The year 2017 has been, according to data from NASA, the second hottest in history at the global level. It was also the year that the devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the Caribbean islands and Hurricane Harvey displaced more than 60,000 people in Texas in the USA, the same country that last June abandoned the fight against one of the most worrying challenges facing humanity: climate change.
Two years after its signing, US President Donald Trump broke with the Paris Agreement —which establishes measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases— and left the leadership position wide open in the fight to save the planet. Since then, the political leaders of different countries, such as France, India and Canada, or the UN itself, through its secretary general Antonio Guterres, are fighting over the role of “climate change hero.” What can we expect from 2018 when it comes to addressing this global challenge?
In Europe, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, maintain that the Paris Agreement will blossom with or without the participation of the main global power. Following Trump’s decision, Macron posted a video on his Facebook page inviting all the scientists of the world, especially American ones, to go to France to investigate climate change. A few days later, he created the website “Make the Planet Great Again” (which paraphrases Trump’s campaign motto: “Make America Great Again”) to receive the registrations from interested parties.
Last summer, Merkel made climate change the centre of the summit of the 20 largest economies in the world, held in Hamburg. “Climate change is a problem that determines our destiny as humanity,” she said more recently, last November, at the United Nations conference held in the German city of Bonn. Meanwhile, Antonio Guterres ensured that the issue was highlighted in the UN General Assembly and also met with former US Vice President Al Gore and other politicians to discuss how to provide solutions. He also opened a special session to talk about this problem and its impact on the small islands of the Caribbean devastated by the hurricanes.
Outside of the old continent, China, which is preparing to create the largest national carbon trading system and wants to expand its electric car market, has prioritized its environmental policies to limit carbon emissions. In recent months, President Xi Jinping has met with the EU and other countries to find solutions to the problem, although the country continues to burn more coal than any other.
Canada, which abandoned the Kyoto Protocol in 2011, is another nation that is trying to redeem itself from its past neglect of the climate issue. Since 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has doubled the country’s financial contribution to the UN fund for science and has replaced the US as host for meetings with major global leaders on climate change.
El papel de la UE y China
These are some of the most influential voices in climate change today, but which of these political leaders really have the potential to take on the great responsibility of mitigating the causes and consequences of the problem? Aseem Prakash, a founding professor at the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington, tells OpenMind that the answer is, “the countries of the EU and China, which are large economies with proven competence in the renewable energy sector.”
Prakash notes that, in the European context, Germany has an “important” role thanks to its energy revolution, which has made it a leader in the replacement of nuclear energy and fossil fuels by wind and solar technology. The expert also highlights the “resistance” of some US states, such as California, New York and Washington State, which lead the coalition “We Are Still In”, which promises to defend the Paris Agreement and follow its guidelines. Washington, for example, intends to adopt a carbon tax to reduce its emissions.
“I think 2018 will bring several new measures like this, mainly in the corporate sector,” says Prakash. “Many automakers are making hybrids. And if Tesla manages to start the mass production of batteries [a factory dedicated to satisfying all the energy demands of the company’s products], the problem of storage for the renewable sector will be solved,” he adds.
Solutions are urgent, be they political, economic or technological. 2018 has started with extreme heat in Australia (Sydney has recorded temperatures up to 47.3°C) and a severe cold spell in North America. Lindsay Beever, professor of Water Management at Heriot-Watts University, argues that governments must recognize that these extremes are likely to become more common and act accordingly. “Otherwise, we will risk the loss of more human lives and more environmental damage in the future,” he concludes.