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  • Manvi Jain


We are 2 months away from 2022, and we quickly realise how multifaceted and capricious the world around us has become. It has reached a point where many choose to believe when it has descended into chaos. Once the world was unipolar, bipolar, or multipolar, the current contemporary power structures are making it increasingly challenging for one to identify the prevailing power relations. Contemporary and global problems like climate change, which need cooperation on a global scale, are not being addressed in the way they should be due to an absence of harmony between different stakeholders.

Today, in International Relations, every state is clasped in the chains of power politics and has largely ignored the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect is a part of the chaos theory, which theorises how even the minutest differences in conditions at inception can lead to a profoundly different outcome. It is held that when a butterfly flaps its wing in one part of the world, another part of the world can experience a tornado. This indicates that even the slightest bit of change around us can cause something significant that happens in this world we live in. When extrapolating the concept to the relationship between climate change and the ongoing international discourse, one could say that even the smallest of events could positively impact the entire global ecosystem. The Atlantic hurricane, forest fires across Australia and Europe, the heatwave in Canada, rain in Greenland, floods, and landslides across South Asia are all "natural" disasters that have been triggered by unsustainable habits of not just consumers but also nation-states and their socio-economic agendas, thus creating the butterfly effect.

Climate change has been known to have a significant impact on the international system's dynamics. Additionally, how the international community manages this has a substantial effect on our general way of life. Illustrating through an example -

There has been a rise of a little more than one degree Celsius in global temperatures, but it feels like all world leaders are taking away the urgency and downplaying the issue by phrasing it as, "It is just one degree." However, when you scrutinise, that one degree has caused more difficulties than one would expect. They fail to realise that if we reach a two-degrees rise in temperature, we will lose all tropical reefs, the sea levels would rise considerably, and we would have to forgo the Persian Gulf. An increase by three degrees would take away forests in the Arctic and all the coastal cities. Furthermore, if we remain blind to the situation and do not curb it and there is a four-degree rise, there could be a permanent drought in Europe, most parts of India, China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The moment we reach a five-degree rise, human life will cease to exist.

So isn't climate change something that world leaders should take seriously and resolve amicably instead of creating conflict? In this age of power politics, nation-states have invariably been forced into a cold-war-like situation for resources such as oil, water, to even diamonds. They fail to acknowledge the principal assumption of Economic theory - Human wants are unlimited while resources remain limited. At the same time, they show their power by developing nuclear weapons, which invariably cause a cataclysmic explosion and lead to irreversible environmental damage. Various security studies have shown that climate change is an international security threat (Westing,1986; Homer-Dixon, 1994; Barnett, 2000). Multilateral agreements can only solve global problems (Haas, 1993; Yamin and Depledge, 2004). The G-7 and G-8 communities, international organisations, and their engagement with the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) unveil that international actors initially reduced the severity of climate change. However, this trend now seems to be reversing due to the constant struggle for hegemonic superiority.

In 2015, the Paris Climate Change Conference had almost every nation commit to it. Just to shed light on the attitude world leaders have towards climate change, Donald Trump, the former President of the most 'powerful' nation of the world, openly states that climate change is a hoax. It is not surprising to see Trump withdraw from his responsibilities and eliminate 'harmful and unnecessary policies such as the 'Climate Action Plan'. This has put environmental prosperity and national security back at risk. In the UNGA recently, China had announced that they would cut off the emissions to zero by 2060. Many say that President Xi has an eye on global politics because Trump had earlier tried to shift the burden of climate deterioration on China solely. During the ongoing US elections, Joe Biden said that the US would rejoin the Paris Accord and take other necessary steps to reduce the intensity of climate change.

The current situation highlights how climate change has lost steam in international discourse. Still, nation-states are just involved in power politics, so much so that they have also started including climate change as a part of their manifesto. Therefore, one must remember to look at the bigger picture, past the gimmicks of such selfish leaders, and see the butterfly effect's influence on power politics.

About the author: Manvi Jain is a final year undergraduate student of Global affairs. She is pursuing her specialisation in International Development and Human Rights and is specifically interested in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

Cover Image: Tony Webster/Flickr

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