As the planet churns out fifty-one tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in every typical year, human influence on climate change is unmistakable. Even when it is denied in some political quarters, it is refreshing to see the current US President Biden, taking the situation quite seriously.
For small island states in the Caribbean, climate change threatens our long-term survival on the planet. It is as serious as that.
The literature on climate change has many different and varying views. For some, it is the most far-reaching manifestation of white privilege and class privilege. For others, it continues the historical trajectory of a demarcation between developed and developing countries. For others like Kleine (2015), we must abandon the free-market ideology, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems. For others, it is a time for a call for individual, community, and global repentance within a theological framework, as a prelude for success.
Confronting climate change through technological innovations
Bill Gates, in his recent well-received book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, looks at methods to get zero emissions of man-made greenhouse gases and the removal of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane from the atmosphere within thirty years. He has several chapters on the expansion of existing clean technologies such as wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, and heat bumps. He also proposed a new generation of nuclear weapons, plant-based meat and resilient crops and livestock.
Technological innovations are certainly important strategies to confront climate change. Industrial countries account for nearly 75% of the fossil fuel derived emissions of carbon dioxide and almost 60% of the total carbon dioxide emissions. This is changing and will continue to do so as developing countries develop.
Another major source of energy related to greenhouse emissions is transportation. Substantial opportunities exist for reducing the energy intensity of cars, trucks, busses, and airplanes.
In the electricity sector lighting loads are growing as developing countries bring electricity to its citizens. The supply of luxury appliances will see increases in greenhouse emissions from electricity production.
New technologies are being developed to include more efficient lighting and better electric motor drivers on the end use side and solar wind, biomass, fuel cells and advanced combustion systems on the electricity supply side of the equation. These are clearly important as an approach to confronting the problem. The sad truth is, however, that so far, these are not working. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase.
Confronting climate change through institutional change
To allow for the emergence of the best techniques, institutional changes are also needed. Multilateral banks and other development assistance institutions have key roles. These institutions must provide additional funds to invest in capacity building. Multinational enterprises must partner with enterprises in developing countries.
The climate change crisis is global in scope and interconnects all peoples. The need for a global response is clear. This response can come from global institutions and global treatise. The UN Conferences began through the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) to coordinate international efforts to protect the global environment. Under the aegis of the UNEP, several major international treatises have been negotiated to protect the environment. The Vienna Convention (1985) and the subsequent Montreal Protocol (1897) represented the first fruits of the collaborative efforts of governments, international organizations, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations. This has led to negotiated agreements to reduce major risks of environmental damage before the worst consequences have been realized. However, as failure of The Kyoto Protocol demonstrates, these arrangements are subject to fail.
Harari (2017) has pointed out that ‘all the talk about global warming, and all the conferences, summits and protocols, have so far failed to curb greenhouse emissions. The small downturn in 2008-2009, was due to the global financial crisis.’
Some analysts such as Ramakrishna and Young (2007) believe that even with a framework document worked out across various global institutions, a larger challenge remains- to implement a flexible, cooperative, long-term regime to manage global emissions of greenhouse gasses and to minimize the damages due to rapid climate change. They conclude that the ‘dimensions of a global climate regime are so broad, the potential conflict between the stakeholders so complex and the challenge of monitoring and enforcing so daunting that no existing institution would be fully adaptable to the necessary task of implementation’ (p. 65). They argue for a separate climate institution to maintain authority and jurisdiction, given the multidisciplinary challenges climate change.
In the context of the Caribbean, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) coordinates the Caribbean region’s response to climate change, working on effective solutions and projects to combat its environmental impacts and global warming.
It provides climate change-related policy advice and guidelines to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States through the CARICOM Secretariat and to the UK Caribbean Overseas Territories. It is an archive and clearinghouse for regional climate change data and documentation.
A final perspective is that of theologians who are of the view that climate change is too important to be left to the scientists. For them, the roots of climate change are theological and so technical, scientific and policy responses are inadequate outside of a theological ambit. The issues are much broader and derive from the way humans ‘imagine God, the creation and the place of humans within it,’ (Cavanaugh, 2019).
For some theologians, the climate change dilemma exposes the close relation between nature and culture and the interdependence and interwovenness of the created order, referred to as the ecosystem. The World Council of churches in the 1970’s sought to bring theology and ecumenism to the climate situation and even developed a theological agenda for the responses of the churches and sought to challenge the pattern and scale of industrial development that is pushing the need for the constancy of growth. From the perspective of the Christian church, we will need to acknowledge God, his creation, our stewardship gone bad, and through repentance ground the other approaches so that human action is set on a moral platform.
All the approaches are needed as time is not on our side.