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Simon Dalby: International cooperation in addressing climate change

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

Simon Dalby, Professor of Wilfrid Laurier University

Simon Dalby is a Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. His published research deals with climate change, environmental security and geopolitics.He is author of Anthropocene Geopolitics: Globalization, Security, Sustainability, (University of Ottawa Press, 2020) and Security and Environmental Change (Polity, 2009), and co-editor of Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (Routledge 2019), and Reframing Climate Change: Constructing Ecological Geopolitics (Routledge 2016).

He was educated at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Victoria and holds a Ph.D. from Simon Fraser University. Before joining the Balsillie School he was Professor of Geography, Environmental Studies and Political Economy at Carleton University in Ottawa.

International cooperation in addressing climate change

Responses to research questions so far:

1.You mentioned in your arctic " Environmental Security and Climate Change" that the international system continues to fail to effectively deal with climate change. What might be the reasons?

There are numerous reasons but the main one is that the major states have become so on the basis of energy systems powered by fossil fuels, using resources from many places and feeding their populations by monoculture agriculture that has converted much of the cultivable land of the earth. These modes of economy are precisely the problem with climate change, and trying to get states and powerful corporations to change course rapidly is very difficult. In terms of security, the problems caused by climate change are internal to the system, not external threats. They are long term rather than short term emergencies, and hence much more difficult to deal with by traditional political means.

2.You pointed out the importance of safety planning. Why do you emphasize it on water issues?

What is the role of collaboration across international borders in water management?Water is crucial for agriculture, urban life, industry and everything else humans do! But we are now seeing both droughts and floods of increasing severity in many parts of the world, and these need to be anticipated much better than we have been doing. Climate change means that the past is no longer a good guide as to what to expect but this novel condition has been slow to penetrate into decision making.International collaboration is especially important so that water sharing agreements are in place before major disruptions happen. One thing that is key is to have agreed procedures in place to deal with extreme events. If river flows are either much less than normal or much more, then how flows are divided up, which dams on rivers are filled, which emptied, and at what rates needs to be agreed in advance. If everyone involved knows what the rules and procedures are to deal with unexpected developments then the chances of conflict are dramatically reduced.

3.You also stressed the importance of governments working together to address environmental issues. What are your expectations for China's responsibilities in global climate governance?

China is crucial to climate governance. China is a leading producer of solar panels, windmills and other renewable energy technology, and if it continues to be then it can lead the way in phasing out fossil fuels and electrifying economies around the world. But what is alarming is that many of the initiatives in the Belt and Road program involve investments in coal powered electricity generation and other fossil fuel plants. If China follows through on the recent G7 announcement, which called for an end to investment in fossil fuels, and recalibrates the Belt and Road projects to support renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels, this will really help change the course of climate change in coming decades.As the largest user of coal in particular everyone hopes China rapidly moves away from this technology. The argument that states that have traditionally used coal and oil to make themselves rich should move first on this issue made good sense a few decades ago, but now we have run out of time to make the necessary changes, and all states need to move quickly away from fossil fuels. Fortunately solar energy is now so cheap, in part thanks to innovations in China, that this is increasingly sensible economics. But it needs political leadership, and there China needs to move quickly and not wait for other states to do what is needed.

4、To what extent individuals' environmental awareness and lifestyle will have an impact on climate security?

Individuals' environmental awareness matters insofar as they encourage political leaders to move their economies rapidly away from fossil fuels. And lifestyles that use less energy are obviously helpful if they direct consumption away from harmful use of fossil fuels, as well as foods that need lots of energy or that threaten wildlife, and fish stocks in the Oceans.

But the key issues are big investments by banks, corporations and governments, and these need to be redirected away from fossil fuel infrastructure and towards renewables. Major decisions about city planning, and building codes, as well as emphasizing public transport not individual cars are all government concerns, not matters that individual lifestyle choices will change quickly. So while individual actions help what really matters are major government policy decisions and investment choices by major economic actors. That’s what is crucial to move the global economy rapidly away from fossil fuels and towards making more sensible things for the future for all of us.

Editor Assistant Research Fellow: Xianglin Gu

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