Environmental Crisis and Political Dilemmas: How Shall We Live on a Warmer Earth?
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On December 12, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the global climate change, which was not, however, limited to the environmental dimension of the current crisis, but also comprised its political, ideological, and even philosophical aspects. Three different perspectives were presented during the event, giving an opportunity to look at the environmental crisis from various angles.

On December 2-11, the Polish city of Katowice hosts the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. According to Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, a number of serious documents will be signed at the conference in a few days following heated discussions. This serves as an occasion to raise the issue of the political dimension of global warming, as well as contradictions and solutions related to it.

Alexey Kokorin, Director of the Climate and Energy Programme of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Russia, discussed the Katowice meeting in detail. Although the discussions are not yet over, the results of the conference are predetermined. Concerning climate change, the expert singled out two parallel processes. First, this is the accumulation of scientific data on climate change, including the man-made factors. All countries recognize the threat related to this and the need to take appropriate measures and reduce emissions. There is understanding that different countries will be damaged unequally – some of them 50 times more than others. Therefore, in the near future stronger countries with significant resources will be less vulnerable than others. Meanwhile, the priority of hi-tech development is a trend that is opposed by oil- and gas-producing countries.

According to Kokorin, the two streams “merge” in the Paris Agreement: it is not only about the climate itself, but also about payments, investments in environmental projects and particular restrictions. As for the ongoing conference, its official part first of all sets the rules of monitoring and accountability on these projects. The unofficial part is related to the financial flows and interests of particular countries, which are at odds with individual provisions of the agreement. “No doubt, there is progress,” the expert said. “The agreement should be seen positively. It is not falling apart: if you hear about it, it is only black PR.”

Asked by Oleg Barabanov about Russia’s policy on the Paris Agreement, Kokorin said that since it is the financial agreement that is at stake, Russia can invest in environmental projects even though it is not a party to it. “Russia is in between the rich ‘seven’ and the hundred of ‘weaker’ countries,” he explained. “Just like China, we are a voluntary donor, and we are beyond the main financial conflict related to the agreement.”

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Another viewpoint was represented by Ekaterina Savorskaya, Assistant professor at the Moscow State University’s School of World Politics, who is the co-author of the Valdai Paper on global environmental ideologies. She singled out two approaches to protection of the environment: cosmetic measures at the quantitative level and more radical change of human behavior vis-à-vis nature. The difficulty related to the second approach boils down to the contradiction between shared responsibility of the international community with regard to the environment and the countries’ right on their own resources and policies. “All states are interested in doing the right thing to themselves, and that is OK,” she said.

Whereas the theories of whether economic growth is compatible with environmental protection or not only describe certain phenomena, environmentalist ideologies articulate their ideal and agenda. Importantly, the classical liberal and conservative values are at odds with environmentalism. Savorskaya singled out several such ideologies: eco-socialism, which claims that environmental protection is only a pretext for the developed countries to prevent the prosperity of the developing ones; eco-anarchism, which postulates the inability of states to protect environment; and eco-authoritarianism, which calls for suspending rights and freedoms until the environmental crisis is over. However, none of these concepts gives a clear answer to the question of how interaction between states to protect the environment should be built.

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According to Clive Hamilton, Professor of public ethics at the Charles Sturt University in Canberra, a political decision is further complicated by the pragmatic nature of the environmental agenda and contradictions between different countries. According to him, political and cultural facts are becoming useless because we live in a very dangerous geological era. Today the human impact is becoming so important that we have to change the language itself, because natural disasters are partially man-made.

The real solution for Hamilton should be sought not only in politics or ideologies, but also in science, popularization of information and objective data on the situation with global warming and melting of ice. One of the main challenges along the way is to overcome the disbelief in the reality of these threats. The Australian expert called for realization of the danger and more solidarity on the part of the humanity. Climate scientists face a difficult task. They have the facts and they need to prove that no one will be able to avoid the consequences of global warming in 20 or 30 years. What expects us is conflicts between nations, redistribution of resources, lack of fuel, disasters, more discontent with the rich countries. “We must think about how to cope with a warmer world in humanistic ways: how to live and die on a new Earth,” he concluded.