Globalization strikes again | The capital
The still raging global pandemic and climate-related disasters show the pathetic inadequacy of efforts to address the problematic aspects of globalization. The so-called international community has once again shown itself to be anything but a community
The summer of 2021 is largely determined by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating climate change. Both are manifestations of globalization and the reality of a world increasingly dominated by the vast and rapid cross-border flows of almost everything from goods, services and capital to data, terrorists and disease.
These two crises show the dire inadequacy of efforts to address the problematic aspects of globalization. The so-called international community has once again proven to be anything but a community. The supply of Covid-19 vaccines is billions of times below demand. There is also a shortage of billions in funding for global vaccinations. Governments put their countries first, although rapidly expanding varieties are emerging elsewhere in underinoculated populations and political boundaries are indifferent.
As a result, the pandemic remains a serious threat. The death toll is believed to be over four million so far, but the real number is many times higher, in some cases due to flawed reporting systems and deliberate under-counting by populist leaders in Brazil, India, Hungary, Russia and elsewhere. The economic impact is also significant, as the pandemic is estimated to have reduced global GDP by over 3%. Around 100 million people have fallen back into extreme poverty. Inequality between and within countries has increased.
What makes these developments even more frustrating is that we know what to do with Covid-19 and have the means to do so. There are several safe and extremely effective vaccines. What remains to be done is to increase production to meet global demand.
In some countries, such as the United States, do the opposite: increase demand to meet available supply. Vaccination hesitations, fueled by party political or misinformation circulating on social media, on television, and on the radio, are dangerously widespread. If vaccination were complemented by public health measures known to slow the spread of disease – masking, social distancing, readily available and accurate testing and contact tracing, and quarantine – there would be far fewer and less severe infections and the pandemic as we know it would fade away.
The effects of the other crisis, climate change, have materialized earlier than many expected. For years there has been a tendency to postpone any concerted response to the threat, despite clear and increasing evidence of planet warming. As is so often the case, the urgent replaced the important. But the summer of 2021 shows that climate change is important and urgent.
Its effects are varied. In the United States, wildfires rage out of control in the west when temperatures rise and smog blankets large parts of the country. Europe and China are the sites of massive floods. There are signs of persistent drought in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. The loss of life was relatively modest, but could well increase. The economic impact will also increase. The number of people internally displaced or forced to migrate is increasing sharply as large areas become inhospitable to human life.
There is a lot of talk about how to slow down or stop climate change, but most of the time it is exactly that. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November will continue to emphasize an approach where individual countries make voluntary commitments to reduce their emissions enter.
This is important, but it is clear that many countries are more focused on economic growth at all costs and cannot or do not want to embark on energy paths that significantly reduce their contribution to climate change. It remains to be seen whether there will be a willingness to pass tariffs that raise the prices of goods made in coal factories or impose sanctions on governments that refuse to stop the destruction of rainforests that absorb carbon dioxide. It should also be examined whether wealthier countries are willing to provide the means and technology that poorer countries need to switch to a greener energy mix.
At the same time, it is not enough to focus on slowing climate change, as necessary as it is. Much of climate change has already happened and more will happen regardless of what is decided in Glasgow. Efforts must also be made to adapt to existing or inevitable effects of climate change, so that cities and rural areas alike are better able to withstand the ever-present heat and rampant forest fires, more frequent storms and floods and more severe droughts. Resilience will be just as important as prevention.
Finally, we need to accelerate both the development and regulation of new technologies that promise to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or reflect sunlight away from the earth. Such possible responses to climate change are unproven and controversial. But if the collective failure to deal with Covid-19 is any indication, we’d better be prepared to consider them sooner rather than later. There is no escape from globalization; the only question is whether and how we deal with it.
Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003) and was US President George W. Bush’s Special Envoy for Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan.
Copyright: Project Syndicate