Change is inevitable, but climate change is damaging. Simon Chin-Yee argues that as the COP21 discussions continue in Paris, we must adapt to limit the damage being caused by climate change.
Mark Twain once said: “I’m all for progress, its change I object to.” What is it about human nature that makes us averse to change, even when we know that change is beneficial? This week, one of the largest UN conferences ever is taking place in Paris to discuss change! Climate change to be precise: how to effectively govern the climate on a global scale? The climate is changing, weather we like it or not (pun intended), perhaps the first thing we need to change is our mindset.
In recent years, we have seen the effects of climate change already taking its toll. Severe typhoons in the Philippines causing death and destruction have become an annual event. Droughts devastating crops and livestock in East Africa are causing famine and forcing people to relocate. There has been an increase in climate refugees as people flee their home countries in the hundreds of thousands in search of stability. As climate change increasingly undermines human security, we can even link the recent terrorist activities in cities like Beirut, Garissa and Paris to violent conflicts that are exacerbated by climate change, because of a lack of natural resources and the ability of governments to provide the services needed to sustain livelihoods.
First of all, we need to dispel this outdated notion that climate change is a purely environmental concern. People may not like change, but as the fall-outs from climate change continue, we are forced to rethink and change traditional practices and ways of life. All of a sudden, climate change goes from being this abstract notion of weather patterns and warming oceans to having tangible economic, social and cultural impacts on society.
The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is currently underway. Over the next 11 days, world leaders, negotiators, civil society organizations, scientists and academics from all over the world have gathered in Paris to make commitments that will have a far reaching effect for future generations. Their mission, if they choose to accept it, is to take action and come up with a strong binding agreement that will replace the failed Kyoto Accord. However, in this arena, climate change becomes a political issue. For those who are trying to stall or derail the process of international climate governance, this aversion to change is very strategic.
The science behind anthropogenic climate change is now irrefutable. The 2007 IPCC report noted that there has been an increase in the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. The World Resources Institute in Washington warned that the average rate of warming is greater than any time in the past 10,000 years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has sent out warnings that if the current rate of energy expenditure is not controlled immediately then we will see a warming of 6 degrees Celsius.
In 2015, the only reason that the arguments of climate sceptics have any weight is because they are advocating for the continued use of fossil fuels and maintaining the status quo. This handful of climate deniers has been able to effectively stall the road to COP21 by placing a certain amount of doubt in the public consciousness.
Global governance is further complicated because of the very nature of climate change. On the one hand, as the climate and ecosystems as well as greenhouse gas emissions are not contained by state boundaries, it is truly an international problem; while on the other hand, as weather patterns change it can have a direct effect on the lives of individuals and communities.
If COP21 is to be seen as a success, there will need to be a concerted effort on behalf of all states to reach an agreement that will:
- have strong binding targets for all parties to the convention;
- address the historical imbalances of global climate emissions;
- give solid sustainable framework through which all member states will be able to not only formulate but implement national climate policy.
Those lobbying for change versus those seeking to maintain the status quo have complicated the negotiations. We are in this position today because of our ‘success’ as a species. We have become relatively prosperous is a short amount of time, and have accomplished this through the consumption and extraction of fossil fuels (oil, petroleum, coal).
The problem is that this wealth is concentrated in the comparatively less-populated developed countries – North America, Europe – while the billions of people who form part of the developing countries have not reaped the benefits from this overconsumption. It is recognized that it is “the world’s most vulnerable people who will suffer most from the convulsions of climate.” The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that it is the poor and the marginalized that live off the land, sea or lakes that will be the most affected. They also happen to be the people who are least able to adapt to climate change. However, within the negotiations, the voices of developing countries seem to get lost in the debates and discussions.
COP21 is underway, and the world is watching. We understand the devastating effects of our overconsumption, but our next test is the one that will count: how will we change? As humans, we are at once very adaptable, while at the same time, averse to change.
We must ignore Mark Twain and embrace both progress and change! It is not going to be without its pitfalls. With change in policy there are always winners and there are losers. The ones who will lose out the most if we do not change our ways are those who are most vulnerable in society and the future generations. These are not people who caused the climate crisis we are in. We will be judged by the actions taken in the very near future, because what has become blatantly clear is that we either change voluntarily now – or we will be forced to in the future.