Throughout history, man has been known to act with selfish interest. By extension, the emergence of the nation-state ever since Westphalia has also seen a continuation of man’s selfishness, albeit at a collective level. Climate change, global warming, environmental degradation, emissions etc. are a mere reminder of what humans have individually and collectively done in pursuit of creating opportunities, progress as well as adapting to new demands over space and time.
The question therefore, of how the EU and the US can co-operate on whatever action for climate change itself demonstrates an admission that both sides are no longer keen to be seen as central to the problem, but rather as part of the solution. This may be true, but when it comes to incentivizing for the same, it cannot be contested that the two have a big role to play in attempts to save the planet.
EU and US Must Accept Responsibility
Admittedly, it will be difficult for the European Union and the United States to speak with moral authority on climate change given the fact that they have reached their current levels of development by causing many of today's climate problems.
By far the most significant and pragmatic stance on climate change in recent times was the admission that, post Copenhagen; it is no longer about reducing emissions, but rather creating viable alternatives. After all, this is just what human progress has always been about- widening options.
The US, arguably the worst emitter, has made no secret that it is uncomfortable with Kyoto and it would be stretching imagination too far to expect them to take it seriously. This article posits that since humans have conspired, willingly or unwillingly to damage the environment, it is also the same humans who will be creative enough to avert potential damage in the medium to short term.
The technological revolution, especially at the turn of the millennium, which made life relatively easier while creating new problems, is not very different from greenhouse emissions and their effects that so concern us here. Human beings create and solve their own problems.
The EU and US have reached a level of human and infrastructural development that is revered and admired across the globe. These admirers however, will certainly have to indulge in actions that endanger the environment and ultimately cause climate change to reach the same level.
Enter China. The Asian giant will not stop at anything in its current roll as an economic giant via heavy industrialization. It is already acknowledged that if current trends continue, China will overtake the US as the world’s biggest polluter. The EU and the US would do well to stop criticizing China’s emissions, but rather encourage the use of clean technology. If the US and the EU could actually go a step further and transfer such technology to the Chinese, then progress may be registered.
Tax the Polluters
The EU and the US are meanwhile home to highly consumerist populations whose combined total is a significant lot of the worlds. Consumerism in these two continents, whether on matters of food, clothing, transport or fuel is a serious statistic that cannot be ignored in any discussion that seeks to address climate change.
Political leadership ought to enact measures such as increasing taxes on vehicles, polluting industries and the producers of genetically modified food to cut down on environmentally costly consumption. This may trigger massive protests from citizens in these countries who have been so used to having it easy. However, such reaction will make headlines for sometime of course but will gradually die down. Political will is however a minimum requirement to progress for the common good.
Clean Technology Transfers
The transfer of technology to developing parts of the world is an essential overdue incentive. This will have a double effect of fighting poverty and at the same time, result in real development aid. The days of food aid handouts should be declared over, with the exception of distressed areas such as countries hit by floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, conflict or other such phenomena.
Sadly, bridging the gap between the EU/US and the rest of the world seems to be a very remote idea in the West. Political and economic realities are such that it is difficult for the developed North to commit genuinely to assisting the ever-developing South. Yet the poor people in South East Asia, Africa, Latin America and others will do all they can- including deforestation- to guarantee a meal every passing day.
Without real poverty reduction approaches, the poor and disadvantaged people of the South will play their part in worsening the climate change dynamic. The EU and the US do have the resources to transfer technology to poor countries, especially when they can spend so much on fighting terrorism.
Companies across the world specializing in clean technology need incentives so that they do not get tempted to pursue the narrow profit motive that so characterizes capitalism. The EU and the US can come up with incentives which may not necessarily be monetary but others, including preferential treatment, changes in taxation and global recognition. This will cause corporations known to emit heavily to rethink their actions. The incentives have to be meaningfully significant to work; otherwise we will be chasing shadows.
When one looks at the whole climate change issue, one is essentially confronted with how to deal with pressures like population growth versus scarce resources, poverty, modernization and impending energy shortages in the best environmentally friendly manner possible.
To sum up therefore, it is upon the EU and the US to admit that they must lead this fight due to the sheer power of their awesome political and financial resources. Be that as it may, poverty reduction via smart technologies and approaches is the best way of incentivizing against climate change. Governments across the world need to give assurances that, whatever development path they choose, the next generation will also be guaranteed survival.
The EU and the US need to financially fund regional and multilateral organizations as well as civil society to spearhead the above and other strategies so that the fight becomes a common globally owned process and not just a Euro-American affair.
It certainly has to be a bottom-up and not a top down public policy aproach. The UN, despite its inherent weaknesses is a very broad-based organization that could lead the way towards a climate conscious world. The EU, but especially the US needs to strengthen and not weaken this by belittling its efforts simply because of their superior power. Alongside, real development assistance such as technological transfers, respecting popular internationally agreed conventions and political will remain the best tactics possible for cooperating against climate change.
Edson Ziso is a first year German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) fellow in the MA Public Policy program at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, University of Erfurt.
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