Political procrastination and climate change

4 mins read

By Rubanya Nanda

The human tendency to procrastinate doing work until the very last moment has been the topic of many studies in psychology. The effects of procrastination and its intrinsic link to the human nature have intrigued nativists and behaviourists alike. Is political procrastination a part of climate politics? Do the lawmakers worsen the situation by procrastinating when it comes to issues on climate change? This article will try to answer these questions.

The recently concluded annual meeting of the World Economic Forum had an unprecedented high number of participants who brainstormed on the theme “Globalisation 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. But the indomitable voice of a 16-year-old girl caught the attention of the elites. “Our house is on fire,” Greta Thunberg declared in her address to the prominent global leaders at Davos. She elaborated that, “some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money and I think many of you today belong to that group of people”. Her intrepid and downright approach to the fight against climate change has convinced me that the situation is pretty straightforward. In Greta´s words: “You say nothing in life is black and white. But this is a lie.” In the context of climate change, I believe that there has been massive political procrastination on the part of world leaders.

So, what do I mean by political procrastination? Procrastination refers to the process of delaying work or duties until the last minute due to the fear of getting tangled in unpleasant situations, fear of failure and in most cases, mere indolence. Thus, political procrastination might refer to the procrastination to the avoidance or delay of making certain policy and decisions and focusing on other trivial matters. Lawmakers often resort to procrastination because they feel that certain matters are not as urgent, need immediate attention and can be conveniently avoided. One such matter is climate change. In spite of numerous grave warnings by scientists, the initiatives that have been taken by governments lack the requisite commitment that is needed to address this grave issue. To see this, you only have to look at recent political trends and the actions of politicians in the context of climate politics.

Thunberg´s warning is very real. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called climate change “the defining issue of our time.” The Paris accord has the goal of keeping the increase in temperature below two degrees. In contemporary times, various fora have been swamped with news with respect to extreme temperatures. Be it the heat waves in Australia, colossal wildfires in Sweden or the recent surge in migrations induced by the changing climate, there is no ignoring the effects of extreme temperatures. Inspired by the initiatives taken by Thunberg to promote climate change activism in Sweden, thousands of school children took to the streets in Australia in November 2018. In response, the PM of Australia, Scott Morrison retorted, “What we want is more learning and less activism in schools.” This curt reply to a rightful cause is a good example of political procrastination. The present-day leaders are seldom taking actions on the issue that need rapt attention. Their promises to combat climate change essentially reverberate into void.

The reckless decision of the US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement might also be seen as political procrastination. The withdrawal from this accord by the US enunciates the efforts of the policymakers to evade the addressing of issues which need immediate attention. I think that active suppression and effectively denying climate change is also caused by political procrastination. Adding to that, it is a matter of concern that climate change is still not a real issue for a significant number of voters. Thus, perhaps political procrastination does not occur in isolation. The voter´s interest can also encourage political procrastination as democratically elected leaders need to comply with these in order to remain in power.

It is believed that there is always a moment of calm before the impending storm. But, in the context of climate change, nature has not failed to give its warning. With melting ice caps, the steep rise in global temperature, the destruction of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or mass extinction of flora and fauna, there are many subtle signs of a great shift that is coming. But policymakers have failed to properly acknowledge the urgency of the situation. Some of the politicians are also trivialising the climate change. For instance, Donald Trump recently called out for “good old fashioned global warming” when life-threatening cold hit parts of the United States. This indicates a very sombre state of affairs.

Finding out a straight line solution to the problem of political procrastination in the given context might seem ambitious. But, there can be simple solutions which involve both the stakeholders and politicians alike. Effective awareness amongst the voters about climate change might change the way this issue is seen by political leaders. There should be massive mobilisation and debate on the effects of climate change, involving youth and adults alike. The leaders need to be questioned, challenged and held responsible for evading responsibility. It is pertinent to note that political procrastination is very real, so is climate change. There needs to be a proper addressing of the issues of global warming by the leaders in synch with scientific research. There needs to be a conscious and conscientious effort to combat climate change. It can be achieved by the participation and contribution of all the stakeholders.

Rubanya Nanda is currently pursuing her Master of Laws in Investment Treaty Arbitration at Uppsala University, Sweden. She has been born and brought up in India. She has published several articles concerning maternity benefits, international arbitration and gender justice in journals of national repute. She is a staunch supporter of the intersectional feminist movement, and aims to contribute towards this movement through the power of pen. Apart from academics, she enjoys reading fiction, trying out new cuisines and travelling.

Illustration: Merle Ecker

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