Skip to Global Futures Initiative Full Site Menu Skip to main content
March 22, 2015

Responding To: Week 9: Climate Change

Tension & Inconsistency: The Political Economics of Climate Change

O. Felix Obi

Two separate analyses by NASA and NOAA scientists identify 2014 as Earth’s warmest year since 1880, and nine of the ten warmest years have occurred since 2000. The reports also suggests that average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4°F, largely due to increases in carbon dioxide and other human-caused emissions into the planet’s atmosphere, and that the majority of warming has occurred in the past three decades. A separate report by the World Bank Group finds that even with very ambitious mitigation action, warming of about 2.7°F above pre-industrial times is already locked-in to Earth’s atmospheric system by past gas emissions, making climate change impacts such as extreme weather events unavoidable.

Yet there's no political consensus on climate change. U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe cites spring 2015 snowfall in Washington, DC, as proof against global warming claims. But Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's GISS, clarifies that temperature ranking of individual years can vary, but "long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.” World Bank Group president, Dr. Jim Kim, offered a more pointed remark in his second Global Futures lecture by declaring that "there is no more serious debate on the role of human beings on global warming." 

Dr. Kim suggested remedial measures, including the World Bank’s five-point economic transformation plan to keep the rise in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius. But even if the global community accepts the five-point plan, implementation is likely to exacerbate tension in, and between developed and non-developed countries. Dr. Kim identified carbon pricing as the single most important agreement for world leaders at Paris COP21. But carbon pricing at point of production will be unpopular with major energy producers including Russia, or indeed some members of U.S. Congress. Implementation at consumption point will be unpopular with voters. The rest of the five-point plan is as fraught with tension and inconsistencies. 

Removing fossil fuel subsidies is sound macro-economic policy, but it's also a discontinuation of what are often the only significant economic-spoil the bottom 40 percent enjoys. Accelerating energy efficiency and renewable energy use is a daunting challenge for developing countries unable to meet basic energy needs. Building low-carbon, resilient cities presupposes coherent and strategic city-planning in developing countries. But widespread shanty towns demonstrate a different reality. Implementation of climate-smart agriculture and nurturing forest landscapes will require addressing broader food and energy shortages that drive deforestation. Developed countries present a different set of challenges. 

Addressing the critical tension between Dr. Kim's five-point plan and attendant political economics will require tasking research centers at Georgetown and other global universities and think-tanks with crafting incentives that address endogenous country- and region-specific imperatives. 

O. Felix Obi is an Alumni Board Member at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. His professional background is in economic and international trade development in Africa, especially innovation and entrepreneurship.

Other Responses