A Brief Look at Global Environmental Politics

22 Apr 2020

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a plant with industrial background

Global temperatures have steadily risen in the last decade. At the same time, we have also witnessed an increase in the number of natural disasters including wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Over time, the intensity of each such disaster has intensified: even a single incident is capable of causing massive destruction.

According to Citibank's 2015 report Energy Darwinism II: Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn't Have to Cost the Earth, political inaction will cost the global economy a massive $44 trillion by 2040. On the other hand, taking sustainable corrective measures to help climate change, would help save $1.8 trillion. So, it makes sense for the governments to come together and develop environment-positive policies as it's both sustainable and cost-effective.

People, companies, and governments need to work together and prioritize environmental wellness. In this article, we will look at significant international pacts, landmark protests in favor of protecting the environment, and how we can contribute to making our earth more sustainable.

Major Schools of Thoughts

In her book Paths to a Green World, Jennifer Clapp mentions that she believes that there are four primary schools of thought when it comes to environment and politics.

1. Market Liberals: Market Liberals believe that as a country develops, they can look at ways to be sustainable. They are supporters of economic growth and believe that while the short term impact of free-market growth may lead to an unequal distribution of wealth, with the rich becoming richer, in the long term, the overall wealth of the country will improve. The assumption is that a portion of this wealth will be used for the benefit of the environment.

2. Institutionalists: Institutionalists believe that there is a need for more international agencies who would create standards to protect the environment. They believe that global political cooperation is the key to sustainable development.

3. Bioenvironmentalists: Bioenvironmentalists believe that unless humans take steps to cut down unsustainable behavior and stop consuming resources selfishly, we're bound to face a calamity sooner rather than later.

4. Social Greens: Social Greens believe that social and environmental problems are inseparable. Many often take the activist route to protest against mass industrialization as they believe such corporations give rise to income inequality and environmental degradation.

While these schools of thought may differ in their opinions, it remains undisputed that we need to take action to protect the environment.

Major Agreements

One of the first significant agreements for climate change, "The Kyoto Protocol," was signed in the year 1997. It was the first initiative by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Kyoto Protocol was the first global agreement that focused on climate change and global warming. It's the accord that formed the basis of many subsequent agreements like The Copenhagen Agreement and The Paris Climate Agreement.

As soon as the Paris Climate Agreement was proposed, it became a highly discussed global environmental pact. It differed from other pacts as, for the first time, all countries were considered and encouraged to make an ambitious effort to combat climate change. The objective was to encourage each country to ensure that the global temperature rise of this century should be capped to 2°C above the pre-industrial level. Each country was to set its own goals, and the United Nations would provide the appropriate financial, technical, and relevant frameworks required to meet those goals. The idea was that seeing some nations achieve their goals would encourage others to do the same.

Recently the United States of America decided to disassociate itself from the deal officially. This parting will take effect on 4 November 2020. However, on the day the government announced this decision, many states, cities, businesses, and universities voiced their protest and committed to continue their efforts to meet their goals. They even formed a coalition called 'We are Still In' to show their support for the Paris Climate Agreement. There are talks that the USA may re-join after the next election campaign should the Democrats win. However, the decision to leave has already shaken the confidence of other countries as they believe that even if the USA rejoins, it may only be for an election cycle.

Before this, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came up with the report titled 'Global Warming of 1.5°C'. This report analyzes the impact on the environment if global temperatures rise by 1.5°C. The study concluded that we need to work on reducing carbon emissions in order to "suffer less negative impacts on intensity and frequency of extreme events, on resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, food security, cities, tourism, and carbon removal."

This study was discussed in the climate talks in Poland. Reaching a global consensus at the time was a tedious process with scientists, diplomats, and lawyers working tirelessly to ensure that the wording of the pact was acceptable to all participants. However, countries like the USA, Russia, and Saudi Araba have voted for "noting" the study instead of "welcoming" it. This trivialization of the agreement in the pact threatens its efficacy and effectiveness in the long run.

The 52nd session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was held in Paris on 24 February 2020. It was in this session that the Sixth Assessment report was discussed. During this talk, the UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, emphasized the role of education, science, and culture to bridge the gap between current knowledge and the necessary actions required to address climate change.

windmills on a bright day    

Notable Protests

Fridays for Future

In September 2019, we witnessed the unprecedented. Nearly 7,600,000 people took to the streets all over the world to urge governments to take tangible action and be accountable for their role in mitigating the climate crisis after being rallied and inspired by Greta Thunberg. Her iconic speech condemned governments and politicians of robbing her generation's future with the weighty words, "How Dare You?"

Jerome Forster II leads Fridays For Future, This is Zero Hour, and One Billion of Us campaigns. Modeled after Greta Thunberg's weekly demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament building, Fridays For Future is a planned strike where students from all seven continents skip school on select Fridays to rally against political inaction against global warming. The first massive strike happened on 15 March 2019. Subsequent strikes saw people from all ages participate and lend their voices to this campaign. #fridaysforfuture has gained momentum over the last year.

fridays for future

Campaigns for Climate Justice

Howard Zinn is a historian, author, and activist who spends his time spreading his love for books and concern for the environment. Currently, he is campaigning to include climate justice as part of the curriculum in all high schools across America. He believes that the education system is behind its time and that students of today need to learn about the things that impact them.

there is no planet B

What Can We Do?

While these widespread protests have played a vital role in drawing attention to the need for drastic action to combat climate change, they have been met with resistance by governing authorities. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) has been tracking the progress of these bills in the United States. You can check which states are considering or have already passed, such bills here.

While these bills have encouraged some governments to consider modifying climate policy in favor of protestors' demands, these actions are often non-binding (much like the Paris Agreement). So, we must ensure that leaders of the world take these actions seriously.

Make yourself heard!

Individuals and companies both have the option of voicing opinions through actions. As individuals, we can do so by voting for our causes and even start petitions. Some places where you can vote and make your voice count are One Million of Us, Zero Hour, and Extinction Rebellion. You can also consider donating to organizations working towards environmental protection like Earth Justice, a group of environmental lawyers fighting for the environment, or Call to Emergency, that encourages leaders of the world to focus on the environment.

We can also be involved in grassroots politics in our country and support the leaders who work for the environment. For instance, in the USA, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard believes that the USA could consider reducing their spending on military intervention abroad and use the funds to combat climate change instead. Another leader who has a track record of working for the environment is Senator Cory Booker. He leads the development of federal policies that lift indigenous, colored, and low-income communities. All of these communities disproportionately bear the burden of environmental pollution and exploitation. Cory Booker is a supporter of the New Green Deal as he believes that the threat of climate change will only increase if we don't take bold steps.

The New Green Deal was introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward J. Markey. The purpose of this deal is to wean away from the excessive dependency on fossil fuels and guarantee new high-paying jobs in the clean-energy sectors.


This World Earth Day, we must focus on preserving the environment before it's too late. We need to take a stand and lend our voices to the campaigns that matter to us.

We would like to leave you with a quote from the World Wide Fund for Nature newsletter, "The technology is here. The people are ready. Scientists have spoken. Progressive businesses are stepping forward. Now we need governments to take climate action!"

So, what are you doing for the environment?

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@susyq profile image
susyq2 YEARS AGO
Teach those facts to others and do It with the example