Modi, Macron moment to reset climate agenda

Global leadership is losing the momentum when  it is most needed in addressing the Climate Change . The G7 Summit offers an opportunity for at least some of the leaders to move from intention to implementation. Would they avail it? 

Global leadership has so far failed to address climate change. The G7 Summit offers an opportunity for at least some of the leaders to move from intention to implementation.

The seas have been rising relentlessly, but not the world leaders. It’s getting hot even in the Arctic and Alaska, but the decision-makers remain cool. The younger generation is on the streets protesting against law-makers continued inaction, but the heads of states are hoodwinking. Huddled together in the castle in Osaka for their annual G20 meeting, state-leaders were joking, hugging and kissing each other, with embarrassing handshakes and deliberate smiles.

To top-up the display of utter climate-apathy, the world witnessed live on TV, a gala dinner with an impressive cultural show, where enviable fashion trends were displayed by the aging wives and young-looking daughters of the participating states persons. The same channels were simultaneously broadcasting views and bites of the youth demonstrating and getting arrested.

The agenda for 14th summit of G20, crafted after a series of ministerial meetings, was indeed loaded with issues of trade and tariffs, free flow of digital data, 5G technology, terrorism, fugitive economic offenders, empowerment of women and slowdown of global economy. In contrast, the deliberation on the existential threat for the planet Earth posed by climate crisis hardly found any space. The G20 concluded without caring for the rest of Gs of the world. Particularly the G-Next’s cries on climate went unheard. The world leaders continued to treat it as business-as-usual.

The scenes of the never seen before climate-protests by school children in front of the parliaments, government buildings all over, had shocked the world just before G20, but were not enough to shake the 20 most powerful politicians in the world out of their stupor. Every Friday children decided to be out of school to be on the streets for protests. The children ‘scolded’ their parents that they are not taking action on climate crisis. They took classes for politicians in the open to school them to act on climate emergency and taught them about the consequences of inaction. But the bilateral, trilateral and multilateral dialogues on the margins of G20 mostly remained confined to respective narrow, national priorities.

By the end of the summit, the world as always, received a ‘standard G20 communique’, with some reference to climate change in a heavily compromised text that laid bare the stark difference of opinion amongst the leaders. The new global disorder was visible. The headlines were flashed: US President Trump agreed to restart trade talks with China, he visited North Korea, praised Saudi Arabia and again resolved to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement.

Thus, 19 other members of the G20 reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate deal and its irreversibility. The US, as in the last G20 meeting, agreed to disagree. Some diplomats wondered if Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, had deliberately downplayed climate change to keep Trump engaged in G20 discussions as without such fixing, the finalisation of a joint communique at the end of the meeting would have been impossible.

Thus, the G20 chose to ignore climate change even as there were unprecedented forest fires from Serbia and the Arctic to Australia and while vast portions of the globe were either starved of even a drop of rain and others could barely tackle the unprecedented floods. The US had all of these on, simultaneously. But the growth-obsessed and trade-centred leaders remained focussed on economy and not on ecology.

Its getting hot even in the Arctic and Alaska, but the decision makers remain cool
Its getting hot even in the Arctic and Alaska, but the decision makers remain cool

Making up for lapses

The 45th G7 summit, to be held in the south-western resort quiet town of Biarritz in August offers a chance for the leaders to make up for their lapses in Osaka and earlier. There could be some encouraging signs that the host of G7 Summit, French President Emmanuel Macron would try to break the tradition of an exclusive, small group of leaders holding its discussions in ivory towers and make the gathering more inclusive.

Traditionally G7 group is composed of the seven leading industrialised, western economies, that account for over 46 pc of the global gross domestic product in nominal value, but in terms of population or geography or society, this grouping is extremely exclusive, a closed club. Macron has tried to address this issue by inviting other countries to attend the meeting. Apart from India, South Africa and Brazil who were unofficially included in G7 in 2005, he has ensured participation of a clutch of west African states that have traditionally had close ties with France and are its former colonies.

Macron has also tried to make the entire format of the meeting more inclusive by bringing up burning issues such as education, health, inequality, gender and environment right on top of the agenda and has tried to involve the civil society groups not just at Biarritz, but in the entire preparatory stage, with frequent consultations and joint meetings.

Significantly, Macron’s agenda also recognised radically that the climate crisis has its indelible link with inequality which in turn has a strong connection with terrorism. Though it touches every human being, climate change hits vulnerable populations even harder. “It heaps inequality on inequality and insecurity on insecurity,” says the G7 preparatory document. This is perhaps the biggest difference between the two meetings of G7 and G20, coming within a gap of three months. It is heartening to note that climate change will be back as a major priority of G7, apart from issues of digital tax and terrorism.

Significantly, the agenda on environment includes scientific warnings and international action on biodiversity and the climate, inclusive ecological transition, tangible solutions for the climate and biodiversity and finance for the preservation of biodiversity.

These priorities are indeed based on scientific consensus on the issue. The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 deg C, prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was clear in its finding that the rise in temperature had to be limited to 1.5°C to avoid the disastrous consequences to coastal areas, island countries and global economy in general. The world has to cut its dependence on fossil fuel by 45 pc by 2030 from the 2010 levels and by 100 pc by 2050. That would need much more than just ambitious pledges by the countries and definitely more than the promises made in the Paris Climate Agreement. The report also raised an alarm that the global average temperature rise had already reached near to 1°C and with the current speed of action, the additional rise of half a degree was just about 12 years away, within the lifetime of most of the humanity living today and most of the world leaders attending G7.

Another worrying report was by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the United Nations’ expert nature panel. After three years of study, a panel of 500 experts conclusively summarised that the Earth had to be put on red alert as humanity faces an existential threat within decades, if the steep decline of nature is not reversed. The decline is unprecedented in human history and is likely to continue for at least 50 years, it further stated. Worse, the speed and scale would only accelerate due to inaction on climate crisis.

The reasons behind the decline were hardly a surprise. The global population that increased from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.6 billion in 2018, a ten-fold increase in global trade over the last five decades, the sheer amount of goods that people now buy in rich countries, the endless pursuit of economic growth, damaging subsidies on fossil fuel and the sharp growth of new technologies, all of which put demands on natural resources, the report said.

Encouragingly, there were some tell-tale signs at the G20 meet that the subsequent meet in Biarritz of G7 would take the scientists’ warnings seriously. That striking spot in an otherwise environmentally near-silent G20 meeting was the trilateral meeting between France, China and the UN secretary general, on the margins, and the joint statement issued by France and China. They reconfirmed their pledges that Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) would be adjusted to represent a progression beyond their current pledges in Paris Climate Agreement. Importantly their joint statement also reiterated their resolve to cut the emission of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), highly potent greenhouse gases that are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. Cutting emissions of HFCs, under the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment is considered as the most cost effective and accelerated solution to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, apart from reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Many had wished that India too should have joined China and France in that statement to demonstrate Prime Minister Modi’s global leadership on climate change. Nevertheless, Modi can have his moment at the G7 during their bilateral meeting. Both Modi and Macron are known to be bold decision makers. Last year, Macron had announced imposition of a carbon tax, while in the budget presented in July, the Modi government increased the tax on petrol and diesel. Both the leaders have also led the progress on International Solar Alliance, a grouping of nations, that has the potential to be a game-changer in the battle for climate.

Macron is the most transformative French President since François Mitterrand. Professionally an investment banker, he has persuaded eight major asset managers to make climate friendly investment of USD 15 trillion. To make the fight to save climate more inclusive and broadbased, Macron has coined a slogan, ‘Make the planet great again’ as a counter to the exclusive and narrow slogan of Trump ‘Make the America great again’. Together, Modi, Macron and other bold leaders of the world could indeed make the prospects of life for the next generation great again.

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