OPINION - The deafening silence of climate inaction
The decisive decade to avoid climate breakdown has undoubtedly arrived, but the collective leadership needed to meet this moment remains tragically absent
By Karim Elgendy
- The author is an associate fellow at Chatham House.
ISTANBUL (AA) - The warnings have been growing louder for decades -- urgent calls from scientists to radically slash emissions and halt catastrophic climate change. Yet 27 climate summits later, the world remains on a path to disaster. Countries' collective climate commitments fall dangerously short.
- The highest global temperatures and rising sea levels
Climate change now threatens to unleash extreme weather, rising seas, food shortages, ecosystem collapse, and public health crises of unprecedented scale. Heatwaves are already becoming more deadly in regions like Europe, India, and the Western US. The past 8 years were the hottest on record globally, and as temperatures continue their unrelenting march higher, 2023 is set to break yet another record.
Just last month, several records were broken. High global temperatures made July the warmest month on record; the Northern Hemisphere broke new temperature records; and the Mediterranean saw its highest sea surface temperatures ever. In response, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres heralded the arrival of an era of "Global Boiling."
Sea level rise is accelerating, and is on track to submerge low-lying areas in cities from New York to Lagos by 2100. Vital tropical coral reefs that nourish fishing communities are bleaching into graveyards. Crop yields are declining as record droughts and floods add to food insecurity. Millions are likely to face acute hunger in the coming years. Our chances of avoiding radical, irreversible shifts hang by a thread. That thread is being systematically weakened by the delay and denial defining most nations' responses.
Many affluent nations reaped profits from unchecked fossil fuel burning, which created this crisis. Yet instead of leading an urgent transition away from emissions, many cling to insufficient half-measures and distant net-zero goals that lack a road map. In some cases, national "bold" plans rely on speculative carbon removal technologies instead of real cuts today, kicking the can down the road.
The (in)actions of the world's largest historical emitters condemn vulnerable developing nations to a climate chaos they did little to deserve. Small island states like Tuvalu and Kiribati face total extinction from rising seas, though their emissions contributions are negligible.
This injustice highlights the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." While all nations must act, the countries that disproportionately enabled climate change have an ethical obligation to lead in proportion to their historic responsibility and their outsized role in creating the problem. Yet, we see the opposite: The worst historical emitters prevaricate while vulnerable nations face erasure.
- Need for an immediate transformation
Keeping warming below 1.5C by the end of the century is absolutely critical, but it requires an immediate, society-wide transformation that few nations have embraced. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) implored unprecedented changes across all sectors in its sixth Assessment Report to have any chance of meeting 1.5C. It now estimates that we are likely to breach this warming limit in the coming decades, even under the best-case scenario. Yet we can still return to this threshold by the end of the century if we decarbonize our economies.
Yet what we are seeing is more greenwashing in public relations (PR) campaigns than the actual greening of economies. More inflammatory rhetoric than cooperation. More net zero promises 30 years hence than real cuts today.
Cities and companies often lead where national climate policy lags. Over 2,000 businesses and almost 1,000 cities have science-based plans to hit net zero through initiatives like the Race to Zero Campaign. But bottom-up leadership has limits. We desperately need bold national policies to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, massively scale up renewable energy, transform carbon-intensive infrastructure, and tightly regulate emissions across the board. Instead, the fossil fuel industry still supports inaction in capitals worldwide while actively blocking climate progress.
Only the bravest leaders, such as those of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) members, dare propose policies like banning new oil and gas licensing or ending the trillions in annual government support still showered on climate-wrecking companies. With governments stalled, activist investors and courts have joined the fray, but litigation cannot force a systemic economic transformation quickly enough.
- No effective policy about climate breakdown
Where is the wartime urgency to enact carbon prices that actually bite? Where are the comprehensive plans to rapidly retool economies around circularity, public transit, and clean energy instead of blind overconsumption? Where is the resolve to implement fossil fuel extraction bans and production caps that actually align with 1.5C carbon budgets? The incremental policy tweaks enacted so far are a death sentence; they give the illusion of progress while setting the world on the path to 3C warming.
The present course of delay and half-measures locks in carbon emissions and seals the fate of millions more across the Global South with each fraction of a degree of warming. As scientists' desperate pleas grow ever more alarmed, the policy response remains calm and lightyears away from the revolution required to actually align action with the scale of the climate emergency.
The decisive decade to avoid climate breakdown has undoubtedly arrived, but the collective leadership needed to meet this moment remains tragically absent. For all the sound and fury at international climate summits, the resounding silence of real climate action speaks loudest of all. It’s time to wake up before the narrow chance to act disappears entirely.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.
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