Reconciling Domestic Politics and Global Climate Change

The S-G offers what at first seems to be a rather common sensical, if candid, critique of the difficulties at the intersection between national politics and international climate change.

Ban Ki-moon said the situation had been compounded by the global financial downturn that was making it more difficult for the political leadership to take unpopular decisions.

“Their first priority maybe (is) to get elected first of all, whatever maybe the case,” Ban told a conference on sustainable development in New Delhi.

“But they must overcome and look beyond this personal political leadership. They have to demonstrate their leadership as a global leader.

This is true; it is much easier to make politically expedient domestic decisions, particularly in times of financial struggle and/or when elections approach, than to make decisions that concern all of humanity, the entire globe, and future generations. The Bangladeshis who would lose their homes to sea rises, for example, or even the Floridians suffering from an increase in hurricanes in 2050, do not make particularly powerful constituencies in the United States in 2009.

Yet Ban’s implied missive — for leaders to ignore political reality in order to take a more daring global view — cannot possibly be the entire solution, at least if we want to merge the realities of politicking with the scale of the need to address climate change. Rather, the key will be to play to both choruses at once — to convince domestic audiences that they have an equal stake in halting emissions, that they will be the ones to feel the pernicious effects of global warming, and, most importantly, that addressing the economic crisis with an eye toward the environment is the only way to solve the problem. Rather than look to outdated patchwork solutions that seek a quick fix through pollution, leaders need to appeal to constituents to harness green technology, create green jobs, and promote other “green” solutions that take on both the environment and the economy, with both practicality and vision.