Climate change, aims for progress are inseparable

(Photo by Paul Wembabazi)

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 USA in general – Texas and Louisiana in particular with such horror. His reason for cutting funding for climate change interventions is that “they have killed American jobs” and that climate change is a myth.

Storms and floods have, and are projected to continue causing untold death and destruction across the globe. From USA to the Philippines, Nepal, India, Freetown and most recently the Caribbean, the devastation is horrifying. Scientists agree that the cause is global warming and man-made factors.

The hostility of the planet due to effects of climate change calls for swift action on the side of policymakers both at the national and global stage to ensure a safer world.

This should be through complete defence and reformative measures, including a gradual change to cleaner economies. Arguments that climate change interventions kill jobs conflict with the objectives of growth, and are myopic and misleading. The obligation to save the planet and the objective of growth are inseparable.

These obligations cannot be postponed, or else an increasingly hostile planet will make growth and development more difficult, cause more natural disasters, lead to loss of human and other capital, and push milions  into poverty.

The choice is not to ignore the monster but to confront it before it annihilates us.

The fact that the monster has sadly reached our doorstep is the reason why countries entered into the iconic Paris Agreement, whose main approach is to halt the rising global average temperatures and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to pre-industrial levels.

Luckily, many countries are on board with the global climate change interventions and the objectives of growth and development are mutually supported.

These include legal and institutional mechanisms, and closer cooperation among international organizations such  as the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ensure that objectives of development and the fight against climate change are complementary.

The WTO rules are being re-interpreted and measures have been developed to allow member countries mitigate the effects of climate change.

A committee on trade and environment 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 WTO and 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 chapter of that article. Under the agreement on technical barriers to trade, regulations aimed at environmental protection are permissible as long as they are necessary and based on available scientific data.

The promotion of green goods is also promising to the future of cleaner and sustainable economies.

With these trends, future growth and development will not be in coal mines or oil industries but in electric cars, solar energy and other cleaner energy innovations. 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 in new channels of investment, opening new markets and creating alternative and sustainable economies.

The author is an alumni of Uganda Christian University

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