Governments are involved in climate hypocrisy, not truly engaged with the problem

Governments are engaged in climate hypocrisy, publicly supporting the Paris Agreement, but simultaneously supporting fossil fuel development and destroying forests, according to a new study. Instead, the authors caution, we should learn from the successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to the ozone layer depleting, two world-spanning issues that we’ve handled way better.

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University of Exeter researchers said current and past government policies on energy, land use, and food have not addressed the long-term environmental consequences that have led to climate change, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity. That’s why they call for the public to critically examine all government actions and hold officials accountable.

The reason that we are not solving the climate crisis is not a lack of green energy solutions. It’s that governments continue supporting energy strategies that prioritize fossil fuels, they argued. These energy policies subsidize the discovery, extraction, transport, and sale of fossil fuels, with the aim of ensuring a steady supply into the future.

The paper compared the climate crisis to two other environmental crises: ozone depletion and the COVID-19 pandemic. Halting and reversing damage to the ozone layer is one of humanity’s greatest environmental success stories. The world’s response to COVID-19 also demonstrates that it is possible for governments to take decisive action to avert an imminent crisis.

“Restoring the ozone layer and minimizing the COVID-19 pandemic both required governments to enact specific legislation to address the precise causes of these problems,” said Professor Mark Baldwin, lead author. “By contrast, Paris Agreement commitments are the equivalent of intending to restore the ozone layer without a plan for eliminating ozone-depleting substances.”

The approach to solving the COVID-19 and the ozone layer crises was the same, the researchers said. It involved identifying the precise cause of the problem through expert scientific advice, passing legislation focused on the cause of the problem, and employing a robust feedback mechanism to assess progress and adjust the approach. This is not yet being applied to the climate crisis.

The Paris Agreement commitments by individual nations are only a beginning, they added. We know that the climate crisis is caused mainly by fossil fuels, so they must be the main focus of new regulations and government commitments in order to address the issue. The researchers called for a “comprehensive global plan” to solve the climate crisis, and make seven recommendations for that to happen:

  1. End all government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
  2. Ban all exploration for new oil/gas/coal reserves anywhere in the world.
  3. Enforce a policy that no public money can be spent on fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere in the world.
  4. Stop justifying fossil fuel use by employing carbon offset schemes.
  5. Redirect most fossil fuel subsidies to targeted programs for enabling the transition to a green energy economy.
  6. Minimize reliance on future negative-emissions technologies. They should be the subject of research, development, and potentially deployment, but the plan to solve the climate crisis should proceed on the premise that they will not work at scale.
  7. Trade deals: Do not buy products from nations that destroy rainforests in order to produce cheaper, greater quantities of meat and agricultural products for export.

The study was published in the journal Global Sustainability.

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