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September 12, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

The Need for Radical Transformation

Marwa Daoudy

The world is already experiencing the effects of climate change. Dry areas are getting drier and wet areas wetter; and more frequent extreme weather events appear to be linked to variations in water flows. The challenge is multi-faceted. The most pressing issues, in my view, are political, social, economic, and ethical. 

First and foremost, this is a moral imperative. We have become climate vulnerable. Humanity’s survival and the fate of future generations are at stake. According to the Global Footprint Network, the world is increasingly in ecological overshoot. In 2016, the natural resources produced yearly by the Earth were already depleted in early August. In previous decades, these weren’t consumed before December. The World Bank recently forecasted that climate change would push 100 million people under the poverty line by 2030—in majority in non-industrialized areas.  

This “crisis narrative” has been helpful in raising awareness and mobilizing audiences. However, climate security discourses also draw on ethnocentric perspectives that link climate variability, agricultural collapse, soil erosion and mass migration from the global south with conflict and insecurity. They encourage repressive policies against migrants and feed narratives on the responsibility of “environmental refugees” rather than authoritarian regimes in triggering social and political unrest.*  

Geo-engineering and other forms of technological progress may offer solutions in the long term. But societies around the world will have to become more adaptive and resilient to better cope with natural disasters. Ecological transition should be urgently implemented at local and global levels by de-carbonizing our economies and adopting greener modes of agricultural and industrial production away from oil and phosphate. This project carries both ethical and economic dilemmas. Many non-industrialized countries are required to adapt to climate change despite their lack of adaptive mechanisms. Thus, the responsibility for ecological transition in the south lies as well with the wealthier more polluting countries.

More broadly, the question of climate change invites a critical reflection on the management of commons and the need to re-think intensive, profit-driven modes of production based on individual interests. Prominent economists, such as Joseph Stiglitz and Nicholas Stern, recommend to question our macroeconomic models.  

By committing to the objective of a maximum of two degrees Celsius of temperature increase by the end of century, the COP21 Paris agreement has enshrined the prevalence of general interest. The US and China’s recent ratifications paved the way for an effective international climate regime.

What is needed is radical and effective transformation. Let’s hope that analysts, policy-makers and citizens, we all aim for a radically new environmental and social contract in the time of climate change.

Marwa Daoudy is assistant professor in international relations at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her research and teaching focus on international and regional security, international relations, the environment, and Middle East politics.

*The author is currently completing a book which challenges the climate-conflict thesis in the Syria case. 

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