With the climate talks coming up in Scotland in November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been talking about climate change more. It’s a late bid to make up some ground perhaps, and ensure that he has enough credibility to influence negotiations.
Commentators have noted that he is trying to establish the UK as a leader on climate change, a claim that we often make as a country. Johnson has made it very explicitly: “We want to see world leaders follow our lead,” he said after announcing climate targets earlier this year.
Across the Atlantic, Joe Biden’s new climate policies are often described as the US picking up the mantle of climate leadership after the Trump years. Here’s the Brookings Institute for example, on how the US can ‘return’ to credible climate leadership.
I think we should interrogate this idea. I’m not going to answer the following questions. I’d just like to put them out there for us to bear in mind. I think we should ask them – publicly as much as possible – whenever we hear claims to authority from leaders in rich countries.
- Why does the West feel entitled to lead on climate change?
- What is the legacy of Western leadership on climate change so far?
If you think you have good answers to those questions, ask how satisfactory they would sound if you were from a country that was colonised.
It comes naturally to people like Boris Johnson to assume that they should be in charge, so we should ask why they think they are qualified to lead on something as important as climate change.
After all, it was Britain that developed fossil fuelled industry and then exported it to the world. It is the capitalist growth imperative that keeps the fossil fuel industry going even though we have known for decades that it is ultimately suicidal. It is the Western powers that built the international institutions that have so far been inadequate to the task of slowing emissions. So what makes us think that this system of government, these patterns of thought, will now lead us to the solutions?