If climate change escalates, the consequences and indirect consequences − an increase in migration, for example − will also affect the wealthy countries. Do you think self-interest – like mitigating migration − can motivate wealthy countries to support social justice?
There are two kinds of self-interest: one is the self-interest in a stable global order, and the other is self-interest in one’s own country. But when it comes to the US, unfortunately there is not even self-interest with regard to the conditions of life in the US itself. A recent study has suggested that the higher rate of warming in the higher latitudes will create a lot of extra storm activity and this especially refers to Canada, the US, the EU and Russia. These are the countries − except perhaps for the EU, which is not in the same league − that hardly discuss their own countries as the sites of the most demanding adaptation requirements, when in fact they should be doing so. Australia is now a huge burden of adaptation − all those forest fires contribute a lot to climate change.
This idea that adaptation is a problem of the third world – and not of their own (developed) countries – which has gained ground in some of the policy discourse, is, I think, unfortunate. In fact, if you compare sea-level rise at 1.5 ℃ to that at 2 ℃ – in terms of the number of people affected by it, North America has the highest absolute numbers of people who will be affected, even more than the island states. The idea that self-interest should make them worry about the environmental conditions of human life in the developed world itself, is not quite there. It has come home, to some extent I believe, in Europe, though it doesn’t seem to affect all their behaviour. But I think in many other places, this realization has not really sunk in.
There is this new wave of thinking which attributes all migration and conflicts to climate or environmental conditions. Some of it seems to be an effort to awaken the self-interest of developed countries, but from the global security perspective. But war or armed conflicts – which have a lot to do with migration – are very much problems of social and political conditions and are not simply climate-driven. For instance, the North African migration to Europe has a great deal to do with the huge destabilization and overthrow of regimes that provided some basic welfare, so obviously people are fleeing in the tens of thousands. The conflation of this with the impact of climate change is quite unwarranted.
A peaceful and secure world is a precondition for dealing effectively with climate change. But that does not mean peace and security will arise because you take effective climate action.
UNESCO Courier – July-September 2019 – The Ethical Challenges of Climate Change 58 Pages – Translations