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Neoliberalism, austerity, and climate change crisis

‘Scientists have delivered a “final warning” on the climate crisis, as rising greenhouse gas emissions push the world to the brink of irrevocable damage that only swift and drastic action can avert. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, set out the final part of its mammoth sixth assessment report on Monday. The comprehensive review of human knowledge of the climate crisis took hundreds of scientists eight years to compile and runs to thousands of pages, but boiled down to one message: act now, or it will be too late.’ – An excerpt from a March 20, 2023 Guardian published article ‘Scientists deliver “final warning” on climate crisis: act now or it’s too late’ by Guardian’s environment editor, Fiona Harvey

As per the IPCC, ‘The Synthesis Report (SYR) is based on the content of the three Working Groups Assessment Reports: WGI – The Physical Science Basis, WGII – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, WGIII – Mitigation of Climate Change, and the three Special Reports: Global Warming of 1.5°C, Climate Change and Land, The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.’ The next such synthesis report by IPCC will be around the end of the decade, and given the fast-closing window of opportunity with regard to keeping average global temperatures below 1.5°C, most of the needed steps for climate change mitigation and adaptation, in this regard, should have been taken by then.

Damien Carrington, another environment editor at Guardian, in his recent article ‘Humanity at the climate crossroads: highway to hell or a livable future?’ pointed out in this regard: ‘After a 10,000-year journey, human civilisation has reached a climate crossroads: what we do in the next few years will determine our fate for millennia. That choice is laid bare in the landmark report published on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assembled by the world’s foremost climate experts and approved by all the world’s governments. The next update will be around 2030 – by that time the most critical choices will have been made. The report is clear what is at stake – everything: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”’

The window of opportunity to tackle climate change crisis is indeed closing fast. A recent New York Times (NYT) published article ‘Climate change is speeding toward catastrophe. The next decade is crucial, U.N. panel says.’ pointed out: ‘Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a major new report released on Monday. The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, offers the most comprehensive understanding to date of ways in which the planet is changing. It says that global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels sometime around “the first half of the 2030s,” as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas.’

The Report highlighted that there was still hope to adequately tackle climate change crisis if appropriate level of effort was made globally, and also called for climate justice. A March 20, 2023 press release by IPCC indicated that the efforts up till now to keep temperature below 1.5°C remain unsatisfactory. The press release pointed out, for instance: ‘“Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits….This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all.” In 2018, IPCC highlighted the unprecedented scale of the challenge required to keep warming to 1.5°C. ‘Five years later, that challenge has become even greater due to a continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change. More than a century of burning fossil fuels as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use has led to global warming of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. This has resulted in more frequent and more intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world.…“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” said Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of this Synthesis Report, the closing chapter of the Panel’s sixth assessment.’

Some of the most vulnerable countries to climate change are developing countries, including Pakistan, that have little fiscal space, and their economic institutional quality is also quite poor to provide needed impetus to policy in order to effectively deal with climate change crisis. Practice of neoliberal policies both directly through ‘Chicago-boys’-styled policymakers for many years now, and strongly inclined neoliberal, and austerity policy conditionalities of International Monetary Fund (IMF) programmes have not allowed sustained focus on transforming economies of developing countries to be adequately, and sustainably inclusive, resilient, and green.

At the same time, many of the higher income groups have also seen finance chasing more finance, and with inequality rising in these countries, and role of public sector diminishing over the last many decades, has meant that neither there is needed focus on climate change at home, nor is there good level of commitment to providing climate finance to developing countries, especially those highly vulnerable to climate change, which otherwise have very low carbon footprint to start with.

Then the spirit of multilateralism also remains seriously compromised in tackling climate change crisis. On one hand, over-emphasis on austerity policies burdens already constrained fiscal space of developing countries, while overall neoliberal policies, on the other hand, have not pushed economic institutions to remain needfully committed to delivering climate-conscious outcomes for the masses.

A recent ‘Al Jazeera’ published article ‘Biden’s pick for World Bank president can’t fix its crisis’ by ActionAid International’s incoming secretary general, Arthur Larok, pointed out issues in the way, for instance, World Bank’s president gets selected, with likely consequences in terms of less than satisfactory performance of World Bank regarding poverty eradication, and climate change crisis over the years.

The article indicated in this regard: ‘Every one of the 12 full-time presidents of the World Bank to date has been a male, US citizen. …That pattern appears set to continue, with US President Joe Biden unilaterally nominating former Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga for the post of the bank’s next president. …The credibility of Banga to make the changes that are needed at the World Bank is fatally compromised by the lack of legitimacy in his appointment. How can he set out a bold new vision to challenge and transform power when his own power as president comes from a distorted process? Banga is a private equity executive with no experience in public service. Indeed, his corporate background reflects the kind of inequality-driving, climate-destroying hyper-capitalism that is everything the World Bank should be standing against if it wants to genuinely aim for ending global poverty. …But at a time when we need the World Bank to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, the institution is still busy funding fossil fuels. We also need someone who will recognise that the climate debt of the Global North cannot be paid to countries profoundly affected by the climate crisis in the form of loans that will lead to further indebtedness. Yet, the climate finance proposals expected to be discussed at the World Bank meetings in April focus precisely on a massive expansion of loans, not grants.’

Dr Omer Javed, "Neoliberalism, austerity, and climate change crisis," Business recorder. 2023-03-24.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Climate change , Climate crisis , Natural gas , Burn coal , Greenhouse gas , World Bank , Fiona Harvey , IMF

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