As we begin 2019, one of the issues at the fore of world affairs is climate change: not just what is happening and which countries will do what about it but also where it is happening and what is likely to occur as a result. This article from Foreign Policy considers the threats to the current world order posed by climate change:
"What does sovereignty mean when global risks are so unequal? How will countries with a finite life expectancy conceive of politics? And what is the world’s responsibility when the first nations begin to disappear under water? The answers will likely add up to a revolution in global order. ...
"The most vulnerable island states tend to be small. ... Their small scale also means that they are powerless to affect what happens. No renewable energy policy they might adopt will make any difference. It will be the consumption and production of fossil fuel by the great population centers of the West and Asia and the fossil fuel economies of the giant producers—the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia—that will decide their fate.
"The big states have their own economic and political reasons for their reticence. The governments in Brazil and the United States that are boycotting climate change diplomacy are democratically elected. But the violence they are threatening to smaller states is radical. ...
"There is little discussion today of compensating for the impending widespread loss of sovereignty. This development will also affect the basic structure of international relations. Sovereign permanence is a basic assumption of our present global order. Internationally, the assumption that nations have infinite time horizons is the foundation of all ideas of a stable and lasting international community, which structures all international cooperation. Domestically, in any given country, this assumption structures all policy discussions by distinguishing states from the individuals who are their citizens; in extremis, it’s the legitimacy of the state’s permanence that entitles governments to call on their citizens to make the ultimate sacrifice. In mundane terms, it is what gives states their ability to sustain enormous debts on an essentially permanent basis. These basic unquestioned features of our political order are now in jeopardy. ...
"The world must decide how to treat sovereign states when their time horizon becomes limited. What kind of investment can be justified in a state whose life span is numbered in decades? When does lending money for reconstruction after the latest devastating hurricane no longer make sense? These are already questions for sovereign debt markets and ratings agencies. But they will also become basic political questions for the entire international community. And if there is no reinvestment and reconstruction, what then? How will the political systems of ... states react when it becomes evident that they have been doomed to extinction by decisions taken by more powerful and far larger actors in the rest of the world?"
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