As COP27 continues in Egypt, USIP's Tegan Blaine says, "The one issue that is really beginning to explode this year is the issue of loss and damage" and support for poorer countries. "They weren't responsible for the cause, and they don’t have the resources to [address climate change] on their own."
U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.
Julie Mason: Tegan Blaine is the director of climate, environment and conflict at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Here to discuss the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Tegan, good morning.
Tegan Blaine: Good morning, Julie. It's always wonderful to be with you.
Julie Mason: Yeah, great to have you. So, what are they getting up to in Egypt?
Tegan Blaine: Oh, that's a good question. You know, this year is a little bit of a weird year because it's kind of an in-between year. These negotiations have been going on for 27 years thus, the Conference of Parties 27. However, last year was a really big year. Next year is going to be another big year. But this year is a little bit of an in-between year after a lot of countries made commitments to reduce their greenhouse gases last year, and before, a global accounting of how well we're doing this coming year. The one issue that is really beginning to explode this year, however, is the issue of loss and damage – how countries are going to respond to climate impacts that go beyond what we can do to adapt social and economic systems. And that is going to be the really hot button topic this year.
Julie Mason: I mean, I believe coincidental to this conference starting, there was reporting that the world's population has reached 8 billion. And it's not sustainable.
Tegan Blaine: No, it isn't. And on top of that, I think it's really been in the last couple of years that the impacts of climate change have just exploded in terms of their clear visibility. What with the floods in Pakistan, the drought in East Africa. I mean, for the first time, climate change is a visible part of everybody's life on this globe, not to mention population rise and many other complicating factors.
Julie Mason: Tegan, there's a fascinating tension in climate in that, it seems to me, that generally, you know, intelligent minded people agree that climate change is real and a problem. Yet at the same time, climate action often seems to be a luxury for good economic times. And now we have sort of world inflation, impending recession, and that is historically, generally, anecdotally speaking, when we see issues like climate kind of hit the backburner.
Tegan Blaine: I know, and I must admit, as somebody who's been following the climate discussions for 35 years, I don't understand that because in the long run, it is going to hurt us. And the amount of money that's required for prevention in terms of its payoff, in terms of avoided damages, and so on, is very small in comparison to those long-term damages. And so, it seems that this kind of short-term thinking has taken hold, which doesn't allow us to think in long term ways. I must admit, I really struggle with that, and I'm not sure why we get caught in these kinds of loops.
Julie Mason: I mean, because, a part of it has to be democracy, right? The rapid turnover of our elected officials. There's very little continuity in policymaking.
Tegan Blaine: You know, I think that's one of the issues. Another issue, which has really been hitting me a lot recently, is the importance of social cohesion in building resilience. You know, we saw that in the United States with COVID-19. We see it when we're dealing with environmental issues. And it's kind of this loss of a feeling that we are responsible for others within our own society and need to find ways to deal with that and to deal with kind of the issues that all of us are facing. But one thing that we have begun seeing is that poor countries that have higher levels of social cohesion actually deal better with this kind of long-term planning, and preparedness for things like climate change, than societies that don't have such a strong sense of social cohesion. Which for me, is a really, really important thing to be thinking about.
Julie Mason: That is really interesting. Now, so for those who are trying to place this UN climate conference, the last one they had last year was in Scotland, and that's when Tegan as you say, everyone came forward with all these great you know, “we're going to get rid of greenhouse gas,” like all these promises, pledges. What kind of progress have they made in the past year?
Tegan Blaine: Unluckily, very little. As you said, the Ukraine crisis and economic downturn has really put a damper on a lot of the progress. Last year, there was already recognition that the kinds of commitments that countries were coming with was not enough. And there was an emphasis on coming back this year with greater commitments. So far, only 20 something countries have done that. And we may see announcements over the next couple of weeks. But we are not seeing the outpouring of commitment to reducing greenhouse gases that we really need to do in order to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.
Julie Mason: Now, I imagine John Kerry is taking a prominent role for the U.S. at this conference.
Tegan Blaine: Absolutely, he has been banging the drum over the last year about the need to increase commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emission reductions. You know, whether that's been fully successful is a little bit up in the air. But he has been working very, very hard to try to see this happen.
Julie Mason: He is passionate about this, like, I think no other issue. I mean, this is just his jam. But I've also been reading that he plans to leave the administration after the midterms.
Tegan Blaine: You know, I have heard those rumors as well. I honestly know nothing about his plans. I don't know whether he'll be leaving, whether he is committed to this, to continue working on this. It's got to be a hard job. But he has really worked hard over the last few years, and I just have no clue what's in the future for him.
Julie Mason: So interesting, you know, to create that position and put him in it, you know, someone with a proven track record who has all these international relationships, but there's only so much one man can do.
Tegan Blaine: There is, and you know, a lot of other geopolitical issues have come up here. You know, for example, the tension over Taiwan has derailed the discussions with China. Obviously Ukraine, obviously the economic downturn, other kinds of political environments, such as what has happened in Brazil recently with the now former administration and a switch back to what might be a more aggressive administration in tackling climate change. All of these little things, by themselves really add up to a global environment where it's challenging to get everybody moving in the same direction at the same time.
Julie Mason: So, I know we're all out of the prediction business in the world, but Tegan what do you expect from this conference?
Tegan Blaine: Well, you know, this issue about loss and damage is really critical. It's been something that the poorest countries have been fighting for, for years, increased funding for support for countries that are facing damages that they can't deal with. You know, when the United States experiences huge floods, we at least have infrastructure in place to support those people. We have the finances to rebuild or rebuild in different ways if we want and so on. But many countries do not have those resources. And now over 100 countries are banding together and saying, we need, as a globe, to think about how we are going to support these poorer countries and addressing climate change when they weren't responsible for the cause, and they don't have the resources to do it on their own. If there's one area that there might be progress this year, that is the one.
Julie Mason: Interesting, and that even feels very tenuous. I mean, there's a very strong America first sentiment re-gathering strength here in the U.S., and you could see that going sideways.
Tegan Blaine: Yes, you definitely can. You know, for everything that might be right about that argument I think it's going to be a very difficult one politically, to make and materialize. And I think that it's also going to contribute to increased geopolitical tensions between poorer countries and richer countries who don't deliver on these kinds of things. It'll spill over into other aspects of kind of the global landscape, that's for sure. But like you, I do struggle to have hope that this will really move forward this year.
Julie Mason: Really, really great information. Tegan Blaine, director of climate, environment and conflict at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Tegan, thank you so much.
Tegan Blaine: Thanks for having me.
Julie Mason: Have a great day.