EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

Over the past decade, and particularly within the past one and a half year, climate change has seemingly finally become acknowledged as a real issue amongst world leaders and progressive societies alike, with a few notable exceptions such as President Trump. One could argue this realization was long overdue; for decades, the prevailing consensus amongst climate scientists was nigh-unanimous, with 97 percent of publishing climate scientists agreeing on global warming being man-made. Furthermore, climate scientists stress that the effects of global warming and carbon pollution have increased dramatically over the last few years worldwide. [1] Global emissions are reaching record levels, winter temperatures in the Arctic have increased by 3 °C since 1990, which has instigated a fledgling feedback loop leading to further erosion of the icecaps, leading to rising water levels and less absorption of carbon.[2]

Climate change has become not only an existential reality globally as it poses risks to health, air pollution, food safety [3] but also a political topic impacting elections, as evidenced from the European Parliament elections that saw remarkable levels of turnout and increased support of Green parties.

In 2015, the Paris Agreement marked a historical turn in which states established a road map for joint efforts against the threat of climate change and global warming. The main objective of the Paris Summit with the participation of 196 countries was to contain the increase in temperature below 2 °C and try to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. In order to achieve this temperature target, countries have made binding commitments by preparing their own nationally determined contributions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote sustainable development and provide financial resources to achieve this goal.
However, only a minority of countries are actually living up to their commitments under the Paris Agreement, raising the ever-present question of the usefulness of international commitments and agreements without coercive tools to enforce them.[4] Without addressing the underlying issues of geopolitical power struggles and competitions, be they economic, financial, military or territorial, non-binding commitments will not be prioritized by the larger players such as the US, Russia and China.

The ambitious commitments of the Paris Agreement are meaningless without action, and while smaller states such as Scotland & Denmark have embarked on ambitious paths, the major powers are recalcitrant.

Four years have passed since the signing of the Paris agreement. Although some countries have made ambitious climate policies to combat climate change, global carbon emissions have increased 1.7 percent in 2017 and 2.7 percent in 2018. Moreover, the rate of increase in 2019 is expected to be the highest.[5] There is still a huge gap between countries’ greenhouse gas reduction targets, their current emission levels, and what is needed to keep global warming to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to aim for a 1.5°C.[6] According to the climate policy results of The Climate Change Performance Index, the most progressive countries in terms of climate policy are Sweden, Morocco and Lithuania. On the other hand, Australia, Turkey and the US constitute the worst-performing group of countries.[7]

An example hereof is Turkey’s commitment to invest nearly $ 11 billion for energy efficiency is expanding its coal-fired power plants and is trying to ensure self-sufficiency in energy in this way – yet self-sufficiency or energy – efficiency is not de facto compatible with sustainability, and Turkey’s trajectory is nothing short of disastrous from a climate perspective. According to National Geographic news, The Afşin-Elbistan power plant in southern Turkey is expanding to become the biggest coal-fired power plant in the world. The Climate Action Tracker has rated Turkey’s Paris targets as “critically insufficient,” calculating that if most other countries followed Turkey’s approach, global warming would exceed 3 to 4 degrees C (5.4 to 7.2 degrees F).[8]

However, the pressure on governments for ambitious climate policies is increasing day by day. Many citizens, activists and non-governmental organizations from around the world have started to protest against the increasing threats of climate change and the governmental inaction.

Civil society’s pressure on governments to make effective climate policies is getting stronger. Following the increasing threat of climate change and popular protests in many countries, the UN Climate Summit convened under the leadership of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, whocalled on all participating leaders to come up with concrete, realistic plans rather than beautiful speeches at the Climate Summit held on 21-23 September 2019. He also made four special requests from all leaders: plans for carbon neutrality for 2050, ways to tackle fossil fuel subsidies, carbon taxation, and no new coal power beyond 2020. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, it is dubious whether the V4 countries will manage even the last request.
However, despite the climate summit not being satisfactory in terms of meaningful action, serious steps were taken to increase the momentum of climate action and movement, which in the long-run can amplify the call for sustainability, such as the transition to renewable energy, afforestation, reducing carbon emissions and supporting developing countries, which, combined, might eventually lead to an inexorable push for ambitious governmental actions. For now, it is essential that countries implement their commitments at the bare minimum, in order to pave the way for more ambitious future action. According to United Nations, the latest analysis shows that if we act now, we can reduce carbon emissions within 12 years and hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C and even, as asked by the latest science, to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.[9]

The time to act is now, and more importantly, it is time for the greater geopolitical power players to start taking responsibility; smaller states can lead the way, but they cannot achieve the goal by themselves.


Tuba Nilüfer Uğur

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