public nor the media seems to raise this question of accountability in a significant manner.
A BROKEN PROMISE
The climate activists were highly elated to hear the announcement of the popular 100-billion-dollar climate financing package back at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) of the UNFCCC in Copenhagen in 2009.
This move by developed countries committed to a collective goal of mobilizing USD 100 billion per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation.
That promise was broken. In 2019, the UN concluded that “the only realistic scenarios” showed the $100-billion target was out of reach. “We are not there yet,” conceded UN secretary-general António Guterres.
It was revealed that OECD’s (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimates of climate finance were vastly overestimated. While the official numbers claim $70 billion to $80 billion were distributed each year in 2017-18, Oxfam found that the actual financing was only between $19 billion and $22 billion.
While rich countries fell miserably short on climate financing, it's crucial to ask where the money that has been funded was used. Most of the money is flowing to the private sector to increase investments in green technology, but the core concern of human rehabilitation for the already affected areas is not among the primary target points.
Some activists, therefore, argue that promises should exclude private finance, to avoid confusion regarding the actual money that is flowing. Still, the extra pledges should enable wealthy nations to reach the $100 billion target for 2022, according to climate economist Nicholas Stern.
BACKSLIDING & U-TURNS
European countries are not only reopening coal plants on the continent but are actively looking to develop new sources of fossil fuel abroad, in low-income countries as well where they previously worked to block investment.
Though the recent geopolitical changes around the globe, the Ukraine- Russia war, in particular, had significantly altered power balance, supply chains, and economic stability; forcing countries to rethink their priorities and redevise their policies; the move taken by European nations to restart coal plants and fund fossil fuels is a clear sign of climate hypocrisy.
The self-proclaimed climate champions of the world are now pacing up fossil fuel use to avert the economic downfall. This shift has been described by Guterres as "madness," before warning that humanity's "addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction."
THE DILEMMA OF THE DEVELOPING
The developing nations of the world which for decades, faced brutal exploitation of resources in the hands of the developed countries, are now facing the wrath of nature through extreme weather events. As evident through the recent floods in Pakistan, a country that happens to contribute only 1.5% of global carbon emissions. The floods have wiped off more than one-third of the country’s agricultural land, resulting in over 1500 deaths and causing huge destruction to property (approximately $16 billion).
Developing countries have lower emissions, but are still bearing the brunt of a hotter climate through more severe heat waves, floods, and droughts.
Hence, they are refusing to completely abide by the climate goals, unless significant climate finances are given by the developed countries to help in their economic growth, transition to cleaner energy, and climate adaptation. These countries argue that developed countries, like the U.S and those in the European Union, are responsible for most of the heat-trapping emissions pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
A POLLUTER'S OBLIGATION
The so-called climate champions of the developed world, have been the main violators and villains of climate change, contributing the most to carbon emissions, historically. The developed countries lecture developing and poor nations about climate goals, often restricting investments and bullying them into cognizance.
However, it becomes their primary obligation to fund all the damage they caused in these countries. The loud gallery speeches and media lectures will help nobody. The developed world should take responsibility for its historical wrongs and stop playing the all-innocent card.
Developed countries must deliver on their commitments to climate change.
The 27th Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC is all set to commence on 6th November 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Leaders across the world will gather once again to discuss and review climate action and goals.
There was considerable pomp and attention to the previous COP 26, however, it fell strikingly short of what was expected. There was no consensus on two of the most important issues: renewing targets for 2030 that align with limiting warming to 1.5℃, and an agreement on accelerating the phase-out of coal.
This time, the focus will be on the re-emphasis on coal-powered plants and the U-turn taken by countries on climate goals to avert economic downfall. Undoubtedly, some serious deliberations will be held on the Ukraine war and its implications on climate change and climate financing.
The world is in the midst of a growing energy crisis, record greenhouse gas concentrations, and increasing extreme weather events; and COP27 seeks renewed solidarity between countries, to deliver on the landmark Paris Agreement, for people and the planet.
The top UN official underscored the importance of COP27 while warning that the collective commitments of G20 leading industrialized nations' governments are coming “far too little, and far too late”. Mr. Guterres warned, “we are in a life-or-death struggle for our safety today and our survival tomorrow,” saying there is no time for pointing fingers or “twiddling thumbs” but instead requires “a quantum level compromise between developed and emerging economies”.
The war and the economic fallout are temporary, but climate change is here to stay for a very long time. Cognitive dissonance towards climate change is an existential threat to millions of species on this planet, including humans. The world powers need to be decisive and act before it’s too late; considering the destruction that the consequences of climate change would befall—certainly, far more destructive than any war or recession.
BY JNANITA ASAPU