The nations of the world gathered at COP26 in Glasgow early last month with the shared goal of preventing the acceleration of climate change. Developing nations, however, left the conference disappointed by goals set by their richer counterparts, leaving a proverbial elephant in the room: can the world tackle climate change while meeting the needs and economic realities of the developing world?
Climate change has long been assessed as a problem of the rich. Only when the basic needs of citizens are met can nations truly consider a clean energy transition or other intensive climate action. Unstable regimes in African, Asian, and South American countries leave citizens worried not about rising temperatures, but rising violence, corruption, and economic malaise. At the same time, these nations often are simultaneously experiencing the brunt of climate change through extreme weather, droughts, and other climate-related disasters. While we must address climate change, especially for the sake of these developing nations, we cannot expect them to do so at the expense of their economic development or other pressing challenges.
This is why engagement from industrialized countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia is so critical. We have the resources to meet this responsibility, and this does not just mean financial capital. Our democratic principles lend themselves to environmental stewardship and climate action. As the Hon Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, former Minister of Commerce for Bangladesh, emphasized at the Global Conservative Climate Summit in Glasgow, authoritarianism and corruption do not make good climate policy. The worst thing for international climate action would be allowing the likes of Russia and China to set the agenda. We have a moral obligation to address climate challenges on the world stage from a democratic – not an authoritarian – perspective.
It is important to point out that developing countries are, in fact, taking steps on climate change. Nature-based solutions, specifically, are cost-effective, actionable solutions that countries in the global south have started implementing. This was emphasized at COP26, with an agreement on a global carbon market framework to financially incentivize these nations to conserve ecosystems such as the Amazon Rainforest, in order to sequester vast amounts of carbon. On the other hand, Western nations should also be investing in breakthrough, emission-reducing technologies that we can share with the rest of the world through trade and mutual cooperation. We need both natural and technological solutions as part of an all-of-the-above, all-hands-on-deck approach.
There are many lessons to be learned from COP26, but perhaps the most salient is that we will never meaningfully address climate change if climate change cannot be a priority in each country across the world. As developed nations that have long benefited from industrialization, we should be doing our part to ensure that developing countries have the opportunity to act as well. Forcing them to choose between economic development and environmental protection is a recipe for climate disaster.
Put simply, promoting prosperity and tackling climate change must be mutually inclusive on the international stage. If we do not prioritize supporting developing nations in their overall development, we are failing not just them, but ourselves. Indeed, poverty not only has a detrimental impact on human wellbeing but is also linked with worse environmental outcomes and dirtier sources of energy. For the sake of both the planet and the people of the global south, we must support economic freedom and prosperity in the developing world.
As nations that have historically contributed significantly to our shared climate challenge, we have a moral obligation to continue our domestic decarbonization as well as support that effort internationally. This is not a globalist ploy, but rather an assertion of our principles and leadership on the world stage. To solve climate change, we must lift others up with our proven values.
Christopher Barnard is the national policy director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) and is a regular opinion writer on environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisBarnardDL.