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Deglobalization Is a Climate Threat

Globalization may have fallen out of favor in recent years, but preserving it is an environmental imperative. Effective, coordinated responses to climate change are being set back by the shrinkage of cross-border trade and investment flows, and by the accompanying rise of isolated regional trading blocs.

CHICAGO – The deliberations at this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) suggest that while policymakers realize the urgency of combating climate change, they are unlikely to reach a comprehensive collective agreement to address it. But there is still a way for the world to improve the chances of more effective action in the future: hit the brakes on deglobalization. Otherwise, the possibilities for climate action will be set back by the shrinkage of cross-border trade and investment flows, and by the accompanying rise of increasingly isolated regional trading blocs.

Deglobalization is being accelerated through a combination of old-fashioned protectionism, newfangled “friend-shoring” (limiting trade to countries with shared values), and geo-strategically motivated bans and sanctions. To see why this trend will frustrate global responses to climate change, consider the three categories of climate action: mitigation (emissions reduction), adaptation, and migration to better conditions. The sequence here is important, because the challenges implied by each category will become more difficult if less is done in the category preceding it. If we do too little on mitigation, we will need more adaptation, and if we do too little on adaptation, we will see more climate refugees fleeing their increasingly uninhabitable homelands.

New international agreements are needed to manage each of these problems. But rising geopolitical rivalries will make mitigation agreements more difficult. How can China and the United States agree to meaningful emission cuts when they both suspect that the other’s top priority is to secure an economic, and hence strategic, advantage?

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