TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS

Climate change calls for decisive action

No nation or society will come out of this better off on the account of stratospheric headline GDP or superlative job numbers.

In Summary
  • Thankfully, containing global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C remains within reach. But only if we act decisively and collectively.
  • Governments, private businesses and civil society must work together to achieve a just and equitable transition to a low carbon, climate-resilient economy.
Flooded homesteads in Tana river county.
Flooded homesteads in Tana river county.
Image: FILE

Time is running out. Catastrophic impacts of climate change are staggering. The latest Emission Gap report underscores the need to rapidly decarbonise the global economy.

There is growing consensus among climate science experts that if we rely on the commitments of the Paris Agreement alone, temperatures can be expected to rise to 3.2 °C this century. As leaders gather for COP25 in Madrid, Spain, there is growing frustration and even anger over what seems to be a paralysis and gridlock of rule negotiation. No country is willing to raise climate targets.

Moreover, like COP24 held in Katowice, Poland, last year, there will be no agreement in COP25 on what is referred to as a common time frame. The common time frame is simply about how long Paris climate pledges should last. Under the Paris Agreement, the initial pledges all commence in 2020 and cover a range of time periods from five to 15 years. Agreement on a common time frame is critical to arriving at aligned goals that can be evaluated and enhanced collectively.

The lack of decisive action and consensus on an ambitious target of emission cuts betrays a debilitating contest of narrow sovereign economic interests.

 

The paralysis and gridlock in climate change negotiations is a powerful demonstration of a dearth of global leadership. The lack of decisive action and consensus on an ambitious target of emission cuts betrays a debilitating contest of narrow sovereign economic interests. How we treat atmospheric resources, which are critical to climate regulation, is as shamefully analogous to Garret Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons.

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture the atmosphere as an open, communal resource. It is to be expected that each country will increase industrial output and emit as much greenhouse gases as possible into the atmosphere. Today, collectively, we are confronted with the dilemma of inexorably increasing industrial output and GDP while dangerously undermining climate security by accelerating global warming.

Thankfully, containing global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C remains within reach. But only if we act decisively and collectively. Governments, private businesses and civil society must work together to achieve a just and equitable transition to a low carbon, climate-resilient economy.

The climate crisis is existential and we are in it together. No nation or society will come out of this better off on the account of stratospheric headline GDP or superlative job numbers. It is instructive to note global greenhouse gas emissions are projected to grow in 2019, reaching another record high. It is, therefore, no surprise that all the years on record that were hotter or packed with extreme weather came in the past decade.

As nations and communities are pummelled by extreme weather events, each more intense than the last, it is evident that we have achieved nothing when it comes to addressing climate change. Time is running out. But we all can emulate the Danes. Last Friday Denmark’s parliament adopted a new climate law, which commits to reach 70 percent below 1990 emissions in the next 11 years, starting 2020.