An increasingly hostile planet will make growth and development more difficult
By Denis Birungi
When Donald Trump decided to withdraw America from the Paris Accord and threatened to cut federal funding for climate change initiatives, little did he know that Hurricane Harvey would devastate Texas and Louisiana with such horror. His reason for cutting funding for climate change interventions is that they have "killed America jobs" and that climate change is a myth.
As greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures increase, the impact from climate change are projected to become widespread and to intensify. The type, frequency and intensity of extreme weather - such as storms, hurricanes, typhoons, floods and droughts are projected to increase. From the United States to the Phillipines to Naple, to India to Freetown and most recently to the Caribbean, the devastation by hurricanes and floods is horrifying. Scientists agree that the cause is global warming and man-made factors are responsible.
The hostility of the planet due to effects of climate change calls for tougher decisions and swift action on the side of policy makers both at national and global stage to ensure a safer world. This should be through swift comprehensive and robust defensive and reformative measures, including a gradual change from polluting to cleaner economies. Arguments that climate change interventions kill jobs and that they conflict with objectives of growth and development are untenable. The obligation to save the planet and the objective of growth and development are inextricably linked.
These obligations cannot be postponed, they are needed now. An increasingly hostile planet will make growth and development more difficult; will cause more natural disasters leading to loss of human and other capital, pushing many to poverty. The choice is not to ignore the monster that threatens us but to confront it before it extinguishes our existence (sadly it has already reached our door steps), which is why countries entered the iconic Paris Agreement whose main approach is to hold the increase in the global average temperature below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
Luckily, efforts have been intensified at the global stage to ensure that climate change interventions and the objectives of growth and development are mutually supportive. These include legal and institutional mechanisms. There is closer cooperation between international organizations such as United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ensure that objectives of development and the fight against climate change are complementary.
At WTO (a multi- lateral trading system created to champion free trade), rules are being re-interpreted and measures developed to allow member countries mitigate the effects of climate change. A committee on trade and environment, created under its framework is undertaking negotiations on trade and environment as part of the Doha Development Agenda. The negotiations aim to ensure that trade and environment policies are mutually supportive.
The Judicial branch of the WTO, the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) has since developed a more liberal and open minded approach in interpreting measures aimed at environmental protection which may conflict with WTO rules (such as the Most Favoured nation principle and the principle of national treatment). By purposefully applying the general exceptions under article XX of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the DSB allows such measures as environmental subsidies and carbon taxes as long as they meet the test of the chapeau of that article. Under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) WTO- inconsistent barriers/regulations aimed at environmental protection are permissible as long as they are necessary and based on available scientific information. The promotion of green goods is also promising to the future of cleaner and sustainable economies.
Progressive governments have already put in place policies to prepare for the future. Britain and France have set targets to have only electric cars on their roads by 2040, while India's target is 2030. Such policies will propel Research and Development (R&D) in new channels of investment, opening new markets and creating alternative, sustainable economies. With these trends, future growth and development will not be in coal mines or oil industry but in electric cars, solar energy and other clean energy innovations.
Writer is lawyer and fellow at the Africa Policy Centre, a think tank at Uganda Christian University