The World Could Be Entering a New Era of Climate War

In 2015, when I started covering climate change, Climate war It meant one thing. Back then, if someone said climate change was a threat to the world order, you’d assume they were talking about the direct effects of warming or its second-order effects. Analysts and academics worry about the possibility of unprecedented droughts or city-destroying floods leading to mass migrations, destabilizing the rich world or leading to far-right nationalism. Or they worried that a global famine could drive up food prices, sparking old-fashioned resource wars. Or they fretted over social science showing that climate change could lead to revolutions and civil wars.

The world of 2015 is not the world of 2022. Since then, countries have made remarkable progress averting the worst climate scenarios: Canada is taxing carbon pollution, Europe has its Green Deal, and the US somehow passed the Deflation Act. Moreover, elected leaders have run and won on these policies. Thanks to a global shift away from coal power, the world won’t warm by 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, as once thought possible.

The success of the past seven years drove me home when I saw a German public service announcement last month that added carbon dioxide to the triad of old enlightenment: “Demokratie, Vielfalt and Klimaschutz. Du Bist Europe,” it read: “Democracy, Diversity and Climate Security. You are Europe. ” What a victory. And what a complex one. Since 2015, the risk of climate war has not completely diminished. Instead, the risks have shifted. As many countries have integrated the energy transition into their economies, there is now a chance that efforts to address climate change may encourage conflict in their own right.

To be clear, this shift was not intentional. It was among the first to lead climate advocates to their credit as a result of a process: that batteries, renewables and zero-carbon energy are the next step on the technological ladder. Climate hawks have rightly celebrated news of Ukrainians using ebikes and electric drones, or raiding Russian tanks. But it only drives home the fact that these innovations are “dual use” – they can be deployed in both civilian and military contexts, and are therefore not optional for countries pursuing their own security.

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The conflict over dual-use technologies is already at the center of the US-China trade conflict. Last month, the Biden administration effectively banned the sale of any advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China. It also banned “US persons” — a group consisting of American citizens and green card holders — from working in the Chinese semiconductor industry. As Eric Levitz writes New York In the magazine, the policy amounts to a form of economic warfare, as “it is now official US policy to prevent China from achieving its development goals.”

This is a dangerous argument when you consider that semiconductors are crucial for decarbonization: the transition to electricity requires more use of semiconductors. Computer chips control almost every part of how electric cars, scooters, water heaters, induction stoves, and more use or conserve energy. One of the main ways electric vehicle manufacturers gain a competitive advantage is by making small improvements to the computer chips and software that control a car’s battery pack. Now, the type of semiconductor affected by Biden’s policies is far more advanced than the cheaper type needed for decarbonization. But you can see how They are trying to prevent the development of other countries An economic dispute can turn into a military one.

Part of managing these dynamic strategies is that the United States and China effectively use climate policy as a venue for their own diplomatic competition. Perhaps the most important international climate announcement of the past few years was President Xi Jinping’s pledge that China would aim to reach net zero by 2060. He announced the goal less than 2 months before the 2020 US presidential election and it was widely understood. The “extracted message” – if not a rebuke to the US and the Trump administration. “It shows Xi’s continued interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical ends,” Greenpeace analyst Li Shuo said. The New York Times Then.

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The race has also improved American policy. Thanks to a deflationary bill passed in part because American lawmakers didn’t want to hand over the clean-tech industry to China — the U.S. is poised to subsidize domestic solar panel production on a massive scale. A decade from now we will have cheaper solar panels than we should. It can, and often does, result in significant economic burden reduction Good, on the network, for climate. If geopolitical competition leads America to subsidize a solar industry, competition could helping Climate action, however, is not an obstacle. Flooding the world with cheap solar power is not only accelerating decarbonization, but also pushing companies to find new and creative ways to use solar panels.

Taiwan remains the potential trigger — perhaps the only trigger — of an all-out war between China and the United States, but we should be wary of how a conflict over trade can play out even as it emerges from politicians’ well-meaning desire to achieve domestic purity. -The tech industry can deteriorate relations between countries and push towards zero-sum thinking. And the greatest risk of mitigation-fueled violence, we must be clear, is not to the citizens of America or China or Europe. Over the past month, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen its worst rebel fighting in a decade, as groups allegedly backed by Rwanda seek to lay claim to the country’s minerals. The Wall Street Journal Recently reported. Congo produces two-thirds of the world’s cobalt and has the largest reserves of tantalum, a metallic element used in capacitors.

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At the same time, the old idea of ​​a climate war has not disappeared. The past year has shown how climate impacts such as drought can raise the prices of key commodities, fuel inflation in the rich world and food shortages elsewhere. traditional Energy sources such as fossil fuels are more likely to cause such a conflict than renewables or climate technology, Dan Wang, a technology analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, a China-based economic research firm, told me. China depends on oil and natural gas from abroad; The United States has become a large and growing exporter of natural gas to the country. If the United States cuts off those exports—as it did with oil to Japan in the run-up to World War II—the risk of a major conflict could become even more serious.

For years, climate advocates have argued that their problem should be at the center of economic and social policymaking. Climate is everything, they said. Well, to some extent, they won: decarbonization is at the center of how the US, China and Europe envision the future of their economies. Climate advocates have won a seat at the table that decides matters of life and death in state and society. The progress the world has made; How far do we have to go?


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