The world is on fire, but we're too busy fighting one another

Without geopolitical stability, we cannot build a climate-positive future

A wildfire in Greece last July. If rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions suggest that our house is on fire, then the foundations we have built it on are close to collapse. AFP
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In the immediate aftermath of Cop28, I wrote in these pages that 2023 had been a dark year for diplomacy.

At the time, the rumbling of several geopolitical and humanitarian crises hung over the climate talks in Dubai. Two months into 2024, the skies of diplomacy look murkier than they did at the turn of the year, despite the UAE Consensus offering some light on the horizon.

As distressing headlines from the Middle East continue to dominate the news cycle, with deepening conflicts, the world’s multilateral institutions – the very entities designed to uphold international law – are creaking under pressure, exposing systemic inequities and inefficacies.

This decade was supposed to mark a turning point for inclusive and sustainable economic development for all. Instead, it is becoming a decade of humanitarian shortcomings. In our increasingly interconnected world, peace, stability and prosperity are inextricably linked to our ability to address the other existential threats we face – including climate change and energy security.

Our climate fight is a direct casualty of conflict. Indeed, conflicts complicate an already fractured global diplomatic landscape. They disrupt crucial but volatile markets, such as oil and gas. They tempt the world to secure their energy supplies from sources we must transition away from. They overshadow diplomacy efforts that require everyone’s buy-in – such as the ongoing climate talks. And they redirect vital expenditure away from climate solutions.

We need to invest north of $5 trillion globally, every year, into energy transition solutions to tackle climate change. And yet the cost of conflicts continues to spiral. Rising military expenditure and an increased focus on conflicts impede countries’ ability to invest in climate solutions. And that’s not to mention military emissions in conflict zones, which account for about 5.5 per cent of global emissions.

Rising military expenditure and an increased focus on conflicts impede countries’ ability to invest in climate solutions

If rising temperatures and intensifying extreme weather conditions suggest that our house is on fire, then the foundations we have built it on are close to collapse. Rebuilding them relies on an effective and collective push from the global community to put people above political interests.

In the UAE, our leaders are meeting this moment of fragility with a clear and concise path forward, towards prosperity, stability and sustainability. This is being done in a range of ways – by providing vital food and water supplies to those most in need, working on resolutions to end regional conflicts, and ensuring that political leaders lay the groundwork for peace so that climate action can follow.

Last December, the Cop28 Declaration on Climate Relief, Recovery and Peace represented a watershed moment in this regard. The declaration underscores the urgent need to create institutions that are more representative of global populations, emphasising the connection between climate resilience and global stability. It acknowledges that peace and recovery are not only outcomes of effective climate action but also prerequisites for its success. It espouses a much-needed humanitarian approach to climate action.

By prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable communities and countries, the declaration calls for an unprecedented level of international co-operation and solidarity, which is crucial for addressing the systemic inequities that have long hindered global climate action efforts.

More recently at the World Governments Summit in Dubai, the launch of the Cop Presidencies Troika, which includes the UAE, Azerbaijan and Brazil, marked a levelling-up for climate diplomacy. It sets the course for continuity in purpose and ambition from one Cop presidency to the next, laying the groundwork for a more cohesive and strategic global climate action framework.

By fostering a sense of shared responsibility and mutual support among successive Cop presidencies, the Troika agreement enables a more integrated and proactive approach to ensure that each Cop builds on the achievements of its predecessors to advance global climate goals.

As we carry the torch forward to Azerbaijan and then to Brazil, the path towards climate resilience requires a unified approach that transcends political and geographical boundaries. By aligning the efforts of successive Cop presidencies, we can create outcomes that benefit all, rather than a select few. This approach not only ensures that the ambitious goals set in Paris, and refined in subsequent Cops, are met, but also that they evolve to meet the changing needs of our planet and its inhabitants.

We cannot do this, however, if we do not have a bedrock of stability firmly in place. We must develop collaborative frameworks, such as the Troika, that recognise the fundamental interconnectedness of climate change, peace and recovery. We need structures and institutions that catalyse equitable and transformative change.

It is now down to our leaders to build bridges and the foundations for lasting and sustainable peace and prosperity. Without them, we cannot hope to meet the climate goals and ambitions we have set for ourselves in the near, medium or long-term future.

Published: March 06, 2024, 4:00 AM