In his post, reflecting on the fleeting chance of a global climate agreement, Nick writes, “there simply isn’t much precedent in human history for comprehensive global agreement on tough issues.” I disagree. As the Montreal Protocol to prevent the depletion of the ozone layer and the tattered Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have (thus far) proven, when the world has a profitable solution or nuclear-armed gun to its head, it can agree to do the right thing.
The effort to close the polar ozone holes is an imperfect but instructive global success story. The ozone hole was caused by one type of industrial chemical (chlorofluorocarbons) with limited commercial applications. A profitable replacement chemical made the shift to a planet with fewer CFCs comparatively easy. Climate change is vastly more complicated but there are still ample opportunities for profit from the reworking of the world economy, which is required to prevent widespread catastrophe.
The world succeed in avoiding a nuclear holocaust largely because of a military doctrine known as “mutually assured destruction” (the acronym of which was, appropriately enough, “MAD”). One problem with global warming is that while climate chaos is assured, it will be unevenly distributed across the globe. As African negotiators in Copenhagen have pointed out to little avail, countries in the global south will bear the brunt of the effects of global climate change—despite little historic responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions that are slowly baking the globe. The disproportionately assured destruction climate change will produce weakens the negotiating positions of these already disadvantaged nations. Case in point: developed nations secretly negotiated for a politically acceptable agreement to only raise global temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius—a scenario that would turn southern Africa into a massive desert.
Indeed, avoiding nuclear war is easier than halting climate change…
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Photo credit: Steve Punter (via Flickr)