Politics and Climate – Valdai Discussion Club

These countries refuse pointblank to be punished by the international emission control rules for pursuing their national development goals. This is one of the few issues in which India and China are in solidarity. In May 2015, the leaders of the two states issued a joint statement, pointing out that the developed and developing countries bear “differentiated responsibilities” for climate change. They called for the leadership of developed countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing finance, technology and capacity building support to developing countries.

There are models that make it possible to assess the level of responsibility of different countries for global warming, proceeding from their historical contribution to greenhouse emissions. According to one of them, created by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), as of 2010, the US accounted for 37 percent of this responsibility, the EU (with the UK) for 24 percent, Russia for 7 percent, Japan for 5 percent, China for 2 percent and India for 0.1 percent. A fair solution of the global warming problem would imply proportionate efforts of the states concerned. It is no surprise that people in the developing countries are very enthusiastic about such calculations.

Moreover, a considerable part of the developing countries’ emissions are sent to advanced states as a carbon footprint. This amounts to “the outsourcing of emissions.” The authors of the report The Carbon Loophole in Climate Policy (2018) note that a quarter of all produced emissions are being exported, with China being the largest exporter and the US the biggest importer.

“Of course those countries are correct that they have produced very little CO2 and so should not have to pay much toward the solution. Of course the rich countries should assume most of the costs,” says Richard Lachmann, adding, “However, poor countries should realize that today green energy is cheaper to install than power plants that use carbon fuels. Poorer countries’ decisions to build carbon fuel plants are the result of corruption not rational planning.”

By way of example Lachmann mentions the business empire of Indian billionaire Gautam Adani. According to him, Adani used long-term ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to receive loan guarantees, subsidies and benefits for the coal electric power station Mundra Thermal Power Plant. “Green power entrepreneurs in South Asia now will have to compete against subsidised coal power,” notes Lachmann. In early 2020, Adani declared that he intends to make his company a world leader in solar energy by 2025 and in renewable energy sources by 2030. In simple terms, the strategy is aimed at first making money on “dirty” energy and then investing into “clean”. This strategy is bound to receive understanding in the Government.

Yet, it is the developing countries that are threatened with the most destructive consequences of global warming. “It is the poorer countries of the world that are going to be the worst affected by climate change, and earlier than anyone else,” notes Anatol Lieven, “whether due to their greater geographical exposure to floods and droughts; the fact that many of them are already suffering from severe water shortages; the lack of adequate disaster prevention and relief facilities; over-population; and ethnic, religious and social strains which are likely to be worsened by mass migration due to climate change. They therefore have vital national interests of their own in the effort to limit climate change.” In fact, the leaders of many developing nations are facing today the “survival vs development” dilemma, which is aggravated by electoral considerations. Claims to leadership on behalf of the Western countries are probably one of the most consistent parts of their climate agenda.

“Experts are increasingly often talking about ‘environmental neocolonialism’ when advanced countries are denying the poorest states the right to development,” Oleg Barabanov notes. “For the most part, the poorest states reduce the problem to asking for money and that’s it. But there are indicative exceptions: Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are ahead of the whole planet in promoting the ideas of blue economy,” he says. 

[embedded content]Tiny SIDS control about 30 percent of all seas and oceans by means of their exclusive economic zones. This is why the policy that is called “green” on the ground goes under the name of “blue” in their case. One of its instruments is “blue bonds” that are used to finance projects aimed at preserving the oceans. The Seychelles placed the first blue bonds under the World Bank’s free loan guarantees in 2018. They are designed to expand protected marine areas, control over fishing zones and development of the insular economy. The new financial instrument was welcomed by the market and now Indonesia is going to follow suit.

Climate riots and climate migrants

As a result of unprecedented drought, grain harvests in Russia in 2010 dropped by 35 percent and an embargo on wheat exports was introduced. Egypt had been one of the biggest importers of Russian grain since the start of the 21st century. By that time, Russian grain was a market leader owing to its competitiveness. Production and supply of cheap bread to the people played a key role in ensuring social stability in the country: a system of food aid covered almost 70 percent of the Egyptian population. Lack of bread due to Russian supply shortages became one of the reasons for the popular unrest that led to the end of the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Experts believe it was the 2010 heat wave that prompted Russian society to realise the importance of climate change, while Egypt offered an example of how climate may influence political processes. Bread and water are two vital resources access to which is threatened by the global warming.

“Food riots have taken place in history many times,” recalls Igor Makarov. “The lack of fresh water is more recent. However, in the 1990s a number of water riots took place in Bolivia, Tanzania, and Argentina, to name a few. Of course, there is every reason to believe that the number of such riots will increase in the future,” he predicts.

Can conflicts over base resources become international? “Former World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin made a famous prediction, ‘If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.’ However, this prediction is not coming true,” Makarov notes. “Water is an important issue of differences between many countries but an armed conflict will break out only if this factor is aggravated by ethnic, territorial or other contradictions.”

In 2019-2020, tensions escalated in the dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Nile. Ethiopia is building the Hidase hydroelectric power station (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) that is supposed to be the most powerful in Africa. Its capacity is enough to meet all electricity requirements of the nation of 100 million inhabitants. At the same time, it threatens water supplies to Egypt, which also is home to 100 million people. The expected reduction in the water flow in Nile may cut down fresh water reserves, cause the disappearance of thousands of hectares of irrigated land and a drop in electricity generation at Egypt’s largest Aswan power plant. Egypt demands that Ethiopia fill the Blue Nile reservoir with water for ten years and that it be under the control of the states located downstream. Ethiopia is blatantly against this. The countries are holding talks on a Nile water agreement but there has been no progress in the offing and observers warn that Egypt may try to resolve this problem by force.

However, this situation is more an exception than a rule. “At least in the near to medium term, I don’t think that war between states is the greatest threat,” Anatol Lieven says. “This will only be the case if things become truly desperate. Rather, the danger is of increased conflict within societies, leading to internal and international migration.”

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