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National Egoism vs. Planetary Responsibility

A summer featuring unprecedented climate-driven disasters and a new warning from the world’s premier climate-science body has underscored the inadequacies of the existing order. Tackling the climate crisis is fundamentally incompatible with our understanding of sovereignty.

BERLIN – The man-made climate crisis is generating headlines this summer. There were record-breaking heat waves along the US and Canadian west coast; torrential rain and floods (and significant casualties) in Central Europe and along the Yangtze River in China; and wildfires in Greece, Turkey, Southern Italy, Northern Africa, and even Siberia. And on top of all this, climate scientists warned this month that the Atlantic Gulf Stream – that great heat pump for Western Europe – may be slackening.

Moreover, amid this summer of extreme weather events, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its sixth assessment report (which had been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic). In much more explicit language than in the past, the world’s premier body of climate scientists made clear that humankind – particularly in developed countries and large emerging economies – is responsible for global warming.

The report also raises serious questions about whether we can achieve the Paris climate agreement’s goal of limiting the increase in temperature to 2° Celsius (but preferably 1.5°C) above preindustrial levels. The IPCC concludes that this is still possible, but only if we act decisively and immediately to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (particularly carbon dioxide) substantially.

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