Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Transformations in Global Landscape, Climate Change, and The Future of HumanityAre We Still on Schedule to Save Our Planet?

By Kevin LiPublished April 22, 2019

Leaders came together to pose for a photo at COP24 Katowice last year.
Under unprecedented shifts in global landscapes and unfavorable external environments, are we still on schedule to save the future of humanity and the planet?

In 2017, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the world’s largest per capita carbon emitting country from the Paris Agreement despite condemnation and protests coming from almost every corner around the world. Two years later, a fossil fuel advocate and ex-coal lobbyist began serving his role as the acting head of nation’s top environmental agency.

In 2018, China – world’s largest carbon emitting country – experienced the slowest economic growth since 1990 , which led to a renewed increase in coal consumption, thus increasing carbon emission by an estimated 4.7% after a three-year stabilization period between 2013 to 2016. This brought to question China’s ability to continue to lead global climate initiatives through pollution control, renewable development, and ditching coal energy.

On the global scale, recent trade disputes including US-EU trade talks, rebranding of NAFTA, and U.S.-China Trade War are showcasing the world a possible breakdown of 70 years of multilateral liberalization. Freer exchanges of goods and services are no longer preferred, while an existing global order has been challenged by resurgences in nationalism and protectionism.

On the other hand, arguments surrounding refugee and immigration issues have consistently been at the center of international debates; leaders and scholars have been actively and, by far, unsuccessfully looking for the right balance between national security, economic prosperity, and societal core values, such as compassion and solidarity.

Meanwhile, cybersecurity, info-tech, and other digital technological advancements have further complicated legal and moral issues to question existing frameworks and mechanisms in governance, requesting new, innovative modes of collaboration and partnership between administrations and private sectors.

Lastly, shifting geopolitics in major conflict regions around the world, from the EU to the Middle East, pose serious uncertainties over the future of political stability, population wellbeing, resource allocation and distribution, and regional peace.

So, what does any the above have to do with climate change?

Trends transforming the global landscape are fundamentally decisive in shaping the future of humanity. Besides overshadowing key doubts, uncertainties, and challenges over our already complicated world, our differences and conflicts have failed to remind us the focus on the discussions and actions behind what’s in fact the greatest challenge of our time – climate change. With indispensable ties to all aspects of humanity, climate change has and will continue to lead to severe economic, social, environmental, and cultural damages. Rises in global conflicts and decreases in successful international collaboration and problem solving will lead to two unimaginable consequences. For one, we will lose the ability to engage in dialogues, make informed decisions, and take collective actions. More important, we will lose faith and our trust in one another, as our imperative climate agenda continues to get pushed later into the future.

Thus, it must be now that individuals, firms, governments, and the world set aside our differences, control our desires and self-interests, and assemble to discuss the future of humanity by addressing our greatest challenge. In achieving a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable future, we must continue to engage in good governance, ensure political stability, advocate for multilateral liberalization, support international development, and engage in responsible business practices.

With decreasing costs for renewables, we will create better policies to expedite development through bridging the cooperation and restoring the trust between governments and businesses. With advancement in technological innovations, we will connect science better with politics, researchers with policy makers. With India pledging renewable commitments and UK leading the decarbonization of its economy, we will facilitate collaboration between both developed and developing worlds to create synergies in sustainable development.

We need to think innovate, global, long-term, and interdisciplinary. Under unprecedented shifts in global landscapes and unfavorable external environments, we must remain rational, critical, and firm in prioritizing the need to address humanity’s greatest challenge. Businesses, civil organizations, academia, governments, and individuals must convene to collectively tackle this problem. The future of humanity lies in our hands and we are running out of time.