Old rhetoric dies hard
Public pressure has already pushed countries such as Germany and the UK to commit to becoming greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050. Likewise, at the UN Climate Action Summit, a group of nearly 90 large companies promised to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
These commitments are encouraging, but whether or not these good intentions will result in concrete action to mitigate carbon emissions is another matter. The Global Carbon Project reports that, despite the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, global CO2 emissions have risen steadily since 1960, and were projected to rise by a near-record amount by 2019, according to the UK Met Office. Governments have been widely criticised for their lack of ambition –India is planning to ramp up renewable energy but not to phase out coal, China is not putting forward any new measures, and the US and Brazil are not showing up at international climate summits. The world urgently needs more fundamental socio-economic transformations and carbon-curbing actions in key sectors, such as land use and energy, together with tools to support adaptation.
Climate mitigation policies are likely to face backlash from companies that have generated their wealth based on the exploitation of the environment. For instance, recent attempts by oil and gas companies to engage with young people and discuss their response to climate change are tainted by the industries’ efforts in delaying or blocking climate policies. Industrial food production and large-scale factory farming will also have to adapt. Currently, crop subsidies in large economies like the US and the EU are still supporting GHG-intensive activities, such as providing livestock producers with cheap feed grains that allow the meat industry to keep their prices low and thus stimulate meat consumption.
Decision-makers must drive inclusive, multilateral action
So how can we create the shifts in power relations to ensure everyone does its part in addressing the climate emergency we are facing?
A first way is by opening up space to new voices. History shows that change is possible, even when the interests ranged against it are formidable – what happened with slavery, female suffrage, and workers' civil rights stands as a hopeful reminder of what social movements and political commitment can achieve. The youth is picking up on that, not only through regular protests, but also through concerted political action. What is more, girls and women have taken the centre stage in the current wave of climate protests – not only ingenious environmental, but also feminist signs and slogans have captured the their right to have the same voice and responsibilities as men in deciding about the world’s future.
Secondly, governments should play a key role through foreign policy by supporting climate diplomacy and international climate processes. Whereas traditional diplomacy works on bi- and multilateral cooperation that often ends up increasing the gap between rich and poor, climate diplomacy has been fundamental in shifting the narrative to support equity and justice. It has brought developing countries to the centre stage, pointing out their heightened vulnerabilities, as well as the bigger responsibilities of developed countries. In a way, climate diplomacy has been, by its very nature, one of the greatest equalizers of contemporary politics. Therefore, beyond pointing to the increasing difficulties of achieving joint action in a changed geopolitical environment, decision-makers must focus on actively driving multilateral action forward and constantly underlining its value. If we are to fundamentally redesign our financial, trade, production, energy, political and social systems to address the climate crisis, this process will be essential. Climate diplomacy can support equity and justice: without it, everyone will lose.