Political differences must be put aside for the sake of human survival

It is time for a more balanced approach to the climate crisis; one that ensures environmental sustainability without hampering human development and economic growth

  
A banner advertising the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) where world leaders discuss how to tackle climate change on a global scale, is seen inside the conference area in Glasgow, Britain October 31, 2021.

A banner advertising the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) where world leaders discuss how to tackle climate change on a global scale, is seen inside the conference area in Glasgow, Britain October 31, 2021.

REUTERS/Yves Herman

As the COP26 summit in Glasgow drew to a close at the weekend, about 200 nations were able to strike a last-minute deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions as part of the fight against climate change. The agreement represents a significant step forward, even if the lack of an enforcement mechanism and binding obligations is likely to hinder its effectiveness.

The agreement came with certain compromises, such as the use of the phrase “phase down” instead of “phase out” regarding coal — a shift that was received with little enthusiasm among the nations that are more concerned about the devastating impact of climate change. Developing nations demanded $1.3 trillion to help their energy transition from fossil fuel. Contrary to expectations, only $100 billion was pledged.

The conference was a follow-on to the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015 that aimed to keep the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The same goal was re-emphasized at COP26.

The issue of climate change has been on the national agendas of many countries for the past few decades, but has gained prominence in recent years as the effects on people’s lives and ecosystems are increasingly felt. Global warming, severe droughts, extreme flooding, deforestation and desertification are affecting livelihoods and increasing poverty. While climate change is a global issue that warrants a global response, each nation’s footprint and contribution to the problem differs according to size, demography, level of industrial development and socioeconomic characteristics.

Two schools of thought exist on climate change and both take extreme positions. Environmentalists advocate a much greener economy, often ignoring the development needs of nations. On the other hand, die-hard proponents of the consumer economy underestimate the adverse effects of climate change and oppose strict environmental standards for industrial processes.

It is time for a more balanced approach to the climate crisis; one that ensures environmental sustainability without hampering human development and economic growth. All it needs is political will on the part of world leaders and awareness by people who will be the ultimate victims of the looming disaster.

Developing and low-incoming countries are paying the highest price due to extreme events, such as droughts and floods caused by climate change. Every year, Bangladesh loses millions in damaged property and infrastructure, while entire communities are displaced by severe flooding. Similarly, the archipelagic state of Maldives faces an existential threat due to rising sea levels.

Scientists believe the clock is ticking and not enough is being done to avert an impending disaster. All the scientific evidence points to climate change as a reality. The issue transcends regional, national and political boundaries. Nature makes no distinction when it shows its destructive force. Hence, collective action is needed and political differences must be put aside for the sake of human survival.

At the core of climate change is the wide use of fossil fuels as the major source of energy for transport, as well as electricity generation. A transition to clean energy as an economically and environmentally sustainable source is the only way forward. There are forecasts that world petroleum reserves will be exhausted in the next few decades. This is a warning sign both for oil-producing economies and those relying on oil imports for their energy needs. Thus, the transition to renewable sources of energy is not only environmentally imperative but also inevitable.

The arid countries of the Gulf and wider Middle East are considered to be among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Realizing this genuine threat and being part of the global community, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Green Initiative is a timely intervention. Under this, the Kingdom aims for net zero emissions by 2060.

To realize this ambitious goal, major investments in clean energy technologies, research and development, and innovation must be made. The demand for scientists and engineers will increase. The recent decision by the Saudi government to grant citizenship to high-caliber professionals is a step in the right direction. It will help to bridge the Kingdom’s capacity gaps and promote the creation of local cadres of scientists and engineers.

Translating international commitment at COP26 into national agendas by individual nations, through appropriate policy decisions and action-oriented plans, is the real challenge. The developed and industrialized world has an obligation to help emerging and growing economies with technical and financial assistance in order to help avert the climate catastrophe facing the human race.

  • Ajmal Shams is Vice President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party. He was a Deputy Minister in the Afghan National Unity Government. Twitter: @ajmshams
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