Overcoming Climate Politics

by Johannah Bernstein and Renske Vos

Professor Moomaw correctly points out that nations have failed to adopt a sufficiently robust international agreement to combat climate change. He points to the importance of emission reduction and carbon capture and emphasizes the need for a process of restorative development. While we agree with these important points, climate politics, if left unchecked, will make it impossible for these goals to be achieved.

Climate negotiations continue to be carried out within the parameters of narrowly construed national interests. Just as they have for the last twenty years of climate negotiations, the international community continues to negotiate that which is politically viable as opposed to what nature requires and what new science informs.

While science should be the authoritative basis of sound climate policy, political considerations systematically outweigh the scientific imperative for effective response and action. The key challenge is to ensure that the ever-widening gulf between science and politics is bridged decisively.

The international community fails to seriously consider that weaker targets for the short term will increase the risk of humanity’s collision with irreversible climate tipping points. This will make the task of meeting 2050 targets not only impossible, but ultimately a moot exercise in reckless number crunching. Indeed, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said, “we cannot continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity.” However, the opportunities for reaching meaningful agreement will narrow as rapidly as global temperatures are now rising, thus revealing a vicious circle. Climate change can only be combated effectively through international cooperation, but with worsening climate change, the basis for constructive cooperation is rapidly diminishing.

Breaking the political deadlock and strengthening constructive cooperation will require a massive shift in the negotiations. This means moving away from narrow mindsets that sustain the primacy of economic interests over the environment to an approach that recognizes that stabilizing the climate system is an essential global public good, for which all governments have a responsibility.

About the Author

Johannah Bernstein is an international environmental lawyer based outside of Geneva. Renske Vos will be starting her PhD in international law at the University of Edinburgh in September 2014.

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