This year, the Conference of the Parties (COP27) will be held in in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. On the outset of this auspicious occasion, it is befitting to reflect upon contemporary climate adaptation and mitigation policies, from a southern and African point of view. Indeed, climate change is one of the stickiest policy problems of the 21st century, because it is inherently a global and multidimensional problem entailing a bundle of policy features. Following the consecutives shocks to the global economy caused by fossil fuels, the timing has never been better to melt the polarization around climate change politics and propose innovative solutions to surf the uncertainty and complexity of this intractable policy problem.
The theory serving as a roadmap for climate change action has transformed over the years. Early 1990s deliberations were successful in reuniting approval because the precautionary principle was used as a basis for decision-making about environmental health under conditions of uncertainty, even with lack of scientific evidence. Today, evidence grew stronger as did the stark warnings conveyed by the scientific community, but the same vital kernel of consensus no longer exists with regard to global warming policy. In fact, some of the most rudimentary aspects of the peer-reviewed science surrounding this issue are still not broadly accepted. This risks undermining the urgency and immediacy of the global warming problem and cause policy flip-flopping over something as crucial as the fight against climate change.
However, recent trends have demonstrated that even when faced with adversity, the climate cause is always present when rebuilding. This trend can be seen clearly in the wake of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Concerning the former, the need to rebuild crumbling economies after the pandemic brought about a new enthusiasm for green deals. These packages were initially criticized for trying to encompass too many elements (employment policies, healthcare, climate change, security). Following the pandemic, economists argued for government packages to serve a dual purpose: reviving the economy, and doing so in a way that is consistent with a post-pandemic vision of a better and more sustainable society. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, ramped up fears about Russia using the threat of energy cut offs as political leverage, causing spikes in energy prices. This has given new impetus to energy efficiency and energy transition under the umbrella of the REPowerEU plan.
With the advent of COP27 held in Egypt, it is time to melt the polarization around climate change politics and propose innovative solutions to this intractable policy problem. Part I of this policy brief investigates the multiple transformations of climate adaptation and mitigation policy staring from universal approval under the precautionary principle framework, to the politicization of climate change and increasing polarization. Part II is dedicated to the theoretical study of the competing political cultures surrounding this intractable topic. Parts III and IV expose context and diplomacy related drivers and barriers of climate action, a trend that can be clearly observed in the wake of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Finally, part V endeavors to chart some innovative solutions and policy recommendations to surf the uncertainty and complexity of climate change as a policy problem.
FROM UNIVERSAL APPROVAL TO POLARIZATION
The theoretical frameworks around climate change have transformed over the years. Deliberations in the 1990s were met with widespread, cross-party approval, even though policy makers faced challenges in articulating policies, because of the lack of evidence of increased incidence of extreme weather events. The precautionary principle was used as a basis for decision-making about environmental health under conditions of uncertainty. Under this principle, officials argued that uncertainties and the associated risks justified more aggressive policy action than otherwise warranted. Global warming was seen through a purely environmental lens.
The evidence for climate change grew increasingly stronger and consensus evolved in the scientific community, with two undisputed facts. First, certain gases contribute to raising global temperatures. This mechanism is known as the ‘greenhouse effect’, which is why carbon dioxide and other gases (water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, etc.) contributing to this effect are called ‘greenhouse gases’ (GHG). Second, the concentration of many GHG has increased rapidly due to anthropogenic activities. However, beyond those two points, there remains a long list of scientific uncertainties, including the potential magnitude of the warming, its extent to date, and how and where it will manifest.
Because of the complex nature of climate change compared to earlier-generation environmental problems, public opinion surrounding this topic became, understandably, increasingly polarized. It is easier, for instance, to pinpoint exactly who is responsible for environmental damage caused by an oil tanker spillage in Gibraltar than it is to grapple with the link between carbon emissions from a coal plant in Poland and floods in West Africa. An example of the dilemma given in the preceding lines, in 1990, the United States Clean Air Act was revised under Republican President George H.W. Bush administration with overwhelming bipartisan support (it passed the House of Representatives with 97% of democrats and about 86% of publicans), and was eventually signed into law by the President.
The scientific consensus on climate change ...
As a reminder, the scientific consensus surrounding climate change is mainly expressed through Assessment Reports issued every several years by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was established in 1988 to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments of the current state of knowledge about climate change. These reports indicate the projected outcomes under alternative representative concentration pathways (RCPs) for greenhouse gas emissions. Each of these RCPs represents different GHG trajectories over the next century. These climate models can be used in economic modeling to aid policymakers in decision making (or even in financial modeling for companies and financial institutions to assess climate risk). Since 1988, the IPCC has had five assessment cycles and has delivered five Assessment Reports, the most comprehensive scientific reports about climate change produced worldwide. It has also produced a range of Methodology Reports, Special Reports and Technical Papers, in response to requests for information on specific scientific and technical matters from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), governments and international organizations.
FORMS OF CLIMATE CHANGE POLARIZATION
Uncertainties about climate change are pervasive, large in magnitude, and very difficult to resolve. For a start, the climate crisis challenges the foundation of our economic system: capitalism. This economic model that relies on growth, and the essential feature of which is to make profit (that is then reinvested to make more profit), is put to the test, thereby exacerbating economic conflicts between the left and right. The left is accused of using ‘climate dogma’ to suffocate economic growth and end capitalism, while the right argues that climate adaptation and mitigation policies will absorb too many resources and will slow economic growth.
It is true that some environmentalists argue that the shape of economic progress needs to be reimagined in order to comply with the twenty-first century’s biggest challenge, i.e. meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet.1 For instance, Oxford economist Kate Raworth (2017) argued that while growth is a necessary condition for capitalistic economies, it has become increasingly degenerative, and for that reason, politicians offer new growth destinations such as green, inclusive, smart, resilient, or balanced growth, so long as there is growth. Raworth set out a new economic theory titled ‘Doughnut Economics’, which proposes a change of economic model in response to humanity’s major challenge of eradicating global poverty within the means of the planet’s limited natural resources.2 Instead of seeking growth, Raworth suggested that a healthy economy should seek the sweet spot between the “social foundation” and the “environmental ceiling”, i.e. within the Doughnut3 (see Figure 1 in the appendix) (Raworth, 2017).
Climate change is also another harbinger of the struggle between universal values and traditionalist and communitarian populism. For example, former United States President Donald Trump’s populist modus operandi aimed to please his political base in part by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. This type of cleavage extends to religion, which amusingly warranted the public intervention of the church. In September 2021, for the first time, the top three Christian leaders—Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby—joined in an urgent appeal for the future of the planet. Their statement called on Christians to: (i) pray for world leaders ahead of COP26; (ii) for individuals: to make meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the planet, working together, and taking responsibility for how resources are used; (iii) for those with far-reaching responsibilities: to choose people-centered profits and lead the transition to just and sustainable economies (Episcopal Church, 2021).
Climate change is also often framed as an element in the war between globalism and national sovereignty, as it has strong ties to the cultural aspects of globalization. For instance, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s policy aims, among other things, to combat globalism. A concrete example of this is President Bolsonaro’s belief in national sovereignty over the Amazon river basin, which in his view, is threatened with being “internationalized” by multilateral bodies like the United Nations, that try to claim it as the domain of the world.
Furthermore, in the enduring generational wars, perhaps no struggle is quite so glaring as that over climate change. According to political scientist Ronald Inglehart, a political divide across generations over policy objectives develops because of divergent value systems. Inglehart argues that “post-materialist”4 values, such as belonging, self-expression, and general quality of life, have mostly emerged among younger generations. Political measures promoting fair trade, environmental conservation, peace, and solidarity, are only a few examples of how these principles might be expressed.
The ecological crisis also brings global inequalities to the surface. Historic contributors— the United States and Europe—have contributed the most to cumulative CO2 emissions (up to 75% from 1850 to 1990) and more recently, emissions from developing countries such as China and India have risen sharply. However, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, the poorest countries of the world, whilst registering the lowest industrial pollution levels, are most susceptible to the damage produced by climate change and are already suffering from coastal erosion, flooding, desertification, loss of species etc. causing massive climate migration as well as the disappearance of capital. As a consequence, climate change widens already-existing global inequalities. Consequently, in the 2009 Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen, developed countries pledged to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to developing countries with limited adaptive capacity.5 Although falling short on promised targets, important sums have nonetheless been deployed.
Predictably, some argued that this places a heavier burden on industrialized economies. This division materialized with Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord one day after the 2011 UNFCCC completed the ‘Durban talks’, that were to lead to a new binding treaty. Then environment minister Peter Kent (under the liberal government of Stephen Harper), argued that Canada chose to withdraw because it had calculated that it would have to pay approximately CAN$14 billion in buying emissions reductions from other parties to meet its target. He added that, “The Kyoto protocol does not cover the world's largest two emitters, the United States and China, and therefore cannot work”. This created a state of deadlock and led to widespread condemnation. Countries including Japan and Russia also refused further Kyoto commitments. This fundamentally comes down to opposing world-views: egalitarianism vs. individualism It may even come down to ‘individualism’ vs ‘’. Environmental economist Robert O. Mendelsohn, argues that the urge to be “selfish” when it comes to climate change is quite strong: “Greenhouse gases have the same effect wherever they are emitted, yet the cost of stopping such pollution is not similarly dispersed. Each country pays the full cost of controlling its own emissions, but gains only a small fraction of the global benefit” (Mendelsohn, 2005).
A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
1. COVID-19: Green Considerations When Rebuilding
One of the biggest threats to climate change adaptation and mitigation policies is that governments, with a turnover rate of every few years, may constantly resile on and reinstate climate policies. One way of preventing this type of flip-flopping of policy over something as crucial as the fight against climate change, would be to introduce pioneering policy packages that come with proposals to address economic welfare, climate change, social inequalities, and security issues simultaneously. An example of this package of policy initiatives is the so called ‘green deals’ such as the European Green Deal, introduced in December 20196.
These packages were initially criticized for trying to encompass too many elements (employment policies, healthcare, climate change, security). This was before post- pandemic economic recovery plans were even on the table. However, since the pandemic, the need to rebuild post-lockdown crumbling economies has brought about a big push for large economic rescue packages. Many economists have argued for governmental rescue packages that serve a dual purpose: reviving the economy, and doing so in a way that is consistent with the post-pandemic vision of a more sustainable society. Once heavily criticized, ‘green deals’ have become the lifeline out of the COVID-19 pandemic: an economic recovery aligned with green transition to make a fundamental transformation at every level of society.
For instance, U.S. President Joe Biden included in his 2020 electoral campaign a big environmental strategy as part of his Build Back Better program. In November 2021, House democrats passed Biden’s $1.75 trillion social and climate bill, a measure that is by far the largest effort in U.S. history to combat climate change. The biggest sum of money in the bill—$555 billion—was set aside for climate related provisions7.
South Korea had also been on a long mission to transform its traditional ‘brown growth’ model into a new ‘green growth’ model. Former President Moon Jae-In introduced Korea’s Green New Deal in April 2020 as part of his administration’s broader Korean New Deal (‘K-New Deal’), launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The K-New Deal included $135 billion in investments in both green and digital technologies, including $96.3 billion from the Korean Treasury, $21.2 billion from local governments, and $17.3 billion from the private sector.
Furthermore, officials displayed a renewed climate focus in the run-up to the timely 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UNFCCC, held in Glasgow in November 20218. Many countries increased their targets for greenhouse gas emissions abatement following the findings of reports by the IPCC and the International Energy Agency, which stated that limiting climate warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius required a rapid and significant decrease in the use of fossil fuels. In its flagship Net Zero by 2050 report, the IEA concluded that there was “no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero pathway. Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required” (IEA, 2021). An ambitious pledge followed, with 34 countries committing to stop financing such projects by the end of 20229, and steering their spending into clean energy.
Financial authorities and institutions have also joined the call. From eight founding members in 2017, the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) counted more than 105 central banks and supervisors as of December 15, 2021, with many joining ahead of COP26. This is crucial since all central banks and financial supervisors that are members of the NGFS have explicitly accepted climate change as a source of financial risk, and have concluded that ensuring the financial system’s resilience in the face of these risks lies within their mandates, or the mandates of the financial supervisory authority.
Therefore, from a risk perspective, financial institutions and other stakeholders (the car manufacturing industry, for example) have been sent strong signals to avoid financing or developing unsustainable business models built on fossil fuels, which translated into chilled investment in those industries. This deterrence is attributed to three fundamental factors: (i) Prudential behavior: anticipation of regulation or taxation, avoiding stranded assets (i.e. assets expected to become unprofitable investments in the future), avoiding reputational risk; (ii) Endogenous preferences (moral obligations) or investor pressure; (iii) a combination of those two: a mass shunning of these assets will negatively affect their prices, resulting in funding flows to these industries being discouraged.
2. Structural Reforms Even Amidst Energy Security Fears
As the world strived to recover gradually from the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The Russian assault on Ukraine triggered strong reactions from western powers which put in place a series of historically significant sanctions on Russia, with the aim of isolating it and coercing President Vladimir Putin to the negotiation table. Fears over Russian energy export cuts (especially natural gas) as political leverage caused spikes in energy prices worldwide, threatening energy security (which is defined by the International Energy Agency as both the uninterrupted availability of energy sources but also at an affordable price). Today, countries are split between immediate fixes to energy price-driven inflation, and long-term climate policies and targets in an uncertain context, which is confusing for investors, consumers, and other stakeholders.
The EU adopted the RepowerEU10 Plan in May 2022, just a few months following the Russian attack on Ukraine, in order to wither Russian gas demand. This long term program aimed at rapidly reducing dependence on Russian fossil fuels by diversifying supply sources and fast forwarding the clean transition. All emergency measures taken by the EU and EU member states to secure additional natural gas volumes as part of the ‘EU external energy policy’ with the USA, Egypt, Israel, Algeria and the UAE were still nonetheless under the umbrella of the REPowerEU plan, and included broader energy agreements to partner up on renewable energy, green hydrogen, technologies and energy efficiency solutions.
A similar emphasis on climate ambitions and net zero is present in the United Kingdom government’s April 2022 ‘Energy Security Strategy’, also published in response to the recent international tensions and related volatile wholesale gas prices. Given the inflationary pressures caused by high energy prices, the U.S. Senate approved in August 2022 a scaled down version of Joe Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ program which initially entailed a $1.75 trillion social and climate bill, and put into law the Inflation Reduction Act, a $700 billion economic package, of which $370 billion will go to climate action, in particular by giving a boost to clean-energy technologies, from solar, wind and electric vehicles to carbon capture and hydrogen.
On the other hand, it is true that the EU is experiencing a physical stress on its gas market and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development called on oil and gas companies to ramp up production, putting them on a collision course with previously announced climate targets. Additionally, in March 2022, President Joe Biden urged U.S. oil and gas companies to ramp up production by 1 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2022, and a further 0.7 mb/d in 2023. And some EU countries have also worked out plans to reactivate coal-fired power plants to support electricity generation.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Uncertainty and complexity are perhaps the biggest attributes of climate change as a policy problem. The fight against it is nowadays caught between political, economic, and ideological agendas, and portrayed as highly responding to contextual and diplomatic matters ... That is why these policies seem rather sporadic and uncertain, and, most importantly, why they can be seen as sending mixed signals to the market (investors, industrials, and consumers). Furthermore, climate adaptation and mitigation policies have also been assigned to the ideals and strategies of some particular groups or parties, becoming more and more subject to debate even with overwhelming scientific evidence, while another important part of the political class remains indifferent. This creates space and opportunity for denialism (‘climate change is a hoax...’), confusion (‘global warming is not anthropogenic...’) and lethargy (‘I am not a scientist...’), possibly leading to a fragmented response.
Failure in addressing this issue is a notorious tragedy known as the “commons problem”, common goods being goods that everybody needs but nobody feels responsible for. At the heart of this complexity is the question of jurisdiction, which can be defined as “territory within which a court or a government agency can properly exercise its power”.
And geography is implicit in the concept of jurisdiction, yet GHG emissions know no borders. When we are able to establish jurisdiction, we are able to establish rules, laws, and the responsibility of following the law – the three fundamental principles of modern governance. In the absence of jurisdiction, everyone is responsible but no one is liable (Kamarck, 2019). Elaine C. Kamarck, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution argued: “Two of the stickiest problems of the 21st century–climate change and cybersecurity–are challenging because it is so difficult to nail down jurisdiction.” (Kamarck, 2019). However, even as multilateralism struggles for legitimacy, global cooperation and climate diplomacy are needed to underpin climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts on a global scale by reviving, repurposing, and recalibrating (‘triple r’) the approach to multilateral problem- solving.
An example of the ‘triple r’ approach is the climate action lead by the Union of Economic and Social Councils (ESC) and Similar Institutions (SI) of Africa (UCESA). This regional organization brings together the consultative assemblies of twenty African countries, and ensures the representation of African councils before national and international institutions and organizations. The UCESA has set itself the objective of impacting climate governance at the continental level through better coordination and harmonization of the positions of member economic and social ESC-SIs and sustained advocacy for consideration of the opinions of African citizens and their concerns in the coping strategies. The actions carried out so far involved individual interviews, focus groups, workshops and a survey of thousands of citizens in 16 African countries and were the subject of a presentation at COP 26 in Glasgow. The main lessons learned from the discussions underlined the need for sustained and effective advocacy. In this perspective, the UCESA developed the “Advocacy for African Action on Climate Change” which will be presented at COP 27.
Further, innovation also needs to take place in order to design efficient climate adaptation policies. One of the key issues causing policy flip-flopping remains the mismatch between climate change and sustainable development as long-term problems, and the very short time horizon that key stakeholders, including in government, work to, which encourage back-and-forth policies. Policymakers need to start building in, institutionally, ways of thinking long term in decision making. Development banks —institutions that were created to think long term— have delivered reasonable results. For instance, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was established to help build a new post-Cold War era in Central and Eastern Europe, began in 2017 to apply a new transition concept, which defines “a well-functioning market economy as more than just competitive; it should be inclusive, well-governed, green, resilient and integrated”. At government level, this requires some novelty. For instance, a University of Cambridge paper, an effort led by Natalie Jones and Tildy Stokes, “Representation of future generations in United Kingdom policy- making” directly led to the creation of the UK “All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations”, a civil society organization that creates space for cross-party dialogue on combating short-termism in policy-making (among other things). Additionally, more space should be provided to soft institutions and organizations that provide advisory missions to Governments and Parliaments on sustainable matters. The aforementioned ESCs increasingly carry out advisory missions on policies concerning sustainable development.
Finally, instituting long term thinking in governance starts with strengthening development plans to account for future generations. To keep in mind that the decisions they make should protect the lives of children seven generations in the future, the indigenous Chiefs of North America would ignite a fire in the middle of the meeting space called the ‘Children’s Fire’. In today’s modern society, this fire can be transformed into implementing climate resilient development at every level of society. This includes: (i) Appropriate climate finance: For instance, the African Development Bank estimates costs of near-term adaptation needs identified in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of African countries as USD 7.4 billion per year from 2020. However, according to the IPCC, annual finance flows targeting adaptation for Africa are billions of US dollars less than the lowest adaptation cost estimates for near-term climate change. (ii) Good governance to implement NDCs with inclusive participation through legislative youth and female quotas. For example: Kenya’s Climate Change Directorate has a designated team to integrate gender into its national climate policies, while Seychelles’ National Climate Change Council has allocated a seat exclusively for a youth candidate. (iii) Introducing climate change adaptation and mitigation laws with local provisions and the participation and the implementation of community-based and ecosystem-based adaptations. For example, the Makorongo Village Forest Management By-Law in Tanzania codifies local customary practices relating to forest management and sustainable harvesting with associated dual adaptation and mitigation benefits and includes all villagers in the decision-making processes relating to forest management; and finally (iv) encouraging climate services which together with perception and literacy can strengthen responses to climate change, especially in developing countries. The average national climate change literacy rate in Africa is only 39% (country rates range from 23–66%) while European countries commonly score above 80% (Trisos, C.H. et Al, 2022).
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