The G20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, that concluded on 16 November was an opportune moment for rich nations to strengthen the chances of an ambitious new international climate deal and, in so doing, enhance global security. They failed on both counts.
The terrorist attacks in Paris have made it even more urgent that nations seal a strong agreement at the UN climate summit in the French capital, which is less than two weeks away.
Global warming is already triggering and exacerbating geopolitical conflicts and mass-migration. The Pentagon, the US Department of Defence and Nato have warned that climate change is one of the most serious security threats faced by the world today.
As recently as June, French energy and climate minister Segolene Royal highlighted climate change as “a global security issue” and called for more climate funding for developing countries to help address the problem. But so far, her words — and those of others — have fallen on deaf ears.
Earlier this year, a report found that the worst ever drought in Syria in 2007-10 helped spark the conflict there by causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centres. The study, by climatology experts at Columbia University, showed that human interference in the climate system has made droughts of such severity and duration in the region more than twice as likely.
And so Europe’s refugee crisis, Syria’s civil war, the rising threat from radical Islamic groups — and the recent tragic events in Paris — are all linked to global warming, even if by a dotted line.
G20 leaders were urged to turn their six-year-old pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies —which, at $500bn/yr by some accounts, are still four times more than renewables support — into concrete action, by announcing a specific end date for these perverse support measures. They were also urged to commit new finance for mitigation and adaptation in the developing world.
They did neither. Instead, they focused on measures to strengthen global economic growth, undertook to intensify their collaborative efforts to counter terrorism, and paid lip service to climate action by reiterating their commitment to achieving a strong deal in Paris.
G20 economies account for 85pc of global economic output. If they are not willing to take concrete action on climate change, the fight to save the world from its catastrophic impacts is all but lost.
The weekend’s tragic events in Paris are a stark reminder that European countries and other western states are not immune to the various bloody battles raging across the world. Similarly, rich countries cannot barricade themselves against the impacts of climate change. Sooner or later, its effects will reach our shores.
In view of G20 leaders’ lack of action, their statement on climate change rings as hollow as an empty coffin. By dodging their historic responsibility to tackle climate change, G20 leaders have not only let the poor who are most vulnerable to global warming’s impacts down. They also failed in their duty to ensure the safety of their own people.