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My friends and I have this saying whenever it gets hot out “Global warming is real”. The phrase would be followed by laughter, a few expletives at Mother Nature and a long rant about how expensive sunscreen is and what are the best brands out there. Four years ago, none of us knew what SPF was – well I still don’t know but apparently it is good for you. These are just but subtle shifts in our daily lives that are a consequence of global warming and as the years go by these shifts will become more pronounced and we will have to change a lot more than just our skincare routines. However, this is me speaking from a more privileged standpoint. Some of my countrymen are dying because of floods, extended droughts and loss of livelihoods. Others face the complete annihilation of their homes, their cultures and their memories because of the rising sea levels that threaten to immortalize them as mini-Atlantises at the bottom of the sea. Climate change is a multi-faceted problem that is cross-sectoral in nature and we don’t have a blueprint of solving such a problem because we have never faced such a grand problem as humanity and it doesn’t help that it is our fault. At this point, I would rather deal with an alien invasion.
We already know that climate change exists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the reports of many other scientists and organizations have hit us with enough bone-chilling Science to prove this point. We have plenty of options on curbing this crisis but most of them have failed because they are either too insensitive to the situation on the ground, too vague, too naïve and sometimes unrealistic. A new take is needed to ensure the effectiveness of these solutions. We must first understand our position as individual countries, ask ourselves what are our biggest contributors to our carbon footprint, provide a combination of deadlines and timelines and tailor the policies to target these specific areas. Our policies need to be clear with legally-binding repercussions for those who refuse to comply. Introducing carbon taxes with carbon rationing, implementing cap and trade regulatory systems, regulating subsidies and heavy penalties for polluters. Extractive industries such as oil and gas should get no more free rides in terms of subsidies. Food and aviation subsidies should also be axed as they are a close second to fossil fuels in terms of pollution rates. Developing countries can reduce subsidies on fossil fuels and industrialized nations can direct taxes and penalties on fossil fuels into development of renewable energies thereby creating a sustainable system.
The Paris Agreement is probably one of the most unifying forms of governance that is addressing climate change currently as can be evidenced by the 185 Parties that have ratified out of 197 Parties to the Convention. The Paris Agreement’s agenda is promoting diplomacy by having open and inclusive processes, championing formal and informal dialogue, focusing on domestic politics that is more impactful, advocating for global stocktaking, naming and shaming noncompliant countries and being a voice that calms the masses. While cognizant of their strides, they should give countries mandatory goals that they should achieve, have penalties for non-compliance, set the realistic goals of managing the global temperature increase. Furthermore, they are pretty suspect on if the agreement is legally binding so they should provide clarification. The agreement has given the US government an opportunity to pull out of the agreement altogether to the consternation of its citizens. This move sends a message; climate-deniers have won. While it is unlikely that other countries will follow suit, there will be a reluctance by the remaining members to put in efforts considering that the second largest polluter in the world is not bound by the agreement so why should they put in the effort. Moreover, their exit also impedes the urgency and brevity of climate change. The PARIS Agreement is far from being a durable institution and we know time is a key factor to its evolution, it is painful we don’t have the luxury to wait for it to be better.
Dealing with climate change is expensive and the cost of adjusting to the climatic changes is even more expensive. The world has enjoyed 300 years of economic growth fueled by fossil fuels and has incurred a debt to Mother Nature. She has finally come to collect. We have to decide whether or not we are going to let ourselves and future generations live in a post-apocalyptic type world that is imbued with conflicts over resources, a world that children cannot play outside because the air is too toxic, a world that is no longer beautiful. Mitigating climate change necessitates changing our infrastructure that is heavily reliant on fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy. Technology will play a major role in fighting climate change in an economically feasible and politically rational way. Technology will provide us with data on the problems and reveal opportunities and solutions. Deploying advanced sensors can map out the spread of pollution for planning purposes. Capitalism, the foundation of our very economies will have to be reconsidered because mitigating climate change necessitates using fewer natural resources – the antithesis of capitalism. We will need to handle the rapid population problem because more people mean greater exploitation of our environment. We will need to adjust our views on wealth as nations. As humans, we will need to examine ourselves and if satisfying our greed is worth compromising the lives of future generations.
To conlude the essay, as a person who lives in a developing country, I understand the pain of having to pay for mistakes we neither made nor benefited from. For those who benefited from polluting the earth, you need to do better for your people and for yourself. We are past the point of pointing fingers and resting on our laurels. We must take action. Immediately. Urgently. Now.
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