A healthier planet for the rich, A hotter planet for the poor

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In the last year, much of the Western world has been consumed by an increased awareness of longstanding racially discriminatory attitudes, patterns and practices, which have translated bigotry into physical and material inequality. From where people of color live to how vulnerable they are to disease, the truth of prejudice is harder and harder to deny.

That truth doesn’t just apply to double standards within countries. It also applies to double standards between countries.

Because sometimes policies, even those motivated by good intentions, can nevertheless bring about bad outcomes.

In this case, the European Union, the world’s largest market, has proposed a generally ambitious range of proposals for slowing and reversing climate change. As someone who teaches environmental ethics, I must say that, as positive as some of these proposals certainly are, we must shine a light on their potentially grim consequences. 

Let us first begin with the positive.

Earlier this month, the European Union announced a “Fit for 55” plan, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by the close of this decade and bring about full carbon neutrality by the middle of this century. (Europe would be the first continent to get there.) Considering recent events, Fit for 55 could not be timelier.

The terrible floods that left hundreds of dead in Europe and hundreds unaccounted for. There wildfires in Siberia. The record heat waves in the United States and Canada. For the world’s wealthiest continent, which counts 15 of the world’s 25 wealthiest countries in its borders, to take this kind of stand is admirable.

Where leaders lead, others are likely to follow.

Unfortunately, despite these positive intentions and positive ambitions, there is more to say, and much to be concerned about. Given that my concerns focus on the consequences of European exclusivity, it is surprising — though still very welcome — that prosperous, developed Australia was among the nations that strongly criticized the EU’s Fit for 55 plan.

Australia’s concern is that the European Union’s climate plan will set the terms for global trade without adequate consideration for how it will affect other economies very dependent on global trade. Which, after all, includes most nations, if not practically all of them.

Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan, designated the EU’s proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) a means by which to raise revenue rather than decrease emissions.

Enforcing it, Tehan argued, might even breach global trade rules. Further, Tehan contended, this was “a new form of protectionism,” in place of which he argued for incentivizing countries to reduce emissions instead of penalizing them for their emissions.

Given that my concern was a more inclusive sustainability, it seems odd to point to highlight wealthy Australia’s concerns. But that only proves my point: If a country as well-positioned as Australia is frustrated, how much worse the consequences for less developed economies?

Countries that are less likely to be heard, let alone accommodated.

And because we are all connected, economically as well as environmentally, anything that is bad for the Global South is not actually to the advantage of the Global North. The European Union is proposing is a lose-lose scenario.

It’ll make poorer nations poorer, and richer nations more vulnerable to the climate change that will go unaddressed.

Because trade is how we lift poorer countries up to the level of richer countries. After all, if these countries remain impoverished, how are they to fund the major adjustments needed to prepare for global warming in the short term while also working to reverse it in the long term? 

Instead, in the short-term the EU’s climate plan erects barriers to trade that those developing nations cannot afford to surmount; under effective sanction, they will turn to trade with countries that have fewer environmental concerns and lower green expectations, if any at all.

In the long-term, this may mean forcing developing nations to trade only with each other while the developed world would largely trade with itself.

Global economic ghettoization.

Instead, we should emphasize inclusion alongside sustainability. To stress engagement with the developing world while also encouraging environmentally responsible production. These twin objectives aren’t incompatible or unlikely. A close glance at one developing nation proves that where there’s a will to tackle climate change, there’s a way.  

Malaysia, the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, has recently introduced a nationally mandatory environmental standard for that industry. Called Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), this legally enforced certification system means that, as of this year, 90 percent of the country’s palm oil output is environmentally sustainable.

Among other things, MSPO mandates no further conversion of tropical rainforest to palm oil plantations, which is a major reason deforestation rates in that country have steadily fallen since 2017. Yet, the European Union’s approach to this welcome progress, outstanding model, and encouraging news was not just to overlook it. 

Continuing a pattern of indifference to inclusion, if not active disinterest, the European Union banned importing palm oil as a biofuel, claiming palm oil is unsustainable in all cases. Very much as expected, this ban did not decrease deforestation, but may have increased it: Trade between major palm oil producers and China is on the rise.

China, needless to say, is not known for its strong environmental commitments. This is precisely why what Europe does — and doesn’t do — is so important.

While applauding the welcome aspects of Fit for 55, the world should not be afraid to hold Europe to account for its other consequences. Since global warming is literally a global threat, there can be no overall progress if some countries move forward while leaving other countries behind. Alongside sustainability, we must advocate for inclusion. 

A planet where nations are more inclined to consider each other is a planet whose nations will be more inclined to work with one another.

And how else do we fight climate change?

Ibrahim Özdemir is an ecologist and professor of philosophy and ecology at Uskudar Universit and was the founding president at Hasan Kalyoncu University. Previously he was director-general at the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Turkish Ministry of Education. He was a lead member of the drafting team for the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change endorsed by the UN United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC).

Tags carbon emissions Climate change Deforestation Environment European Union Global warming Ibrahim Özdemir

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