The 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris has been billed as an opportunity for US President Barack Obama to cement his environmental legacy and lead the world in an effort to avert a climate change disaster. Although it would appear the politically savvy President Obama has “booby-trapped” the counterproductive Transpacific Partnership (TPP) agreement to force free-trade loving Republicans to accept environmental measures to reduce green house gases, the political leaders in the US Congress are far more likely to reject both TPP and a climate change pact than they are to accept both due to anti-Obama sentiments. Where Chinese leadership is willing to address the causes of climate change in hopes of diverting the long-term consequences of climate change to China, India, Russia, and Brazil are not likely to solve climate change, especially if doing so hurts their economies.
The costs of climate change and the costs of stopping climate change will be the burden of all Peoples, yet world leaders have excluded their Peoples from the solution-making process. As only one government of the world’s top five polluters is willing and able to aggressive reduce emissions, China is motivated by the civil unrest and instability it will face when climate change undermines its ability to provide for its People’s most basic needs. Should climate change agreements cost Chinese workers their jobs, thus inviting civil unrest and instability, the Chinese leadership will quickly reverse its commitment. There are a lot of people who want to protect the environment and eliminate pollution, but derailing the economies of the world to do that makes them unwilling to accept current options. The atmosphere of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference may be more optimistic compared to the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, but it still lacks the proper economic framework needed to address pollution.
The effects of climate change will disproportionately cost geographically vulnerable, poorer, and more densely populated nations the most; whereas, preventing climate change will disproportionately cost wealthy nations more under the current approach to reducing greenhouse gases. Not only will wealthier nations have to commit to larger reductions than poorer and less developed nations, they will also be required to compensate underdeveloped countries, so they can address the ill effects of climate change. Clearly, this is an example of governments trying to fight economic realities. In other words, there are no economic incentives for nations to reduce their pollutions and even less for them to subsidize poorer countries. What this means is that a political solution for climate change cannot be successfully implemented and will, ultimately, fail in the long-term.
Even if the tax dollars of those living in developed-nations are not siphoned off by corrupt and incompetent leaders within underdeveloped countries, recipient nations will likely be unable to use funds to compensate for climate change as money alone does not solve problems. The truth is that underdeveloped nations have an interest in a climate change pact, because climate change will cost them while attempting to address climate change will financially benefit them. At best, recipients of climate change funs will use what money they get to help develop their economies, but this could just create new emitters of greenhouse gases. For many impoverished nations, however, the monies would be used to provide their Peoples with famine aid. Unfortunately, this will only subsidize the old and increased needs of the impoverished, yet fails to solve the underlying economic problems. Subsidizing governments of underdeveloped nations may even perpetuate poverty by denying individuals and small startups the cost-cutting measure that is polluting.
That said, developed countries would be wise to follow the example of underdeveloped countries. Instead of looking at efforts to address global warming and climate change as a political commitment to the environment, they should treat climate change summits as economic forums. Climate change subsidies to underdeveloped countries, which should be restricted to efforts to address climate change, would turn out to be a huge boon for transnational corporations in need of buyers for the “green technology” they develop. In essence, this would allow big businesses to funnel taxpayer dollars of developed nations through underdeveloped nations into their pockets, which would circumvent the needs of the impoverished and create new opportunities for waste, abuse, and fraud. The alternative path is to foster efforts to reduce pollution at a profit instead of at a cost.
A large part of the problem with the political approach to climate change is that world leaders see the threat of climate change in terms of geopolitical interests. Pollution is a shared global economic interest. When it costs less to pollute, industries will pollute. When it costs more to pollute, industries will try to pollute less in order to save or earn more money from their waste. Indeed, this is why the regulatory approach to pollution is to fine violators, thus raising the cost of pollution. In a globalized economy, especially with the forced push to embrace globalized free trade, this means industries are pressured to move where the cost of polluting is less. Current climate change efforts fail to address this fundamental issue. Cultivating technologies that turn the costs of pollution reduction into benefits is the only way to economically address climate in a world where universal agreement is nearly impossible.
Like the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, the Paris Conference is not an opportunity to address climate change. Because it provides clashing world leaders an opportunity to discuss important issues like the South China Sea Crisis, the threat of global terrorism, and the Ukraine Crisis, the Paris Conference has value, which is not to suggest to climate change causes terrorism. That said, a moment at the Paris conference when President Obama introduced Jack Ma of Chinese Alibaba to an Philippine inventor, who was seeking private investment in his saltwater powered light bulb, demonstrated what climate change conferences should focus on. Instead of discussing diplomatic commitments and punitive measures countries can impose on businesses, world leaders should be exploring ways to help cultivate new technologies that can reduce propagate cheap energy and transform wastes like air pollution into profitable industries. This will likely include proper regulations, but it will also involve open policy discussions on issues like intellectual property rights in a way that balances the interests of individual inventors and innovative corporations. In short, the world needs to have a climate change conference with an agenda that can actually solve environmental issues.
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