The world is barrelling down a perilous path. Or, as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres put it: “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” But global warming is not just another political issue: reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions is an existential imperative that must not be ignored.
The urgency of this crisis cannot be overstated. As countries confront the devastating consequences of climate change, it is crucial to act on the basis of the scientific consensus: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the target set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement – requires halting new fossil fuel investments.
But emissions are not being reduced at the speed and scale necessary to limit warming, as recent events, including the UN General Assembly and Climate Week NYC, have highlighted. Despite global leaders’ frequent pledges of solidarity in support of climate action, a business-as-usual approach prevails in many countries. The United States, for example, has greenlit the Willow oil project in Alaska, while Brazil is flirting with oil exploration near the mouth of the Amazon River. The allure of short-term profits evidently outweighs policymakers’ fear of irreversible planetary costs.
Ironically, many of the countries that are most vulnerable to – and least responsible for – global warming are doing more than their fair share to achieve the 1.5 degree Celsius target. This year, in a historic referendum, the people of Ecuador voted to halt oil drilling in Yasuní National Park, which is part of the Amazon rainforest. In 2018, Belize became the first country to ban offshore oil exploration.
This disconnect is reflected in the Global Solidarity Report 2023, published by Global Nation with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Citizen, Glocalities, and Goals House. Analyzing the strength and resilience of the international community, the report paints a sobering picture. Most worryingly, a new scale to measure global solidarity shows that the world is in the “danger zone,” scoring 39 points (with 100 representing the highest level of shared purpose). While solidarity among the global public is more widespread than many assume, the institutional response has so far failed to match the gravity of the moment.
Consider the United Kingdom. Approximately 46% of UK respondents agreed that the country “should leave oil and gas reserves in the ground,” while only 17% disagreed. Yet the UK government recently approved the exploration of a massive new oilfield in the North Sea. Such a counterproductive decision so soon after the UK rallied world leaders behind the Glasgow Climate Pact at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) underscores the ever-growing trust deficit between governments and their own citizens, as well as among countries.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh, despite accounting for only 0.46% of current global emissions, has taken significant steps to move away from fossil fuels. The government decided to scrap plans for 10 coal-fired power plants that had attracted US$12 billion in foreign investment. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has emerged as a beacon of inspiration, urging her citizens to become leaders in and champions of global climate action, rather than passive victims of the crisis.
Moreover, most of the nine countries currently considered “almost sufficient” in meeting the 1.5 degrees Celsius target (according to the Climate Action Tracker) are in the developing world. Costa Rica, which produces most of its electricity from renewable sources, falls into this category. Innovative policies and financing models have enabled the government to protect the country’s forests and biodiversity.
Similarly, The Gambia has defied the odds in reaching “almost sufficient” status. For a short period in 2021, it was the only country compliant with the Paris climate agreement. Despite facing droughts and food insecurity in recent years, the Gambian government has set out an ambitious strategy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, by creating climate-resilient food systems, preserving biodiversity, investing in human capital, shifting to a low-emissions economy, and managing its coastal zones.
Sticking to the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement is not a far-fetched dream; as the example of Bangladesh and other developing countries shows, it demands leadership and moral investment. Notably, almost two-thirds of respondents surveyed in the Global Solidarity Report concur that international bodies should have the authority to enforce agreements related to certain pressing challenges, including environmental pollution.
The trust gap is the decisive obstacle to global solidarity. When pledges are repeatedly not honoured, suspicion grows, undermining the effectiveness of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. There is no solidarity without trust, and no multilateralism without solidarity.
Climate change is an emergency that requires an aggressive response. The international community must act quickly to keep fossil fuels in the ground, incentivize net-zero emissions, foster innovation and achieve a just transition. But doing so requires embracing our collective moral responsibility, rather than allowing the temptation of political and financial gain to lead us into the abyss. With our planet’s fate hanging in the balance, there is only one right choice.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury is a Bangladeshi member of parliament and a special envoy to the prime minister for climate change; and Hassan Damluji is a co-founder of Global Nation, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization and a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics.
Copyright: Project Syndicate