HOW SOCIAL CHANGE HAPPENS

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION ON CLIMATE CHANGE

FLASH POINTS

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FLASH POINTS

Responsibility of Developed Nations

One of the main failures of the Kyoto Protocol ratified in 1997 was the controversial burden of responsibilities on wealthy and industrialised nations measured by GDP per capita.

The underlying assumption was that these wealthy and industrialised nations have produced the most greenhouse gases to progress economically, while the poor and developing nations will need to rely on carbon intensive processes to raise their living standards to match those of developed countries.

Given that most of the top emitting companies are based in wealthy and industrialised countries, and given their influence on the top political figures, it is no surprise that some countries including the United States, disapproved of the Kyoto Protocol.

On the other hand, the argument from the developing world is that those who contribute most to climate change through carbon emissions are the 700 million people who live in industrialised economics and have abundance of wealth.

The Paris Agreement attempted to rectify this issue by placing the responsibility on both developed and developing countries to flexibly set their own targets according to their capacity.

However, this historical difference in responsibility remains pertinent in current climate debates. Rapidly developing countries such as India face the challenges of growing its economy alongside a changing climate. They argue that countries such as the US have a high emission per capita while countries like India remains low.

Watch this video from World101 on 'Who's Responsible for Climate Change?'

Climate change inequality therefore manifests in various forms and have trickle effects on others aspects of life. 

Geopolitical Tensions

Although acting on climate change is a global collaborative effort, geopolitical tensions between the two largest economies of the world can pose to derail the progress of climate change cooperation.

The US and China, both increasingly competitive with each other are both the top two greenhouse gases emitting countries. While opportunists see climate change as one of few areas of potential collaboration between the two rivals, realists regard the geopolitical and security tension as ultimately an important factor to the progress of climate change actions.

Given the importance of carbon-intensive energy sectors in both countries, the US and China both appears willing to undermine one another’s compromises on greenhouse gas emissions.

Under Trump, the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement while China boldly and publicly set the ambitious goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2060 at the UN to demonstrate their desires to collaborate with the world.

Since President Biden took over the top job, the US has taken steps to exemplify its leadership in climate change cooperation. Today, geopolitical considerations continue to present as an underlying factor in many of their decisions on climate change action.

Read more about in this Washington Post article about how U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry implored China to move more aggressively to slow global warming. 

Industry Priorities and Domestic Politics

In addition to geopolitical rivalry, national politics also play a crucial role in acting proactively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As an example, President Trump argued for the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement because he did not believe that the agreement served his vision of a revitalised US economy with booming energy production in coal and oil to provide jobs. This was one of his campaign promises to boost the confidence of his domestic audience which eventually played a part in his eventual election to the presidency.

Australia is another wealthy and industrialised that continues to avert concerns of climate change. Despite being the regional leader of a region comprising of Pacific Islands most vulnerable to climate change, Australia has only committed to reach net zero by 2050 days before the COP26 at Glasgow. 

Read this ABC story about Australia and climate change.

ABC climate change story

ABC climate change story

When pressed by reporters, Scott Morrison refrained from making commitments and plays down Australia’s reluctance to act on climate change by insisting that Australia will achieve its Paris Agreement targets of cutting emissions by 26-28 percent on 2005 levels by 2030. Current projections project Australia’s emissions to only be at 16 percent lower than 2005 levels in 2030.

Australia is a major world exporter of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Similarly, these commodities also account for a big part of the Australian economy and provides thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Following tragic bushfires at the start of summer in 2019, Scott Morrison publicly stated that he would not make ‘reckless’ cuts to the nation’s coal industry despite criticisms of his climate change response.

In its dilemma to compromise between its economic cash cow of coal and its climate change responsibilities, the Australian government has set its sights on using technology to drive down its carbon emissions.