COP21, the climate conference happening this week in Paris, is an event that has captured the world's attention and has momentarily reignited our interest in the fate of the planet. There are mammoth pressures on the international community to cooperate in search of a meaningful solution. The rhetoric of the last chance is admittedly high, but I'm convinced it's a fair assessment given our situation.
In this post I would like to explore why climate talks continually fail to inspire us to change our lives meaningfully while, in the name of security, socieities have been transformed because of the threat of terrorism.
In December 1997 the Kyoto Protocols were signed by delegates from 192 countries. The spirit of collaboration in the interest of our collective future was impressive, and was the next logical step after the Earth Summit in Brazil five years earlier.
Despite the initial zeal, Kyoto ultimately has proven to be a failure. The United States did not ratify the agreement, Canada has since rescinded, and the vast majority of signatories have non-binding agreements. In fact, while some countries have managed to decrease their carbon intensity, there are shockingly few examples of countries that have actually reduced their emissions.
Thus, it was with great flair in 2012 that delegations arrived in Copenhagen. Howevever, the divisive question of the times: how could wealthier countries, and developping countries come to an agreement? The outcome of Copenhagen was nothing tangible. The stakes are high for Paris.
With so little having been achieved, it strikes me as remarkable given the focus (in roughly the same span of time) placed on combatting terrorism internationally.
Both climate change and violent extremism are potentially cataclysmic phenomena. And, for all intents and purposes, are very similar in the sense that they threaten the ways of life of billions. Both have different effects on different societies; both require coordinated action; both require concessions and negotiations to combat; both are dauntingly complex and multifaceted; both have been overwhelmingly handled with rhetoric.
However, there are also numerous differences when it comes to these threats. Modern liberal democratic societies (refer to a previous post) have been able to mobilise change toward greater security by manipulating fear responses. The exhcange of civil liberties for greater protection is presented as a fair deal and hardly more than inconvenient. Moreover, terrorism has been met as a challenge, replete with more than enough emphasis on revenge and justice. The responsibility of dealing with terrorism fits perfectly into existing hierarchies (political and military).
To compare with the question of climate change, virtually none of these criteria are fulfilled in mainstream discourse. It is very challenging to deal with a threat that goes largely unacknowledged, forgotten, or constantly questioned on the base of its legitimacy. There also lacks the sentiment that failure to do anything about threats to the environment is irresponsible or endangers the population, something which is constantly part of the narrative about terrorism. Concerns that green technologies are a money pit by those with political influence ensure that the status quo continues.
Leadership in the fight against terrorism comes from countries like the United States and Russia who unabashedly promote military intervention abraod and greater securitisation at home. However, our leaders in the fight against climate change are not centre stage pontificating about the threat and their action plan (aside from this week, where they will undoubtedly be drowned out by larger economies).
Unfortunately COP21 is about as “all or nothing” as I can imagine. I can only hope that there will be enough recognition of this threat to produce an agreement of substance.