In recent years, the issue of the environment has gained popularity as a buzzword in economic discourse. Nations, despite having the desire to build sustainable communities, are not willing to compromise on the pace of development or bear additional costs for environmental protection. While the global north propagates strategies to minimize global warming and climate change without taking much action, the burden of implementing environment-positive policies often falls on the global south. Youth activists like Greta Thunberg point out that decision-makers today won't live to face the consequences of climate change in the future, making youth participation in climate action crucial. Despite the scientific consensus on the urgency of addressing climate change, recent climate summits have been deemed to be failures due to inadequate climate targets and lack of compliance enforcement. Ultimately, policymakers and individuals alike must prioritize environmental preservation and take impactful action toward creating a sustainable future for all.
Just like poverty, health, and institutions, the environment has become yet another category in economic discourse. Intellectuals, scholars, and policymakers sit in their fancy, air-conditioned offices; debating about how mass production and emissions are immensely contributing to environmental degradation. The issue of “environment”, climate change, and global warming have been gaining popularity to such an extent that they have now become buzzwords.
PASSING THE BURDEN
All nations wish to actively contribute towards building sustainable models and communities, yet they aren’t willing to compromise on the pace of development, bear additional costs, or take the burden of environmental protection into their own hands. The global north, which comprises developed nations, becomes the spokesperson for environmental causes. They propagate strategies to minimize global warming and climate change, yet they themselves don’t seem to implement the same. The USA has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050; however, it is the world's second-largest GHG emitter, responsible for 30% of global energy use and 28% of total carbon emissions. On the other hand, the burden of actually implementing environment-positive policies falls upon the global south, which is already struggling with problems like economic instability, poverty, health crises, etc.
YOUTH AND CLIMATE ACTIVISM
Negative environmental effects cannot be seen as immediate results. They accumulate over time and gradually erode natural resources. Since there is a relatively big time lag between environmentally degrading actions and their subsequent effects, the discount rate for policy-makers is very high. The discount rate is the rate at which society as a whole is willing to trade off the present for future benefits. Since the impact is not immediate, the problem of climate change is recognized in the present but not dealt with. Our society is very well aware of the drastic consequences that climate change can have in the future: Rising sea levels are already drowning cities, inconsistent weather patterns are causing havoc for the agriculture sector and wildlife species are disappearing faster than they did during periods of mass extinction. Yet, we prefer to value present benefits in terms of convenience rather than the future. This mentality might be attributed to the fact that a lot of decision-makers today won’t even be alive to face the consequences of climate change in the future. They personally don’t have much at stake. Youth activists like Greta Thunberg point this out as a huge problem. According to Thunberg, the youth needs to be more active and contribute towards climate action because they are the ones who would have to suffer direct consequences; it is their own future which is at stake.
ARE CLIMATE SUMMITS FAILING?
International summits become the stage for climate activism, but the legitimacy of these summits and conferences to make a real impact has been in question for a while. A number of expert commentators have already declared COP27 — the recent UN climate summit in Egypt — to be a failure. Many countries have been criticized for setting inadequate or unambitious climate targets, which fall far short of what is required. At the same time, some countries set unachievable, over-ambitious targets, partly due to political and economic pressures, and are thus not able to meet them. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which oversees the COP process, does not have the power to enforce compliance with the commitments made by countries. As a result, there are no legal consequences for countries that fail to meet their commitments. The COP process involves negotiations among nearly 200 countries, each with its own interests and priorities. This can lead to disagreements and delays in decision-making, making it difficult to reach consensus on important issues. Moreover, despite the scientific consensus on the urgency of addressing climate change, some countries and individuals continue to deny the reality of climate change or delay taking action. This can lead to a lack of political will to implement meaningful climate policies and measures. Overall, the complex nature of the climate crisis and the difficulty of achieving international cooperation on such a complex issue make it challenging to find solutions through a process like COP. However, summits do the bare minimum of providing the world with a platform to talk about climate change, hold countries accountable, and keep the issue of environmental degradation in the spotlight.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The main problem lies in the fact that the issue of climate change is the elephant in the room. Conversation about the environment is reduced to superficial policy changes and diplomatic formalities; while, in reality, countries are promoting their development at all costs. The Glasgow Climate Pact emphasized that phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is a fundamental step towards a successful clean energy transition. However, today’s global energy crisis has also underscored some of the political challenges of doing so. New and ever-higher subsidies for fossil fuels have been introduced. In the EU new tax breaks have mainly focused on fossil fuel use in energy-intensive industries and transportation, although in the UK tax breaks for exploration have been expanding rapidly. The International Energy Agency reports that in 2011 fossil fuel subsidies worldwide came to US$523 billion, six times the level of support for renewable energy. In 2022, almost a decade later, subsidies worldwide for fossil fuel consumption skyrocketed to more than USD 1 trillion, according to the IEA’s latest estimate, by far the largest annual value ever seen.
Climate change and environmental degradation deserve the spotlight. While the issue has gained significant attention, there is still a long way to go in terms of implementing meaningful policies and actions. We not only need to repeatedly talk about these issues but also take impactful action against them. Policymakers and individuals alike must prioritize the environment over short-term convenience and profit, and work towards creating a sustainable future for all. Trying times call for a revolution to protect our planet and the lives of the generations to come.