There is climate hope, despite Amazon crisis

The G7 have offered aid to Brazil to combat fires in the ‘lungs of the earth’ and this has been a year of increased consciousness of the climate crisis, writes Andrew Hammond.

There is climate hope, despite Amazon crisis

The G7 have offered aid to Brazil to combat fires in the ‘lungs of the earth’ and this has been a year of increased consciousness of the climate crisis, writes Andrew Hammond.

Despite a potential environmental catastrophe unfolding in the Amazon, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, blocked G7 aid earlier this week.

Leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest nations at the Group of Seven summit offered €20m to Brazil to combat the fires.

His childish behaviour, amidst heated words with French president Emmanuel Macron (who had announced the aid), reflects how climate change has become part of a political culture war between populist andcentrist politicians.

Bolsonaro later hinted that he might be willing to accept some or all of the aid, but only if Macron withdrew his words, which Bolsonaro said suggested that Brazil did not have sovereignty over the Amazon. Bolsonaro may be mindful that if he is unable to put out the fires, this will not sit well with voters.

It was later reported that he had accepted $12m from Britain.

The irony is that, in 2019, people have become more conscious of climate change.

The issue, perhaps the biggest facing humanity in the 21st century, has the potential to reshape politics.

Yet Bolsonaro’s actions highlight the potency of climate-sceptic counter-arguments, however scientifically illiterate and ill-founded.

Bolsonaro, the ‘Tropical Trump’, is an anti-environmentalist, who favours policy positions controversial with many audiences,including nostalgia for the nation’s previous political dictatorship and relaxed gun laws.

And like other populists, he came to power by attacking multinationals, so-called fake media, and immigrants. It is no surprise that US president Donald Trump, who didn’t attend the G7 session on climate change on Sunday, has supported Bolsonaro’s position.

Trump, like Bolsonaro, has argued that climate change is a hoax and wants the Paris climate accord dismantled.

This argument, utterly reckless given the scientific consensus on global warming and the potential perils, is damaging to global attempts to tackle climate change.

Take the Amazon, a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of climate change. Most of its geography isin Brazil and this year’s wildfires have increased by 80%, according to the nation’s space agency. It is no coincidence that this significantly increased number of fires coincides with a sharp drop in fines for environmental violations.

Climate campaigners argue that the Paris treaty does not go far enough, and that even the G7 aid of €20m is a drop in the ocean of what is needed to tackle the calamity affecting the Amazon, the so-called ‘lungs of the earth’.

While the position held by Trump and Bolsonaro will eventually belong to the dustbin of history, the key question is how fast other key countries can ramp up the ambition in the Paris deal.

While the Paris agreement — reached by more than 190 countries as the successor treaty to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — was a welcome attempt to tackleglobal warming, it is only the beginning of a longer journey that governments and legislators must now make in the 2020s.

While such ambition may seem a political long shot, there was significant doubt about the Paris deal before it was agreed; scepticism that it could be achieved.

And the deal was then ratified with remarkable speed, by 55 countries,accounting for a minimum of 55% ofglobal emissions.

The roadmap ahead starts with next month’s UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

There, the evidence will show that we may be facing into a climate emergency. The UN World Meteorological Organisation report that 2015 to 2019 are on track to be the five hottest years ever recorded.

Beyond this, implementation of Paris is now needed as speedily as possible to provide a baseline for future action. This will be most effective through national laws, where politically feasible, as country ‘commitments’ put forward in Paris will be more credible — and durable beyond the next set of national elections — if they are backed up by legislation, not least because the targets in the deal are not legally binding.

Once these domestic legal frameworks are in place, and cemented, they will become crucial building blocks to measure, report, verify, and manage greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, countries are required under Paris to openly and clearly report on emissions and on their progress in reaching the goals in their national climate plans, as submitted to the UN.

Into the 2020s, the ambition must be that these frameworks are replicated in even more countries, and progressively ratcheted-up.

There are clear signs of this happening already in numerous states, from Asia-Pacific to the Americas, as countries seek to toughen their response to global warming.

Taken overall, the irony of the Amazon tragedy is that it coincides with what appears to be a growing opportunity to co-create, and implement, what could be a foundation of global sustainable development in the coming decades for billions of people across the world, starting with the implementation of Paris.

While populist counter-arguments will remain potent with many, this narrative will eventually be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Andrew Hammond is an associateat LSE Ideas at the London School of Economics

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