Climate diplomacy is winning its fight against a zero-sum mindset

Climate diplomacy is winning its fight against a zero-sum mindset

There is growing international realisation that acting decisively is an investment not a cost

Is that the cavalry coming over the hill? As scientists and pharmaceutical companies charge in with the promise of a Covid-19 vaccine, another battalion may be stepping up to save the climate. Joe Biden’s election as US president and China’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060 bring hope that next year’s UN climate summit might break with tradition and actually act to curb emissions. With Japan and South Korea joining the EU in pledging to reach net zero by 2050, that means two-thirds of the world economy is now in play.

Until now, climate diplomacy has battled a zero-sum mindset. Many countries have liked to sound green at summits, while delaying action and freeriding on others’ efforts. But there is a growing realisation that climate action is an investment not a cost — a vital insurance policy against wildfires, floods and other natural disasters.

If global temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, we all lose — just as we all lose if the world fails to contain Covid-19. The Chinese Communist party appreciates that as much as Brussels, although it is not yet clear how China will wean itself off coal given how much it still intends to burn.

The pandemic was a reminder of how fatally linked countries are to each other, but it also showed that early unilateral action pays off. New Zealand didn’t wait around to close its borders against the virus. For real progress to be made on climate, lofty long-term pledges must be converted into detailed plans for this decade.