The politics, economics and science of climate change

Ajmal Shams

Climate change is one of the most daunting challenges of our times. It is undoubtedly an existential threat to human survival on the planet. Despite large-scale efforts over the past few decades, awareness on the subject is still limited, and hampered by political, economic, social and cultural considerations.
Former US Vice President Al Gore’s documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth,” released in 2006, was the first major effort by a politician to present to a global audience the calamities of global warming and the need for preventive measures by the entire world.
Every summer, the loss of precious lives to heat waves in some parts of the world offers us a fresh reminder of the looming climate crisis, which is still awaiting an effective response by us all. About 100 people reportedly died from blistering heat in India in the past few days alone, and the deaths of hundreds worldwide every summer go unreported.
Despite sufficient scientific evidence about the risks, climate change and global warming are still subject to political, economic and sociocultural squabbling. The politicization of climate change is an unfortunate reality that must be addressed as a moral obligation. In this context, it is important to evaluate the degree to which time is still on our side; Gore’s documentary told us almost 20 years ago that we were essentially sitting on a ticking time bomb in terms of the urgency of the climate crisis.
Science provides the foundation for climate knowledge and climate action, with all other relevant domains built upon it. It is scientists and climate experts who tell us the truth about the issue and the corrective measures the global community must take to avert a climate catastrophe.
But there is no doubt that without political will at the very highest levels of governments, and social awareness throughout societies, the fight against climate change will lose its meaning. It is time we realized that the issue of climate change should not be treated as science for the sake of science. Instead, it should be viewed as a real, common threat to the entire human race requiring joint, and urgent, global action.
When it comes to addressing climate change, there are certainly reasons to be pessimistic as well as optimistic. But it would be best to adopt a more realistic and pragmatic approach. On the political side, it will be difficult to convey the message of which developments are environmentally friendly and which are not, and which we need to restrict.
It will be especially challenging for the developing economies of the world to be more selective in their options for economic growth and development, simply because they are latecomers to the process. Such countries can rightly argue that most of the damage to the environment has already been done by the more advanced economies of the world, and so placing restrictions on the pace of development in the developing world, especially on those industrial activities that produce greenhouse gases, would be unfair.
Yet, environmental catastrophes caused by climate change are universal and developing countries are often the most vulnerable to such disasters. Secondly, climate change threatens collective destruction and so warrants a joint response by the entire world, regardless of individual levels of development or geographic location.
On the positive side, significant achievements have been made, especially over the three decades since the establishment of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. This has led to annual gatherings of the Conference of the Parties (COP28 will take place this year in Dubai), a supreme decision-making body representing all states that have signed up to the convention.
These COP gatherings helped establish the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which were major milestones in the development of a collective response to climate change. The latter has legally binding status.
Yet there is still a long way to go in terms of all countries abiding by their climate commitments, which is what we need if we are to make a tangible impact. Recently the World Bank decided that all of its future financing would be aligned with the Paris Agreement, which was another significant development in the fight against climate change.
On the social and cultural side, developed and developing nations need to do more to raise awareness of climate change in mainstream society via educational curricula. Climate is currently included under the overall umbrella of the environment. However, there is a need to treat climate change as a separate and dedicated subject, to help increase awareness about it across a wider spectrum of society, from the general public to officials, professionals, scientists and government leaders.
Climate change could be gradually incorporated into education systems as a compulsory subject. It is an issue that requires action from every part of society if we are to make a real difference, and proper education is therefore a prerequisite to changing the public mindset. Tackling climate change is not just about big decisions by governments; everyone’s actions count and everyone has a role to play as responsible members of society.
Lastly, given the significance of climate change to human survival, the international community must establish new ways to recognize and reward individuals that make remarkable contributions to the fight against climate change. The annual COP meetings offer an excellent opportunity to celebrate such notable figures.
Climate change is no ordinary human challenge, and the response requires a mix of scientific, political, governance, economic, social and cultural tools. Isolated responses will not be effective in achieving positive results in the climate struggle.