Environment and International Relationships


By Ismaël El Yamani - Analyst, Ambassadeurs de la Jeunesse

Since the Permian period, 250 million years ago, around 90% of the Earth species have been extinct. Since 1880, temperatures have risen by 0.9°Cwith sea level rising at 17.78 cm, which means that today Atmospheric CO2 is 408.53 ppm, which is higher than the period of pre-industrial revolution. Moreover, 16 of 17 warmest years occurred in the 2000's causing the loss of 281 Gigatons of ice in Greenland and 2016 was the hottest year on record. Thus, what we call climate change can be defined by the abrupt rise of temperatures due to human activity and 97% of the scientists working on this field of expertise agree on this definition.

What could be the link between environmental issues and international relationships ?

Through the facts described in this article, we will see that the link is strong and that many decisions to limit the consequences of rising temperatures are of a geopolitical nature. Countries including the powerful ones have their share to play and some carried out courageous local actions.

Environment and America

  • Costa Rica : An ecological model in Latin America

"Half of our territory is covered by forest and we have an ample system of protected areas that not only protect an important part of the planet's biodiversity, but also sustain important sectors of our economy, as for example tourism"said Carlos Alvarado, President of Costa Rica. Indeed, this country, that is the first to have abandoned its army in 1948 under Jorge Fernandez Ferrer rules due to a civil war, has an area 10 times smaller to that of Spain and 25 times to that of Peru. It is however currently positioned as an ecological model in Latin America. Costa Rica concentrates 5% of the world's biodiversity, runs on 98% of renewable energy and tries to decrease deforestation. As a matter of fact, a National Forest Finance Fund has been created, it is fed by resources coming from volunteer farmers willing to protect their environment and some companies aware of environmental problems. The forest coverage went from 21% in 1987 to 52.3% in 2019. Costa Rica has an annual economic growth of 4% since 2000, which is higher than other Latin America or OECD countries. It is ranked 31st in the Legatum Prosperity Index and has a life expectancy higher to that of the US. However, numerous challenges await this exemplary country. It is ranked 78 on GDP per capita worldwide and is the 5th in Latin America with a GDP per capita of 40% of the average OECD countries; public debt doubled in 10 years with 1 out 3 dollars used to fund the 7.2% deficit. While in 2008, taxes financed 70% of all Central Government expenditures, in 2017 they were only enough to finance 50% and the difference had to be covered with indebtednessdeclared Jorge Corrales Quesada, economist. However, the tax on corporate rate is one of the highest of the world with 30% whereas the labor participation rate is low which might be an explanation. Recent reports about the surge violence in the country worried the government for which drug trafficking is the main cause. Finally, the victory of Carlos Alvarado should not make us forget that an evangelical pastor named Mauricio Alvarado won the first round of the February elections with radical discourses. Unleash angry and radical speeches that are also found in the greatest power in the world.

  • President Donald Trump and the environment

"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," declared President Donald Trump in 2012. When he arrived in the White House, President Donald Trump decided to name Scott Pruitt -that asserts publicly his denial of humans causing climate change-, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scott Pruitt has begun slowly to dismantle the organization by rewriting the government's rulebook on environmental regulations ;and he has cut funding for several programs deemed not useful. He had to resign in 2018 as he was facing to numerous ethics investigations. Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist replaced him and he continued a policy, which weakened the EPA. In the same time, President Donald Trump strengthened the part of fossil fuel and the oil industry in the energy. He declared the following executive order : "The heads of agencies shall review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (collectively, agency actions) that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources".

President Donald Trump assertion is that climate change means a loss of jobs; however, now US clean energy jobs surpass fossil fuel jobs by 5 to 1. Moreover, despite the US President pledge to focus on American resources to strengthen American industry, Keystone, the new US pipeline will use steel from Canada and not from the US. The energy policy of President Donald Trump that focused on fossil energy could also affect health of American people. Canada oil pipelines spilled 2,000,000 liters on aboriginal land; an Iowa pipeline leaked nearly 1,400,000 gallons of diesel (64,000,000 L) and another one leaked 18000 gallons (82,000 L) of crude oil onto Kingfisher co farmland. Indeed, these elements demonstrate possible harmful effects for crops and people living in these areas. As President Donald Trump won Iowa in 2016, the possible environmental consequences of his energy policy might prevent his potential reelection in this state. Last but not least, President Donald Trump also reversed an executive order of former President Barack Obama which would have made it possibleto respect the US commitments regarding the Paris Climate Agreements.

Yet, it might be accurate to state that President Donald Trump harms the environment but protest marches against his environmental policy are also the existence proofs of an alternative thought in the US, despite the huge place taken in this country by cars as a means of transport.

Geopolitics of cars, sustainability and cities

  • The decline of cars

"When you put all these trends together, you're going to see a cap on personal vehicle ownership start to emerge. We are near "peak car"", declared Trevor Noren, Director at 13D Global Research & Strategy. The "peak car" concept is defined by a maximum of vehicle sales achieved during a fixed period with evidences coming from R&D, needs and consumer appetite that show that they can only decrease. Indeed, there are around 75 million cars sold worldwidesince 1990 with 15 million of employees in automotive sector, knowing that this industry spends more than $100 billion in R&D. German automakersplan to spend $45 billion on electric vehicles in the next three years and Volkswagen, the giant of the German automotive industry, is the third world company in terms of expenditurein R&D behind Google and Apple. The "peak cars" advocates esteem that cars become useless in a context where there is a plethora of modes of collective transport and services such as Uber and Lyft. 

In addition, competition is fierce since Google and Microsoft are planning on investing massively on autonomous vehicles. However, this picture of radical change in the automotive industry needs to be qualified. Indeed, in 1985, in China, there were less than 3% of car owners in the country and they were mostly high ranked officials of the Chinese government. The number of cars in China was less than in London. However, since 1994, China has become the world's largest market that reached 28 million sales in 2016 which is 11 million of cars sold more than in the US. General Motors, the US giant sold more cars in China than in the USA. Due to environmental issues such as air pollution, China proposed a policy aimed at restraining cars sales. Thus, auctions for license plates in some important Chinese cities such as Shenzhen, Beijing or Guangzhou are proposed. It also plans to take up to 6 million vehicles/year that don't meet emission standards off the roads. 

All these improvements have been possible throughout the growth of the Chinese middle class driven by raising awareness on environmental issues. By 2050, 70% of the world population will live in urban areas. For instance, currently in Japan, more than 90% of Japanese live in urban areas, 30% of them live in the greater Tokyo. The city has 38 million inhabitants and the motor vehicles per 1000 inhabitants are higher than in China with nearly steady sales. "Right now, everyone still hopes to sell more cars. I haven't come across a single company that forecasts a decline," says Philipp Kampshoff, a McKinsey partner who specializes in transportation.However, with more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, India piped Germany and became the 4th largest automotive market; the Japanese juggernaut Suzuki owns 50% of the Indian car market. The government plans on building 20,000 km green roads. Last but not least, the 1.1$ billion invested by Daimler, BMW and Tesla to implement in China electric car factories to take into account the Chinese government ambitions towards climate change.

These figures show us not only that the car industry is not in decline in the big countries but that new markets are to develop for greener automobiles, even if the situation could be questionable in other part of the planet.

  • The war against cars

"Más vida, menos humos"declared the Mayor of Madrid about her policy to forbid to use cars that are not hybrid. Indeed, pollution caused the death of 7 million people in the world and concomitantlythe number of people using cars increased heavily in some cities such as Mexico where it has multiplied by 2.5 in 22 years. The objective of numerous cities is to reduce the car traffic. The Madrid system generated many negative externalities. The system is very rigid and make difficult the movement of people, it doesn't reduce car traffic since hybrid cars replace classical ones, and doesn't give to the city council the opportunity to invest in public transport. Londonand Milan opted for an alternative solution. The two cities propose to charge the car users when entering in some areas. Milan even invented an "Area C" where cars are totally forbidden. Manhattan plans to apply this congestion pricing policy around 2020-2021 and the fee should cost from 10 to 15$. In Shanghai, license plates cost around 150,000$ ; it is part of a larger lottery system that is generalized in Beijing. These high prices are due to the rarity of license plates. Indeed, in Beijing only 6460 license plates were available for 12 million of Chinese participants willing to get one. Guangzhou chose to implement a three pillars system: car auctions, public lottery and environmentally friendly measures. The localities used money coming from auctions to improve the roads and public transports. In 1975, the government of Singapore created The Singapore Area Licensing Scheme (ALS).The purpose of this policy was to regulate car traffic with the concept of supply and demand. The supply is the available roads in Singapore and the demand is the traffic density. The more drivers there are on the roads the higher is the price to use them. Restricted Zone of 2.0 square-mile central was identified in the business area as well as a pricing period between 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning; this system was a success as the traffic decreased by 44% from the first year of application. In 1998, the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) replaced the ALS system; the new system is based on a coast that could vary every hour or even half hour depending on the supply and demand, it reduced by 10% to 15% cars congestion.

As seen previously, global warming affects humankind in a largest scale; it could provoke many changes such as scarcity resources, drought, frequent hurricanes, etc. China has taken some initiatives in order to limit the consequences of temperature increase, knowing that the majority of people live close to sea or rivers such as Mekong, the Red River or the Irrawaddy where the consequences of rise of the water level could be terrible. Waves of refugees or failed states could occur in some Asian countries such as Vietnam and lead to important threats such as piracy. The case was demonstrated in Africa where Cameroon, Ethiopia and the conflict belt that links the two countries led to a huge violence and might impede the regional development. Other countries might be the winner regarding increase of temperatures: Russia could access more easily to the oil in Alaska via the Bering Strait; Denmark or Canada could be advantaged for agriculture. Indeed, some of those countries are the top wheat producing and occurrences of drought and flooding in other parts of the world could enhance this position. Last but not least, the military also alerted the White House on the effects of climate change on the world. The possible regional conflicts could push the US to intervene more frequently in the world.

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How to cite this publication :

Ismaël El Yamani, « Environment and International Relationships », Ambassadeurs de la Jeunesse, April 18, 2020.