Crisis without borders

Global problems need global answers Dhaka Tribune op-ed 31 Jan 2021

Global problems need global answers

Whatever way you define it, “normality” will not return before 2023.

It will take most of 2021 for vaccinations to take hold and enough lessons to have been learned about variant strains and booster jabs, to guard against Covid-19 in years ahead.

The Tokyo Olympics is teetering on the brink of a further prolonged postponement.

In any case, 2022 was never going to seem normal with the World Cup scheduled for winter in Qatar. A country with less than 3 million people, of whom 90% are migrants, many of whom are poorly paid, is looking to fill up 64 stadiums worth of matches. Easy to imagine if you gave away tickets in a city the size of Cairo, but harder in Doha.

With summer exams in the UK cancelled again, it seems unlikely crowds will be allowed to gather as usual at Wimbledon or Wembley for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, even if they go ahead. At least, the former’s insurance policy allowed it to claim a reported 114m pounds for cancelling the tennis in 2020 and still pay out prize money to players. Not a stroke it can play two years in a row.

Of course, as the UK clocks up a death toll of 100,000 lives lost to Covid, even Bill Shankly might agree football is not the most important concern raised by the pandemic.

Boris Johnson did not, however, let the chastening numbers sober him up completely. By boasting about the UK getting off to a quicker start than the EU in procuring vaccinations, even though delivering them all is still far off, he began a new war of words over Brexit.

Clearly, this was intended to distract from his government’s own catalogue of errors. But, by definition, the pandemic is a problem that knows no borders. If most people in most countries are not protected from the virus, there is no global solution.

Norway has recognized this by making a commitment to donate doses of vaccines to lower-income nations as soon as suitable jabs get approval, with its minister of international development saying: “We cannot wait until every citizen in rich countries is vaccinated before we start vaccinating people in the low-income countries.”

But Norway is an outlier.

Other nations pledged to make similar donations, like Canada and France have indicated they will only do so after vaccinating their own populations first. Israel follows a not dissimilar logic, but at much closer quarters by prioritizing its own citizens and residents over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, although its health minister has acknowledged an obvious self-interest in making sure all Palestinians get the vaccine.

Alas, political-point scoring and meaningless boundaries are not confined to the pandemic, which will one day die down, but crops up time and again in discussions on climate change.

It might be expected climate science deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists in Western nations would use the half-truth of China consuming half the world’s coal as an excuse for not doing anything, even though China is also investing heavily in renewable energy, accounting among other things for around 60% of global solar cell production, and much of the coal is only being used to produce goods for Western consumers.

In the UK, business, government, and campaign groups alike rarely resist an opportunity to talk in the media about passing a new milestone in renewable energy production.

As often as not, this is stated or reported in a self-congratulatory “we’re doing our bit” manner without mentioning the UK’s 250-year contribution to historical carbon emissions, or acknowledging that consumers of wealthier nations have outsourced the dirty rivers, pollution, and carbon emissions that their own consumption causes, so owe a greater duty to pay to clean them up anyway.

The world’s economic system still deems it efficient, as Australia faces record temperatures for coal to vie with iron ore as its largest export industry and for some of this to be burned in countries like Bangladesh, rather than have its carbon kept under the ground.

The Paris treaty required the most developed countries to take the lead in mobilizing climate finances and allocate $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020 and set a higher target for 2025.

OECD reports suggest this goal was only two-thirds met last year. In November, the UK will host follow-up discussions on these commitments at COP26 in Glasgow.

With the US having re-joined the treaty, and Boris Johnson anxious for a successful COP26 to get closer to the Biden administration, the coming conference will be politically interesting. Even more so, should this May’s elections in Scotland lead to another independence referendum.

As the Scottish Parliament is elected through proportional representation, the SNP would need to get a big majority (as current polls suggest) to do this, but if it does, the momentum could push a referendum through and see Johnson hosting the conference in a country that has left the UK.

His government’s cuts to overseas aid commitments are not going to help Johnson much either. Business as usual for him then.

But normality is the problem here.

Our planet and biosphere have all the time in the world to recover from climate chaos, but human civilization faces an existential challenge. Global problems need global answers, not national boundaries.