The recently-concluded UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 has seemed to fail to produce a deal. Although countries have undoubtedly acknowledged and felt that this time is different; they have found it difficult to negotiate on a plan for loss and damage – the mitigating terms for climate impacts. In recent years, scientists, academics, researchers, and practitioners have seemed to struggle to set a medium-to-longer-term goal towards climate solutions. I was asked to express my opinion on climate solutions as an early career researcher at the recently-concluded Herrenhausen Conference titled Building Climate Resilient Societies in Germany. I imparted the following.
The term Nature-based Solutions (NbS) has appeared in scholarly articles and been advocated for by international organisations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to the IUCN, Nature-based Solutions are, "actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits." Due to the biophilic nature of human beings, one thing is truly justified; at least, people now have more questions about how to deal with challenges to sustainable development and shrink their environmental footprints. As a response to this, the New York Times recently started their "One Thing You Can Do" column. However, are NbS single-handedly efficient enough to carry forward all our negotiations for a realistic solution to an extremely challenging problem like climate change?
Let us briefly analyse the history of mankind. Since the time when humans first saw sparks of fire by rubbing stones, they saw their first realistic hope for survival. They started working on building on this initial inner knowledge to generate ideas which ultimately transformed into what we call innovation or technology today. Our historical record suggests that the use of levers in communities, for livelihoods, to many extents showed pathways for exchange and paved the way towards a structured development process i.e. the advent of the industrial revolutions (IRs). Since the first IR to that of artificial intelligence (AI) today, one thing appears to be common to this transformation.
The spark of the first fire, the first lever towards thinking and dealing with a quicker format of intelligence; all of these have traversed the wider inner knowledge of humans and perhaps the difference made is the increased holistic involvement of humans in livelihood ideologies. Inner knowledge created new ideas that were implemented by creative communities and nations. However, did the people with superpowers become successful in implementing their tasks? The answer is no; unless the broader communities, who did not create the tasks, worked on their behavioral patterns to change their livelihoods. There is another thing that has definitely happened on this pathway of industrialisation. We have sped up our lives to make them comparatively easier than those of our ancestors. So, why is it so unusual to see that our environment is changing faster than expected when this change has always occurred but was never observable due to its hidden natural process?
According to the recent report "Banking on Climate Change 2019," the world's largest investment banks have provided more than $700 billion in financing for fossil fuel companies – which has undoubtedly aggressively incentivised the expansion of new coal, oil and gas projects since the Paris Agreement on climate change. Among these top financiers are: Wall Street giant JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. This is not all; tar sands fields in north-west Canada, the third-largest known reserves of crude oil in the world, saw extraction done through crude oil projects – heavily financed by the Royal Bank of Canada and the Toronto Dominion – that caused widespread damage to ecosystems and forced indigenous communities from their homes. According to the Guardian, the deep water projects have been the site of several disasters, including the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, in which 11 people died and billions of dollars' worth of damage was done to local communities and businesses. Unfortunately, this does not only imply fatal economic policies. The political ideologies of policymakers are also largely responsible for human casualties and unprecedented damage – for example, losses caused by the shocking Australian wildfires this year.
We cannot deny the fact that climate change is happening and this has become crucial for our development agenda. It is also a reality that we cannot stop development because even if we do not have climate change, we always have vulnerabilities to deal with. The world had been divided over centuries between the greatest minds and the minds of the weak and the helpless. However, we have always had hope for survival for as long as we have had one thing in common i.e. our inner knowledge. On one side of the spectrum is our knowledge to create technology and development, on the other, our ability to slow down the unusual pace of development and adapt to it. Let our world carry the weight that it can and create hope for survival for all species, created equal. Let us stop creating fires in the open air and make that habit the spark of hope for survival for our next generation.
In closing, I shared my thoughts on a sustainable climate solution, "The good thing is we have started thinking of solutions which are nature-based, but we also need to activate our inner knowledge to do at least one task that will be a human-nature based solution towards pacing down the nature of our development boom – i.e. balanced development – and give our climate the chance to adapt first, before we do. Both are perhaps equally important to designing our longer-term strategy to reduce direct and indirect losses of human settlements as we have the ability to think and act, but nature does not."
Dr Azreen Karim is a Research Fellow based at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), working on climate change and disaster risk solutions. Email: [email protected]