The majority of humans on the planet are now feeling the effects of climate breakdown. With the planet’s temperature 1.2°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, devastating wildfires, heat waves, floods, droughts and storms are increasingly affecting the daily lives of people and communities. communities around the world. Scientific analysis shows that these climate-related disasters, whether sudden, such as hurricanes, or gradual, such as sea level rise, will intensify in the years to come.
Unless we take immediate and drastic action to quickly reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, we risk crossing crucial limits of the climate system. of the planet, with catastrophic consequences for global food security. , human health and livelihoods.
Yet, although the global community negotiated ways to slow climate change at COP 27 in Egypt, these leaders did so against a background of work showing decades of failure to heed science and change significantly. In my research, I describe how our current economic system creates barriers around us that block meaningful climate action, while deeply shaping many of the responses we get, like net zero commitments and carbon offsetting. We live in a carbon cage, built by industrial capitalism, its dependence on fossil fuels and its dogma of limitless growth on a planet with finite resources; if we do not break this vice, we will continue to accelerate towards a rapid and catastrophic crisis.
One of the main questions that informs my research is why governments and policy makers, faced with decades of overwhelming scientific evidence and the increased frequency and visibility of devastating climate disasters and their human and financial costs, have not produced policies and actions consistent with the threats. we face. Scientists have been warning of the potential dangers of global climate change since at least the 1950s. And while publicly denying that climate change was happening, in the 1970s and 1980s oil companies like Exxon, today today Exxon Mobil, were actively investigating the issue themselves.
In the 1990s, scientific bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change began publishing reports on climate degradation, with the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address the problem. Its first Conference of the Parties (COP) was held in 1995 in Germany, followed 25 years later by COP 21 when nearly 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement.
Yet what these countries actually do is not enough. Countries’ current commitments to the Paris Agreement not only fall short of the agreement’s overarching goal of limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and its ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, they could also lead to a warming of 2.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Governments around the world have fossil fuel production plans that are double what would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Additionally, many net zero commitments that companies and governments have made, with plans that include the use of carbon offsets, are not credible or non-transparent. At COP 27, UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarked that fossil fuel companies were engaging in “tier deception”, using “fake” net-zero commitments to conceal their plans to massive expansion of fossil fuels.
This brings us to the carbon cage: we are all stuck in an economic system powered by fossil fuels, its high levels of production, its need for commensurate levels of consumption and a powerful community of vested interests that seeks to maintain the status quo. quo, the fossil fuel industry being the most important of these. This has led to overlapping ecological crises on a planetary scale. Yet who suffers the most depends on factors such as class, race, gender, history and geography. Geography is critical; the status quo disproportionately benefits the Global North, with its long history of carbon-intensive growth and development that was often based on colonial domination and the exploitation of peoples and nations primarily in the Global South.
The carbon cage metaphor, also described in the video accompanying this commentary, allows us to reflect on what all this means for our daily lives. While individuals and communities around the world may increasingly recognize the significant issues of climate degradation, those least responsible are already paying the highest price. For the majority of the world’s population, bodily survival depends on getting a job to pay for the things that keep us alive: food, shelter, and clothing at a minimum.
For far too many people around the world, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find adequate and dignified employment. In turn, our jobs force people to consume, and consume heavily, regardless of the planetary consequences of mass overconsumption. In addition, governments depend on tax revenues from growth to fund essential services, while pension plans depend on market growth so that their members can one day retire safely.
It can be incredibly difficult to challenge a system that commodifies existence, and collectively each of these factors represents a specific bar in the carbon cage that complicates our ability to deal effectively with the climate crisis.
However, like any set of bars, those in the carbon cage, while strong, do not need to be permanent. Global work on a just transition, aimed at replacing an economy based on extraction, waste and injustice with one that regenerates communities and the planet for the collective well-being, can undermine the cage. This work includes energy democracy, with community and public renewables that ensure essential services meet need rather than profit; and local agroecological food systems that build biodiversity and resilience while feeding communities.
The options are limitless: green jobs, public transit accessible to all, livable cities, goods built to last, and much more. These are the examples that should inspire the leaders of COP 27 to finally change course.
This article was supported by the Global Reporting Center and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Kate Ervine is an associate professor of global development studies at Saint Mary’s University and author of Carbon. His research examines the global political economy of climate degradation, with a focus on climate change mitigation, carbon markets, climate finance for the Global South, and climate justice. Follow Kate on Twitter @KateErvine.
This video was produced by Duy Linh Tu, Jeffery DelViscio, Tulika Bose and Dominic Smith.
This is an opinion and analytical article, and the opinions expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of American scientist.
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