Leave politics and trade concerns out of climate change fight, advocates warn

Jodi Xu Klein

A new group including US media organisation TED is calling on governments to cut politics and trade considerations out of efforts to fight climate change.

Organisers of Countdown, an initiative that seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions, on Tuesday urged climate experts, policymakers, business leaders and citizens globally to imagine what could be achieved if different groups broke out of their silos and collectively took on the problem of climate change, which they cast as a threat to humanity.

“It is tragic that the power of transformation that we have ahead of us is so severely diminished by those who would want to politicise the issue and separate it into partisan politics,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

This issue “cannot be a partisan issue,” Figueres said. “It cannot be a politicised issue.”

UN climate change expert Christiana Figueres (left) and TED head Chris Anderson speak at the launch of Countdown on Tuesday in New York. Photo: TED

The initiative, launched by an alliance of TED, known for featuring lectures on technology, design and other subjects, YouTube and an environmental group started by former US vice-president Al Gore, seeks to bring carbon dioxide emissions down to zero by 2050 in five big areas: power, environment, transport, food and nature.

The effort comes as carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise.

This year, the world is projected to release 40.57 billion tonnes of the gas into the air, up nearly 255 million tons from 2018, according to a study released on Tuesday by Global Carbon Project, a group of international scientists that tracks emissions.

The United States and China are the world’s two largest emitters. In 2019, China is expected to be the global leader with 28 per cent of total emissions, while the United States is projected to contribute 14.5 per cent, according to the study.

The call for action comes as the world increasingly moves towards nationalism and protectionism. The prolonged US-China trade war has pushed countries to decouple on multiple fronts, including trade, technology and climate-change management.

Chris Anderson, head of TED, said that while the US-China trade war and a potential bilateral decoupling were challenging issues, “the decision on climate doesn't have to be linked to trading decisions”.

“Those are two separate issues, and there may be different motivations behind them,” Anderson said. “I would hope at least that we could get some consensus on sustainability on climate issues, even if the trade issues can’t fully be resolved.”

China and EU try to forge common front to fight climate change

In 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that America would cease to take part in the 2015 Paris Agreement, a pact within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dealing with greenhouse gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance.

In doing so, Trump walked back on pledges agreed to by 195 nations, ending the implementation of emission targets set by his predecessor, former president Barack Obama.

Trump had claimed the Paris accord would “undermine [the US] economy” and “puts [the US] at a permanent disadvantage”.

At Tuesday’s launch event, Figueres said: “It has been very painful for me to see how, over the past 12 to 18 months, because of the tragically insufficient response that we have had to climate change, how the zeitgeist has been changing from where we were in Paris, which was pretty positive and optimistic, to now despair, helplessness and anger.”

“The way we go at this is actually to expand the breath of engagement beyond government. We can bring it down to a different level of engagement with just every single human being,” Figueres said.

Trump has long been a climate change critic. In 2012, he tweeted that he believed that China had created the concept of global warming to impair American competitiveness.

But Gore, the founder and chairman of Climate Reality Project, a partner of the Countdown initiative, on Tuesday stressed the urgency of addressing the climate crisis.

“Every day we’re putting 150 million tonnes of man-made global warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere threatening our planet,” Gore said.

“The accumulated amount now traps as much extra energy every day as would be released by 500,000 first-generation atomic bombs exploding every single day.

“It is essential that everyone join up,” Gore said. “Every political persuasion, every ideological persuasion, every nationality, every division has to be obliterated so that we, humanity, can join together.”

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