Credit: Vladislav Klapin via unsplash

The Gordian Knot of climate geopolitics

By Radoslav Serafimov

Global politics is destroying the planet – we will never solve climate change in a capitalist world order

COP28 is over; but it feels difficult to rejoice, even for the big victories achieved. The summit did make historic strides in addressing the climate crisis, with more specific goals being set over a range of different metrics, particularly with the first-ever recognition of fossil fuels as the main cause of global warming, and the establishment  of a landmark loss and damage fund. However, experts are saying that this is too little, too late; only one of the 42 climate crisis indicators assessed is on track for 2030 targets. In reality, climate crisis summits can only do so much when the deep-routed issue is the layout of our political world. 

Scientists and activists have called agreements made at COP28 “toothless“, as they leave ample loopholes to be exploited by nations and businesses looking to expand their fossil fuel empire. This is thanks to ambiguous language and get-out clauses hard fought for by the oil magnates present at the conference. Suffice to say, those suffering under the impacts of the climate crisis right now are deeply unsatisfied with the pledges made, with Pacific Island states being especially vocal in their denouncement of the steps made. Fundamentally transformative moves are required to protect the most vulnerable people currently suffering from flash floods, rising sea levels, and other direct impacts of the climate crisis. However, with over 2000 lobbyists present at the convention, it is no wonder that these crucial steps were not implemented. Activists from the affected communities are quick to point out that nations and businesses are fighting for fossil fuels instead of against them. 

While it is easy to point at individual states’ seeming inability to stick to the agreed-upon limits, it is not difficult to understand how this happens within our global system. In order to make meaningful strides towards reaching the targets set out by the Paris Agreement, it would require a global divestment from carbon and other greenhouse gases – an impossibly large ask for a capitalist economy whose manufacturing, agriculture and transport all rely heavily on fossil fuels. 

In a post-Cold War world, this is a deeply troubling state of affairs, with the economic state relying increasingly on free markets existing worldwide with an assumed degree of geopolitical stability. This is exacerbated by the fact that the effects of the climate emergency and the profits from the abuse of natural resources are all localised within specific parts of the world. Oftentimes, even partial overlap means that there are countries almost singularly dependent on the export of fossil fuels to maintain their economies. Others use these fuels to power all of their manufacturing, and some still suffer the consequences of both due to their unfortunate geographic placement. 

Additionally, green energy requires us to start considering new key resources for extraction, such as rare metals and silicon. This has led to economic and political shifts and has the potential to create both new partnerships and enmities as states begin to vie for control of various resources. China has, unsurprisingly, been a focus of Western media in these considerations, with a report from the International Energy Agency showing that it holds 60% of the world’s manufacturing capacity for solar panels, components of wind energy systems, and batteries; the geopolitical tensions between China and the West could see these resources used as bargaining chips in coming years. 

The climate crisis is happening in the backdrop of a neo-liberal, post-colonialist and imperialist world order, which necessitates a hyper-consumerist model of production. Limited resources are burning away at a rate that is neither necessary nor beneficial for the vast majority of the world’s population, with the 1% profiting immensely and using their amassed wealth to pull political strings through powerful lobbying bodies. It is a well-known fact by now that oil and gas giants such as Shell and Exon purposefully misled the public about greenhouse gas emissions’ role in the anthropogenic climate crisis, protecting their investments at all costs, while growing swollen with wealth. Our democratic systems fail to address these issues, with America being a prime example of what a losing battle against decades of corporate interests can do to a state. Apathy has grown in politicians’ ability to affect meaningful change while simultaneously clinging on to public affection to ensure another successful election cycle.

The climate crisis demands we make radical and immediate changes to how our world operates, but the deeply entangled web of global political, economic and industrial interests does not allow for this. Capital interest rules supreme in a global sphere which has been subsumed into a singular massive market through the concerted efforts of the industry over the past 30 years. This Gordian Knot does not want to be unbound but instead assures us that through good-faith discussion and market powers we can solve our collective problem. Thankfully, more and more of us seem to recognise that additional and finer threads to the mess is not the way to unwind it.


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