Tag Archives climate crisis

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

Mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are imbued with neocolonial discursive constructions of the “other”. Understanding how such constructions work has important implications for how we think about emancipatory ...

Whose climate security? Or why we should worry about security language in climate action

Whose climate security? Or why we should worry about security language in climate action

The climate crisis is becoming an international focal point, and budgets for climate change mitigation and adaptation are getting larger. At the same time, debates on ‘climate security’ involving some ...

Covid-19 | Strengthening alliances in a post-Covid world: green recovery as a new opportunity for EU-China climate cooperation?

As nations turn their attention to fighting the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, green recovery seems to be a good—and perhaps for the first time, possible—option. As climate change remains the most pressing challenge despite the severity of the global Covid-19 pandemic, a green recovery plan to slow down global warming and meet climate goals becomes imperative. Leaders in the EU are taking the lead in greening the recovery, while China seems to be following suit. A ‘green consciousness’ seems to be emerging. Could these efforts improve EU-China relations and help these two global powerhouses work together to fight climate change? asks Hao Zhang.

Chinese and EU flag
Credit: Friends of Europe on Flickr

As the IMF’s latest report on fiscal policies shows, the Covid-19 crisis won’t change the global climate that is also in crisis, but responses to it might. Even though science hasn’t produced an answer on whether the current economic crisis induced by the pandemic will indeed affect the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, efforts to address it certainly will. It is undeniable that the current health and economic crisis together create a threat to our current development trajectory and that the scope and severity of the issue to some extent make lasting efforts and immediate actions crucial. These decisions on how we will recover from the pandemic and the resulting crisis will shape our society for the next few decades and, even more importantly perhaps, how we deal with our climate and environmental challenges. As the IPCC’s report warned that our current ambition and willingness are far from pushing us to reach our goal of containing global warming, a green recovery plan becomes imperative in a post-Covid-19 world.

The question then arises: How do we green our recovery? As the IMF suggests, fiscal policymakers should take the lead in making policies that support climate goals without undermining the purpose of boosting the economy. Then, finance ministries should be able to set up concrete and practical projects to implement these policies. In addition, public support for the green policies with the rationale that curbing emissions would likely reduce the risk of respiratory diseases is indispensable. In a post-Covid-19 world, this might sway the public in support of green measures in a way it never has before.

The EU seems to be taking the lead in employing green measures to recover its lockdown-hit economies. As policymakers tend to believe that a green plan can better help revive the economy, concrete actions can be witnessed. In May this year, the European Commission proposed a €750 billion recovery fund with green conditions, 25% of which is to be set aside for climate action, meaning that one-quarter of expenditure with a ‘do-no-harm’ clause can potentially rule out environmentally damaging investments.[1] In addition, the Commission also issued a €1.85 trillion, seven-year budget and pandemic recovery package. This EU green recovery package could be introduced elsewhere to stimulate the economy while fighting climate change.

In addition, the EU launched the world’s largest programs for innovative low-carbon technologies under the fund from the EU’s emissions trading system. This innovation fund is created to finance breakthrough technologies for renewable energy, energy-intensive industries, carbon capture, use and storage, etc. These could help create local job opportunities, lead the economy to a climate-neutral place, and also help the EU maintain its technological leadership in climate change. It is obvious that the EU pays great attention to the future of clean technologies, yet it allows member states and the market space to decide how the money is spent. The member states will be allowed to use their allocations from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility for a wide range of green projects detailed in their national energy climate plans, and their proposals will be reviewed by the Commission; at the same time, private capital will be encouraged to invest in clean energy technologies.

On the other side of the world, in China, residents also survived the first wave of the pandemic, and the government is now also making recovery plans. This May, in the report on the work of the government, the development of renewable energy and efforts toward the clean and efficient use of coal were emphasized.[2] At the same time, this year for the first time Beijing has decided not to set an economic growth target, which is interpreted as a way to help China shift away from energy-intensive infrastructure projects.[3] This indeed has sent out a very positive signal; however, given that China still hasn’t submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the next reporting round, it also raises concerns about a lack of practical assurance.

Nevertheless, the cooperation between the EU and China in regard to green recovery seems promising. At the recent 22nd China-EU Summit on September 14 this year, President Xi Jinping stated that

China is interested in forging a green partnership with the EU and constructively participating in the global process of tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity. We are researching on reaching our long-term vision in the mid-century,[4] which includes carbon-peaking and carbon-neutrality.[5]

It is thus obvious that economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic is considered a top priority for leaders of both the EU and China, and it becomes increasingly clear that both parties are interested in a recovery package that aligns with their green transition goals.

Looking ahead, the EU and China can cooperate with each other in a few fields. First, the EU’s experiences could help China transition more rigorously to the use of green energy, especially in cutting the number of carbon-powered plants and subsidizing new energy vehicles. Second, the EU and China could agree to channel public and private funds to low-carbon investments both at home and abroad. Both parties are big investors of overseas development projects; they can thus work together to invest in projects subject to green terms. Going a step further, the EU and China could also work on developing international standards for sustainable finance[6], and China could learn from the EU’s experience in committing to more ambitious climate targets, specifically making ‘decarbonization’ a top priority in its next five-year plan.[7] Hopes are high for future cooperation between the EU and China in leading the world toward a green recovery, yet key decisions need to be made by both parties.

[1] Refer to Climate Home News, “EU €750 billion Covid recovery fund comes with green conditions”, May 27, 2020.

[2] Refer to ccchina.org.cn, 一图读懂2020政府工作报告, May 29, 2020.

[3] Refer to Climate Home News, “China prioritises employment over GDP growth in coronavirus recovery”, May 22, 2020.

[4] President Xi confirmed that China will try to reach carbon-neutrality before 2060 in his speech at a high-level meeting to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary on September 22nd, 2020.

[5] Refer to Global Times, “推动疫后全球经济复苏 中欧领导人视频会晤定目标”, September 15, 2020.

[6] Refer to China Dialogue, “Hopes for EU-China climate deal centre on a green recovery”, June 17, 2020.

[7] Refer to China Dialogue, “中欧气候协议前景如何?”, September 14, 2020.

About the author:

Hao ZhangHao Zhang is a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Before joining ISS, she was a master’s student majoring international affairs at School of Global Policy and Strategy at University of California, San Diego. Her current research focus on policy advocacy of Chinese NGOs in global climate governance. Her research interests lie in Chinese politics, global climate politics and diplomacy.

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COVID-19 | Will current travel restrictions help academics change their flying behaviour? by Lara Vincent and Oane Visser

COVID-19 | Will current travel restrictions help academics change their flying behaviour? by Lara Vincent and Oane Visser

With drastic restrictions on mobility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international academic air travel for research, conferences, and defences has largely come to a halt. The sudden inability to hop ...

Resisting environmental and social injustice through commoning

Resisting environmental and social injustice through commoning

Lize Swartz in conversation with Dr Gustavo García-López, 2019-2021 Prince Claus Chair Social and environmental injustice are increasing globally as neoliberalism tightens its grip. Crisis upon crisis are hitting especially vulnerable ...

COVID-19 | A political ecology of epidemics: why human and other-than-human diseases should push us to rethink our global development model by Fabio Gatti

The recent COVID-19 outbreak has generated an incredible interest around public health in particular and other social issues in general. However, most commentaries have failed to look at the crisis from an environmental and ecological perspective. We need to look at the links between COVID-19 and the global environmental crisis in order to identify and address the structural causes leading to the emergence of the pandemic: increasing urbanization, an exodus from rural areas and the abandonment of peasant farming, the intensification of natural resource extraction, and the industrialization of agriculture.


Different epidemic, similar responses

I started getting familiar with diseases and epidemics last summer when I was looking at an agricultural pest outbreak in Apulia, southern Italy. At that time it was not humans who were considered at risk, but a different species: olive trees. The bacteria Xylella fastidiosa that arrived in Europe for the first time in 2013 endangered the survival of thousands of centuries-old olive trees. These plants in Apulia not only are an important agricultural asset on which many depend for their livelihoods, but also have a strong cultural value that relates to the history, the identity, and the landscape of a whole region.

In my research, with the risk of simplifying a bit, two different interpretations of the bacteria’s role in the desiccation of the trees were apparent on the ground: on the one side, a reductionist position considering the new pathogen as the one and only cause of the disease, and therefore concentrating efforts on ‘eradicating’ the bacteria from the countryside; on the other, a more holistic view stressing the fact that the bacteria was only one of the factors contributing to the trees’ pathology, and thus calling for a much deeper reflection on the structural causes of the outbreak.

For example, the abuse of pesticides and herbicides during the last decades, desertification due to climate change, depletion of water resources linked to the intensification of monoculture plantations, and the lack of traditional mantainance practices (e.g. pruning of ploughing) due to the rural exodus might have all together contributed to the weakening of the immune system of the olive trees and the contamination of the environment they are embedded in. Thus, addressing the wider social, economical and environmental factors which made olive trees especially vulnerable to the spread of the bacteria would have been another strategy to tackle the emergency.

What happened then strongly reminds me of the recent COVID-19 crisis: the Italian government declared a ‘state of emergency’ and the crisis was managed by creating an “infected area” in order to try to isolate the bacteria. Infected trees, after being isolated, had to be eradicated in order to avoid the contagion of neighbouring plants. Pesticides were employed in order to get rid of the insect responsible for carrying the bacteria from one tree to the other. The reductionist paradigm ended up dominating.

Spillover

“The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure—or better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations”

(Rob Wallace, from this interview)

The current COVID-19 pandemic thus raises some important questions: is this pandemic just the effect of a random event, i.e. the accidental incursion of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 into human bodies, or are there some structural reasons which we are failing to consider? Is this only a public health crisis, for which the goal should be to make sure that we can eradicate the virus in order to ‘go back to normal’ (e.g. developing a vaccine that makes us immune to it), or is this part of a global socio-ecological crisis that should push us to reconsider our global development model?

Some studies support the latter position. In his book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen claims that, while zoonotic diseases (infections caused by pathogens who jump from animals to humans—the so-called spillover) are not something new to humankind, what is relatively new is the frequency of such events. In the last 30 years, spillovers have happened at an unprecedented pace due to primarily deforestation and land use change caused by the expansion of agribusinesses, together with uncontrolled and explosive urbanization processes that have greatly increased the occasions of encounters between humans and wild species.

Intensification of animal farming also plays a role. In Big Farms make Big Flu, evolutionary epidemiologist Robert Wallace claims that intensive animal farming is responsible for the recent increase in new pathogens’ creation. More than that, the production of diseases is itself part of companies’ business models. Rather than just an unintended consequence of a genuine effort to ‘feed the world’ or achieve ‘food security’, the logic of agrifood corporations implies the externalization of health and environmental costs (such as the accidental generation of a new pathogen) to the public (animals, humans, local ecosystems, governments) while privatizing the profits resulting from their activity, in the most pure capitalist economic rationality.

And a recent position paper analyzing the spread of the infection in northern Italy claims that atmospheric particulate matter might have played a non-negligible role in the long-range transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the area, and therefore adds another aspect to the relationship between COVID-19 and environmental degradation, in this case air pollution.

We cannot go back to normal, because normality was the problem

What can we do, then? The attempt of this post was to make clear that the biggest mistake we can make is to consider the COVID-19 pandemic as an isolated event unrelated with the global environmental crisis and to miss the connection with global capitalism, the expansion of commodity frontiers, and the intensification in the industrial mode of food production. COVID-19 and climate change are two sides of the same ecological crisis and should be addressed as such[1].

If we realize this, the crisis will open a great space for radical social change to be put in place. In a recent intervention on the Spanish newspaper El País, South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han reminds us that “the virus will not defeat capitalism, there will be no viral revolution: no virus is capable of doing the revolution”. It should therefore be us—civil society, progressive governments, development professionals, environmental activists—who gather momentum to foster radical change in what we believe development is, and making it what we want it to be.

[1] In a recent blog post, Murat Arsel looks at some similarities and differences between the COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis, with the goal of learning something useful for climate change politics. He acknowledges that “the astonishing spread of COVID-19 could not have been possible without the incredible powers of global capitalism”, and calls for a different system “not so fundamentally focused on maximizing profits over all other concerns”. Still, he talks of the pandemic and climate change as two separate crises. My claim here is that, from a structural point of view, COVID-19 and climate change are in fact two sides of the same coin.

The author thanks Oane Visser and Fizza Batool for their comments on an earlier version of the post. This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Find more articles of this series here.


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About the author:

Fabio Gatti is a graduate from the Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies (AFES) major at the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague. His current research interests speak to the fields of political ecology, science and technology studies (STS), environmental humanities, and post-development studies.

COVID-19 | Lessons from the COVID-19 crisis for climate change politics by Murat Arsel

COVID-19 | Lessons from the COVID-19 crisis for climate change politics by Murat Arsel

COVID-19 and climate change bear striking – and worrying – similarities and differences. Both are characterized by high uncertainty, but while COVID-19 has been identified as an immediate threat and ...