Climate summit 2021: Economics may trump ethics, environment

Climate change, sea level rise
Adaptation and mitigation measures to address rising sea levels and other manifestations of climate change require significant resources and political will.

By Saumy Prateek

If the recently concluded Climate Summit 2021 hosted by the United States is anything to go by, world nations are becoming increasingly aware of the need to coexist with the nature. It seems that economic gains are now being aligned with ecological needs. But world leaders need to be alert not to allow the summit slip into the pattern of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement, where all recognised  climate action as need of the hour, but few followed their words with deeds.

A paradigm shift is happening, fueled by the expectations of economic gains and the perceived threat to human survival. The world leaders have become amenable to the idea of leveraging technological advancement to maintain the balance of environment. But, is the world moving in the right direction? Or is it just going through a well-thought-out process of policy execution that dissolves boundaries of trade, competition, profits and losses? Only time will tell.

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Positive response to Climate summit 2021

US President Joe Biden did a U-turn on the road trodden by his predecessor Donald Trump to bring the US back into the fold of Paris Climate Agreement. Biden pledged that the US would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 52% of the 2005 levels by 2030. The European Union follows a 1990 baseline, a different story related to Kyoto protocol and early cuts in emissions by EU.

Around 40 world leaders including Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Jair Bolsonaro as well as leaders of India, Canada, Germany, France, South Korea, and Japan attended the summit. Vladimir Putin urged the world leaders to act to stymie climate change, putting aside trade disputes and ideological differences. In the Russian Federal Assembly, he had pledged a drastic reduction in net emissions by 2050.

Chinese Premier Xi pledged that China would attain peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. Stressing on global climate cooperation, Xi informed the gathering about a joint Sino-US joint statement addressing the climate crisis. Xi also vowed to control the generation of coal power in China.

In accordance with India’s plan to reduce carbon emissions by 35% (from 2005 levels) by 2030, Prime Minister Narendra Modi informed the world regarding intensifying Indo-US cooperation to tackle climate change and the India-US climate and clean energy Agenda 2030 partnership, aimed at mobilising investments, enabling innovations in clean energy technologies and green collaborations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel informed that her country and the EU will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged an over 10% increase in emission cuts up from 30% to 40%-45% (from 2005 levels) by 2030.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vowed to put a stop to illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforests by 2030 and make the country carbon neutral by 2050. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said his country will become carbon neutral by 2050. South Korea vowed to stop financing coal-powered power projects.

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Will the capitalist order reinvent itself?

Overall, one can see an effort by the capitalist world order to do good business at the opportune moment, rather than taking requisite action out of a sense of obligation to the environment. According to inferences from a statement released by the White House, “Joe Biden wants to build a critical infrastructure to produce and deploy clean technology — both those can harness today and those that’ll invent tomorrow. He sees an opportunity to create millions of good-paying, middle-class, union jobs…”

“The US is aiming at autoworkers building the next generation of electric vehicles, and electricians installing nationwide 500,000 charging stations along American highways…The aim is also to enable farmers to deploy cutting-edge tools to make the American spoil the next frontier in carbon innovation.” The US wants to lead the technocratic world and that is the reason behind this push for clean, green technology. The greed is going to profit the environment, but at what cost?

China issued a joint statement regarding close cooperation with the US in matters related to combating climate change. Market gains are at the core as China is the largest market for electric vehicles, hub of solar energy production as well as production of all equipment required to set up solar power generation units and wind and hydro power generation units. As with most modern technological innovations and gadgets use American or European technology, but the product is manufactured in China, the green technology products also will be manufactured in China,

Russia and India want to cash in on the new trend. India has been an early starter in the race for renewables and there are issues coming up in terms of execution of large-scale projects as there is dearth of financing as well as indigenous production capacity of equipment for renewable energy projects (solar, wind). If the country has to reach the target of 450 GW renewables by 2030, it must catch the bandwagon; but what would be the cost of achieving the target? There are talks of downgrading shrubs and herbs as not forests or part of forest so that such areas can be utilised for such projects in the future.

Russia wants to utilize its vast tracts of land to produce clean electricity and sell it to Europe. But the idea is to use it as a ploy to make the rest of Europe amenable to its terms or advances and to tow the line at times. This will help it gain huge profits. But all these players talking about international cooperation is heart-warming.

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Climate Summit 2021: Words, deeds do not natch

But equally heart-rending is the fact that none of the assembled leaders could reach a consensus and cap a grant fund with a number to it when Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Alfonso Browne requested debt relief and international assistance to recover from storms and the pandemic to prevent a flow of climate refugees.

When Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil wanted close to a billion dollars this year to help prevent illegal logging in the Amazon region, leaders could arrive at a consensus to help with funds. It has been a few days since the summit and still no news on these goals.

The summit seems to have sparked a race to be the best clean and green version of nations where all the big ones want to be leaders, but no one wants to lead. All countries want to mine more rare minerals, metals and ores commonly used in solar panels, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries, electric vehicles, and energy efficient systems. If it is a race, then patents will be acquired to make profits.

But if it is not a race then this decade will be the one where humans took a U-turn as a species. A country going green should be a boon for its neighbours too. Policies need to be designed, keeping the entire region in mind, not just the interest of one nation. Cross-border trade in electricity, EVs should be facilitated, expedited, but not by monopolising technology and production.

If it is not a race, then the world will witness equitable sharing of technology and funds, not clarion calls such as American first. There is very little time left to deal with the aftereffects of another wave of demand and the economic benefits. Best technologies and practices need to be made available to all nations, rather than waiting to make a good profit.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the world nations have not yet learnt the lessons completely. There was no onus on addressing the issues faced by smaller nations. It is true that these nations have smaller economies and represent smaller markets for products made in the bigger, developed economies. But that doesn’t mean that their concerns can be ignored.
Only time will tell if the summit will become a converging point of ideologies and philosophies or will become another event to align economic gains with environmental needs that will create a new wave of unchecked growth in demand.

(By Saumy Prateek is a student at the Gandhian Centre for Peace and Aesthetics Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education.)