What fundamental economic and political change is needed for an effective response to climate change
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Hermann Klein-Hessling United World College Dover South East Asia
Climate change, something thrown around all too often for the longest time, often with no appreciation of just how grave the situation really is. This may finally be changing. Not long-ago, mass school walkouts and protests led by students across the world took place and hundreds of thousands participated.
This climate change “movement” that the world is still acclimatizing to, was instigated by Greta Thunberg who garnered attention by protesting outside of the Swedish Parliament at the tender age of 15, for the immediate action against climate change.
An effective response to climate change is hard to ascertain, harder to implement and even harder to ensure that continuity takes place. However, there are numerous economic and political changes that if introduced could prove pivotal against the battle of climate change.
One of the most profound political change that would benefit the fight against climate change, would be altering the Paris Climate Accord. The Accord is often glorified even though in its current state it is largely unaccountable since countries follow a model of voluntary “nationally determined contributions” (Selin, Henrik). Meaning many countries are not putting in as much effort as they could, as well as the fact that many are making their pledges of cutting greenhouse gases while overly relying on revolutionary technology not yet in circulation or commercially available. Creating an imbalance which benefits key players such as China, the United States and India. Essentially hinging the greatest efforts of the Accord on the largest polluters with no system set in place that enforces countries to meet targets they set and to prevent them from being elusive.
The most disconcerting aspect of the accord is the fact that there is nothing set in place for when countries fail to meet their targets to cut emissions or contributions to the GCF (Green Climate Fund) which is supposed to go towards aiding developing countries with technology and resources to combat climate change in their own countries. Without any inherent consequences or legally binding reparations to be paid there is nothing stopping countries from defaulting on their pledges. Something like this shouldn’t happen especially given the severity of the situation however, it’s human nature to serve one’s own interests. For example, the divergence of countries efforts to aid the environment, like China pledging 3.1 billion dollars (in 2015) towards developing countries not through the GCF but its own controlled, South-South Cooperation Fund on Climate Change. (Climate Scorecard) Is the cause of further financial fragmentation and lack of a united front, of tackling climate change. Which is exactly what shouldn’t be happening and is what is curtailing the majority, if not all existing climate change efforts and potentially those arising in the future as well.
Economically there are a variety of factors that could be implemented alongside political reforms for an effective response to climate change. The most overt being investment into emerging or already existing technologies that mitigate the emissions of GHG (Greenhouse gases). These investments do not have to be solely into renewable forms of energy but can also be towards improving existing forms of energy extraction. Such as, coal, natural gas and oil. A brilliant approach which has been undertaken would be the Petra Nova coal powered power plant in Houston, Texas which boasts an impressive 240MW power capacity. (NRG Energy) What’s even more impressive is the fact that it makes use of carbon capture technology which decreases carbon emissions by 90% the equivalent of keeping 350,000 cars off the road daily, the CO2 that is captured is then injected into oil wells to enhance oil recovery. A process that is essentially carbon neutral. (Mooney, Chris)
Alongside these modifications and investments into existing energy extraction methods, research and development into renewable forms of energy should be encouraged as well. Encouragement could take place through cooperation and a sharing of resources with the private sector as well as, government incentivised research for universities in the form of federal grants. Further investments will inadvertently lead to advancements in renewable technology bringing greater reliability, features, efficiency and most importantly at increasingly lower costs due to economies of scale. Eventually, the adjustment to these technologies will be accepted by consumers, countries, corporations and institutions alike.
Government subsidies on renewable forms of transportation such as, electric vehicles, and renewable forms of energy would further facilitate said adaptation. The capital for these subsidies could be raised by the implementation of a greenhouse gas tax favourable on individuals, and harsh on corporations and industry given the fact they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions several times greater than society on an individual basis. Leniency as to not overly dissatisfy the populous and strict measures on companies to encourage them to no longer rely as heavily on polluting fossil fuels and rather to transition to greener alternatives in a bid to avoid being taxed heavily. Companies would be assigned emission targets based on their size, employees, economic output as well as other factors. Exceeding these would result in taxation and remaining within the parameters would yield capital in terms of government rebates; which corporations could further invest into distancing themselves from fossil fuels allowing them to further benefit from government rebates or elsewhere which would prove beneficial to themselves.
What trumps all potential economic and political reforms that would prove to be effective against the fight of climate change would undoubtedly be cooperation amongst countries, governments, international organizations and whilst the impact may seem negligible; on the individual level as well. Fragmented efforts instead of working towards a common goal would diminish the worlds collective effort and undermine the efficacy of any plans already set or that will be put forth in the future. I remember my grade 11 chemistry teacher telling me about the damage CFC’s (Chlorofluorocarbons) did to the ozone layer in the mid 1980’s. Within a few years the scientific consensus was uniformly ratified, global cooperation ensued and a treaty was signed banning CFC’s. A decade later the ozone layer slowly but surely began its recovery. The question remains why can’t the same occur for a situation at hand which is far worse; with potential implications unimaginable.
The truth is there is no clear-cut solution to climate change and there is no perfect agenda moving forward; rather it is an amalgamation of the economic and political suggestions brought forth here, as well as many other factors. The implementation of the factors outlined here are certainly not an easy feat; maybe I’m just a naive 17-year-old with little to no understanding of how the world really works. But I think it’s about time the adults come up with a plan for their sake, mine and that of the generations to come.
NRG Energy, Inc. “Petra Nova.” NRG Energy, www.nrg.com/case-studies/petra-nova.html.
Fehrenbacher, Katie. “Carbon Capture Suffers a Huge Setback as Kemper Plant Suspends
Work.” Greentech Media, Greentech Media, 29 June 2017, www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/carbon-capture-suffers-a-huge-setback-as-kemper-plant-suspends-work#gs.ta100c.
Mooney, Chris. “America's First 'Clean Coal' Plant Is Now Operational - and Another Is on the Way.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 Jan. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/01/10/americas-first-clean-coal-plant-is-now-operational-and-another-is-on-the-way/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7c2f6f17de44.
Selin, Henrik, et al. “Paris Agreement on Climate Change: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The Conversation, 5 Feb. 2019, theconversation.com/paris-agreement-on-climate-change-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-52242.
“China Needs to Secure the Funds It Has Pledged to Help Other Countries.” Climate Scorecard, 28 Oct. 2018, www.climatescorecard.org/2018/10/china-needs-to-secure-the-funds-it-has-pledged-to-help-other-countries/.