A COP for Peace: the cost of war, terrorism and climate change

Terrorism, war and climate change are great threats to humanity that can be controlled by human beings as it is their boundless ambition that drives them. Therefore, Paris should be for climate change, Paris should be for peace; Paris should be for the future of humanity.

After the attacks of last November 13th in Paris, much has being said about how risky the setting for the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP21) could be as a potential political “target”, because of the number of Heads of State that will be gathered. Its cancellation or postponement was an option; however, the French Government pointed out that the event will be held, and that security will be strengthened to ensure the event maintains its course. In spite of this, The French Government made the decision of focusing the meetings only on the negotiations, and cancelled demonstrations, such as the marches contemplated for November 29th and December 12th.

In this sense, and although civil movements and networks are looking for a “Plan B” to mobilize and send their messages, we are facing a scenario that increases the complex situation faced by the international community. It is not only the fact that civil society will have higher levels of security and that other events outside the COP headquarters will be cancelled, which could remind us what happened at the COP15 in Copenhagen when, for “security” reasons, civil society was left out of the negotiations during the second week of the event. It is also feared that Heads of State who have confirmed their attendance to the COP will cancel their participation at the last minute, for the same security reasons, putting at risk the political momentum to reach a global climate agreement.

Yes, as a civil society we are concerned about these scenarios; however, there are other elements that should also draw our attention. The world is facing a critical moment. While some speak about the arrival of a Third World War, others talk about “The New Order”. The truth is that the forces that are being aligned are not necessarily sending a positive message to the world.

Terrorism, as some politicians called it, has being theorized as a model of political pressure that consists on attacking geopolitically strategic points to instill fear in one’s enemies. In this occasion, it was Paris, as a so-called response for the support France has provided to attack Syria. A global outrage for Paris awakened after 100 people were killed and more than 300 were injured. But what about the thousands of people who have lost their lives because of hydro meteorological phenomena such as hurricanes? Or, what about those who die of starvation due to drought? Both are related to climate change. Why is outrage not the same? Hurricane Haiyan in the Philippines claimed 1,200 deaths, 12 times more than the attacks in Paris, just to mention one example. But it is not about the casualties. It is about the sad reality we are facing as humanity in the presence of two activities caused by man himself.

Financing War and Changing the Climate

The interesting thing about this scenario is that, if we analyze the whole context, we realize that war, terrorism, and climate change share at least one root in common: the desire to control and exploit fossil fuels.

Terrorism as a form of control has been unleashed by the existing confrontations between countries in the Middle East and western ones such as the United States. The latter ones argue that the former ones are non-democratic and threaten international stability, although deep inside, their confrontations are in large part over territorial control, especially in areas where natural resources such as oil are found. Climate change is a result of this same battle, although “more subtle”, where countries want to control fossil fuels due to their dependence on them. And as a result of the accelerated consumption and exploitation of these fossil resources, the emissions of greenhouse gases have increased, leading to the current state of emissions of more than 380ppm of CO2. This could lead to an increase in temperature of more than 2C (what today is considered an ideal scenario, in which even the most vulnerable would lose) and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), possibly even more than 4C.

But, who is responsible for war and terrorism, and who is responsible for climate change? For years, war theories point out that these could not be carried out without agents that finance them. The same goes for climate change. If investment in fossil fuels were not as high, and thereby the interests were not so powerful, the problem would be solved more quickly, or perhaps would not exist.

The global military expenditure was estimated at $1,776 billion in 2014, representing 2.3% of global gross domestic product, or what would be equivalent to $245 per person, according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute. This represented only 0.4% less than in 2013. Of this expenditure, the United States is the largest investor (exceeding the combined total of 32 of the world’s richest countries), and is known for its role in the provision of armament in civil wars in Africa, Latin America and Middle East. The aforementioned Institute points out that North America (primarily the United States) spent $627 billion in 2014. Although this trend has been slowly declining, it is an expense that has been subject to criticism for some time now. In 2005, the United States was accused of spending more than a billion dollars in weapons, while only investing 79 thousand dollars in aid for development. In other words, for each $100 delivered to the gun industry, only 7.9 reach the poorest on the planet.

So, while the Unites States accounts for 68.4% of the weapon business, it accounts for more than 25% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world, besides being the largest per capita emitter. A U.S. citizen emits more CO2 equivalent than any citizen in the world.

However, despite the historical responsibility of the United States, terrorism and climate change bring new players into the scene. China makes its debut as war sponsor while, at the same time, it positions itself as the world’s largest emitter. East Asia, mainly China, spent $309 billion in weapons in 2014 (second only after North America); surpassing the $292 billion Central Western Europe spent the same year, which is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases.

Coincidence? Or is this part of a bigger picture? Climate change is an economic problem that has surpassed its environmental dimensions, and has been placed as a social problem of security in light of its impact, but above all, because of all the interests that contribute to it.

Terrorism and climate change will not end if we do no tackle the roots of the problem: control, use and exploitation of fossil fuels (at least terrorism witnessed today). Those who finance war are as guilty as those who wage it.

Within the framework of the climate change negotiations, countries discuss the need to transfer 100 billion USD per year starting in 2020. In every negotiating session, all countries ask themselves the same question: where is this money going to come from? It has been estimated that in order to tackle the climate problem, we would need at least 300 billion USD annually. If only the Unites States, China, and the European Union would invest the 1,228 billion USD destined annually for weaponry to solve the climate change problem, we could combat it from its roots and promote an energy transition in many countries around the world. In spite of this, both China and the Unites States are offering just 3 billion USD, a much lower figure compared to what they spend in war. Therefore, this moment allows us to confirm that it is not a lack of money, but political unwillingness to invest in the fight against climate change.

A COP for peace

The COP21 is going to be held in a state of war. But this is not the first time this happens. What should be different about this COP is a call to reason, not only because climate change is obviously already claiming lives, but to end war. Let us remember that fighting for resources is something that we could experience in a not-too-distant future, when communities are left without water and food because of climate change impacts. War should not be the answer to these problems.

In this sense, we must ensure two elements in order to have a successful COP: one technical and one political.

1. Technically: countries must integrate an agreement that defines a long-term goal, in terms of mitigation, adaptation and finance. This agreement must trace the guidelines for broader cooperation that does not remove developed countries’ responsibilities, but that allows sustainable intervention from other countries that have the desire and the ability to offer support. The agreement must encompass a coherent, sustainable, predictable and sufficient financial architecture, and should at least ensure the immediate protection of highly vulnerable countries. In addition, it should call for climate financial investment in the world, so in the short term financing becomes climate-friendly and ensures the sustainable development of the entire international community.

2.Politically: countries must recognize that success in Paris will depend on ensuring the participation of countries such as the Unites States and the European Union in finance and mitigation goals. But countries must also recognize that China, India and others have a significant role to play. A role that does not only depend on the regulation of emissions, but also on the fact that their growing economic power is accompanied by climate protection. This also includes Latin American countries, including Mexico.

Responding to the attacks of November 13th by bombing Syria is akin to tackling climate change by saying that consuming and exploiting natural gas will end the problem (when it emits more methane than CO2).

Fighting will not end war. Emissions will not decrease with more emissions. For example, in Mexico, despite the fact that natural gas will increase emissions, the gas industry wants to consider gas as a “clean” fuel in the Energy Transition Act. These interests have prevented this bill from becoming a law, and with it, the opportunity for Mexico to become a real climate leader.

Democracy is not achieved by silencing voters; democracy is built through dialogue. As Alfredo Jalife states, what we need is not a clash of civilizations, but a dialogue of civilizations. The COP is a scenario that needs to incorporate this element. A COP for peace is what we need, where parties that have already launched their INDCs (even if they are very limited) set forth to increase their ambition and meet their goals, and those who have not done so are forced to do it. And that is where we will have to focus our attention.

Terrorism, war and climate change are great threats to humanity that can be controlled by human beings as it is their boundless ambition that drives them. Therefore, Paris should be for climate change, Paris should be for peace; Paris should be for the future of humanity.

Upcoming article sneak peek

Newsletter