Joe Biden brought the world together to fight climate change, yet the East and the West are rapidly becoming more confrontational. Another African strongman died, but the continent is not headed for more stability.
An Attempt to Work Together on Climate Change.
April 22nd marked Earth Day, and this year, U.S. President Joe Biden invited 40 world leaders to a virtual Leaders Summit to discuss climate change. The historical summit brought with it several more aggressive commitments on reducing greenhouse gas, including from the US (50-52% by 2030), Canada (40-45% by 2030), Japan, and Korea.
While the commitments are welcomed, what stood out is a change of tone towards how the U.S. administration now looks at climate change. And it's not just the move away from Donald Trump's climate denial. But rather, as President Joe Biden puts it,
“When people talk about climate, I think jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation and economic opportunity ready to be fired up.”
In the polarized world of American politics, there are, undoubtedly, pockets of people who fundamentally distrust the science behind climate change. But perhaps the bigger concern for those who stand against climate initiatives is economics. The Republicans notably questioned why Americans should sacrifice when the Chinese are not doing the same coming out of the summit.
But is it really a sacrifice for the Americans?
It is indeed a fact that developed countries have been used to driving growth with dirty energy. Two centuries ago, the same arguments were made against emancipation and the abolishment of slavery. The big plantation owners said, “it will be a complete disaster for the economy and our rivals will benefit.” Yet, now we know that the real disaster was that we did not free the slaves earlier.
The modern oil industry has racked up large profits over the past century, while barely bearing any part of the environmental cost. The industry is now more than 150 years old, and much like any other legacy industry, it is ripe for disruption. Disruption is hardly a sacrifice - much like we don't think of replacing landlines with mobile phones as a sacrifice. As such, Americans are unlikely to be worrying about the future of these big oil companies - the world’s largest five oil companies are not even American. On the contrary, a government that is focused on subsidizing clean energy could represent a true opportunity for Corporate America.
Moreover, from a geopolitical perspective, a focus on clean energy also allows the United States to be energy self-sufficient, whereas a lack of focus may allow China to further snap up crucial minerals that could eventually bring the U.S. and its economy to its knees.
Yet there are sacrifices. Sacrifices will land on individuals who are likely to lose their jobs when the coal mining and oil drilling industries are shut. New jobs may replace the lost ones, but they are going to be in an entirely different industry - in wind, solar and other forms of clean energy. For the U.S. administration, its policy should also focus on providing a soft landing, a safety net, and a transition plan for these individuals.
In the summit, Biden highlighted in his speech that tackling climate change is not only a moral imperative, but it is an economic imperative. This narrative delivers a powerful message to America and its allies. Climate change, especially clean energy, is not about “sacrificing for the right thing”. It is about “doing the right thing” while “building economic and political dominance”. A country ignoring green energy is not only giving up on an economic growth opportunity, but it could find itself being reliant on foreign powers from another camp. And this is important.
And we haven't even mentioned the health benefits for Americans yet.
A Week Confirming The New Cold War.
The new cold war is on. That's what then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev claimed five years ago. And the last 2 weeks served up a confirmation of Russia’s stance and a reminder of what to expect.
Two weeks ago, U.S. President Joe Biden announced financial sanctions against Moscow and expelled 10 Russian diplomats for alleged cyberattacks and election meddling. This week, the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that Russian intelligence services were behind an ammunition depot explosion in 2014. Five countries - Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Slovakia - all formerly part of the Soviet Union and NATO members, also expelled Russian diplomats (read: spies). Russian retaliated with its own expulsion of Western diplomats.
A digital barrier is slowly being built as well. This week, YouTube banned three pro-Russian Ukrainian channels from broadcasting on its platform, with the Ukrainian government accusing the channels of spreading Russian propaganda. This followed multiple countries' ban on Russian TV channels, including Russia’s national channel RT, last summer and earlier this year. In response to this changing world, for the first time this year, NATO is preparing for a joint cyber war game.
Lastly, for a moment, Europe was pushed to the brink when roughly 100,000 Russian troops started building on the border of Ukraine. Russia did pull back at the last moment, but not before Ukraine mobilized in preparation for war. Sabotages, cyber warfare, and military build-ups all make key ingredients to a great Cold War movie, and will most certainly become more prominent in the coming years.
So with the world headed towards a new Cold War, can we still work together on fighting climate change? Encouragingly, the last time mankind faced an existential threat, namely nuclear weapons, the great powers managed to find a way to put aside their differences. They negotiated and agreed to a nuclear arms treaty that helped the world avert a crisis.
But for this to happen, cooler heads must prevail.
Chad President Killed.
In the last cold war, Africa and unstable political environment across the continent served as the perfect theatre for proxy wars between the great powers. It is not clear if the region is stable enough to prevent this from happening once more.
This week saw increased volatility in Central Africa as Chad President Idriss Déby died after being shot by rebels on the frontline. Déby had been in office for three decades and had just won a sixth term in office after a vote that was boycotted by opposition parties.
Idriss Déby was the head of the army and he came to power in 1990, after he had a fallout with the country's leader and dictator Hissène Habré. Due to the time that he spent at the École de Guerre defence college in France, he maintained a good relationship with France, despite a lack of democracy inside the country. Déby served as a key partner for the West in fighting terrorist groups while ruling his country with an iron fist which gave rise to various rebel groups, mostly along tribal lines.
Déby’s death was quickly followed by news that the government and the parliament had been dissolved. A military council led by the former President's son, General Mahamat Déby, took power in what others have called a coup. Under the constitution, the Speaker of the Parliament should take over as President. But with France favouring stability and supporting the younger Déby, it seems that he has managed to turn Chad into a monarchy.
But complicating matters is the rumour that only some fractions of the military support General Mahamat Déby, so Chad may very well be standing on flimsy grounds. This will provide space and opportunities for terrorist groups in the area, including Boko Horam. With the death of the Tanzanian President and war heating up in Ethiopia, the continent hardly looks ready for another cold war.
In other news
Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who killed George Floyd, was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. It was a historic moment, but more work is surely needed. Also, India is in crisis, reporting over 300,000 COVID cases a day and breaking the world record four days in a row. Hospitals are buckling and the country is running out of oxygen cylinders. India is turning to the United States, its ally, for support.
This article is part of the Making History This Week series.