(CN) — A mixed – and often muted – reaction around the world to the United Nations’ latest dire report on the dangerous speed and voracity of global warming is a jarring reminder of just how difficult it will be to rein in carbon emissions on a planet with 7.9 billion people.
In Europe and the United States, where global warming is now a top concern for a public spooked by extreme weather, major news outlets ran scary banner headlines about the stark warnings of “irreversible” sea level rise and other “unprecedented changes” contained in a report on Monday issued by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body made up of scientists around the world studying global warming.
Reacting to the report, many politicians in Europe and the U.S. issued urgent statements about the need to curb carbon emissions by eliminating the use of coal, investing in renewable energies and putting new taxes on fossil fuels. But leaders elsewhere in the world were mostly silent.
A review by Courthouse News of newspapers and news agencies around the world reveals that the new U.N. report is barely making headlines in many places where climate change appears to be just one problem among so many others – such as civil wars, conflict between superpowers, the coronavirus pandemic, famine and societal unrest.
In China, the U.N. report was hardly mentioned by major newspapers and state-run news agencies. Instead, Chinese media such as Global Times, the People’s Daily and Xinhua, focused on a new wave of coronavirus infections in China, the country’s successes at the Olympic Summer Games and the threats posed by a U.S. engaged in an all-out campaign to contain China’s rise.
With its vertiginous economic success, China has become a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and it must play a major role in reducing emissions for there to be any success at stopping the planet from excessive heating.
In recent years, the communist nation of 1.4 billion people has developed a plan to reduce its carbon emissions. China, which serves as the world’s factory in so many areas, has vowed to reach so-called net zero by 2060 but it also projects to continue belting out an increasing amount of carbon emissions until at least 2030, when it says its emissions will peak. In other words, China plans to do its part, but slowly.
Chinese media, though, is not alone in largely ignoring the U.N. report. News outlets in Russia, Japan, India, the Middle East and South America also gave it scant attention, the review of global news outlets shows.
In India, like elsewhere, if the U.N. report was mentioned at all it got treated like just another news story. The English edition of the Dainik Jagran, India’s second-biggest newspaper and the world’s fifth largest newspaper in terms of circulation, ran an AFP news story. The Hindi version of the newspaper appeared to not even mention the report, though it has run numerous stories about how climate change is causing dangerous flooding and landslides in the Himalaya mountains.
With 1.3 billion people, India is the world’s second most populous nation. Like China, it has a national plan to reduce emissions and uphold the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The landmark Paris Agreement made it legally binding on the world’s nations to prevent the planet from surpassing the threshold of additional warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels. The planet has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius.
India is rapidly modernizing and it has become the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter. But there are hopes that India is on the right path because its new modernization is also taking place with massive investments in renewable energies, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. nonprofit.
In Japan, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the most circulated newspaper in the world with about 9 million copies, ran a brief about the report. Instead, the paper was crammed with news about the Tokyo Summer Games, which ended on Sunday.
In Israel, the Haaretz newspaper ran a Reuters article late in the day, but the paper’s focus was on a rise of coronavirus infections in Israel and the multitude of threats and conflicts in the Middle East.
Russian media too gave the report only glancing coverage. Indeed, RT, the Kremlin-run English-language news and television outlet, even ran an opinion piece saying a warmer planet will benefit Russia. RT, which stands for Russia Today, is criticized by many for spreading misinformation, though its audience is large and it has lured a stable of American celebrities and journalists onto its roster, including former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges.
“The West’s insistence that climate change will be terrible for everyone is just an ideology,” Artyom Lukin, a professor of international relations at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia, espoused on RT. “In reality, as with all things, some people will gain and others will lose. Russia, it seems, could emerge in a far stronger position.”
Lukin argued that a warmer Siberia is not going to be so dire as Western media predict. He cited studies suggesting that a warmer planet will make it easier to farm in the coldest parts of Russia, opening up much of Siberia to increased population and allowing Russia to become a major agricultural center while other parts of the world that are now agricultural powerhouses wilt away as temperatures get hotter.
Until recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed skepticism about global warming and much of the Russian population showed little interest in it, mostly because the effects of climate change seemed remote. But this attitude is shifting following massive wildfires in the past two years in Siberia.
Russia depends heavily on its exports of natural gas and oil, making it very reluctant to curb its emissions. Its pledges to uphold the Paris Agreement are seen as very weak, according to a report from Climate Action Tracker, a Berlin-based consortium of research groups.
More recently, Putin has spoken about how climate change is real and he’s included the issue into his speeches. One major problem facing Russia is that permafrost found in northern Russia may thaw and undermine bridges, roads and other infrastructure.
In Europe and the U.S., the response to the report was immediate and urgent sounding.
“The science has been certain for decades, but the latest report makes it abundantly clear – the climate crisis is not only here, it is growing increasingly severe,” said John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate. “What the world requires now is real action. All major economies must commit to aggressive climate action during this critical decade.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chimed in too, saying the report was “sobering reading” and that coal must be consigned to history. He said it is necessary for a “shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline.”
In Germany, the Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said: “The report confirms in an impressive way the connection between man-made climate change and weather extremes.”
But even in the West, where fear and even panic over climate change are growing, there are serious doubts about whether the lofty rhetoric from politicians will translate into actions.
The U.N. report, which predicts warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius is nearly unavoidable, will serve as the basis for talks among world leaders in November to tackle the climate change emergency. The U.N. Climate Change Conference will take place in Glasgow and national leaders are expected to produce updated plans on how they will get their nations to meet the mandates set out by the Paris Agreement.
“The single-biggest factor driving climate change is already well known – burning fossil fuels. One solution – a transition to clean energy – has been welcomed by many countries, but how to get there is still not settled,” wrote Colm Quinn, a writer for Foreign Policy magazine, in a briefing note.
He said China, the European Union and the U.S. “are all following different pathways to reducing carbon output.” But he questioned whether the plans will have the effect hoped for.
“Despite grand proclamations of carbon neutrality by 2050, U.S. plans for sweeping climate legislation remain the subject of political arm-wrestling,” Quinn wrote, citing the opposition President Joe Biden is facing from Republicans.
He said the EU’s goal of a 55% carbon reduction by 2030 and overall neutrality by 2050 “is the most ambitious of the three powers.”
“However, EU proposals must still be approved by member states as well as the European parliament, a process that could slow down and ultimately dilute ambitions,” Quinn said.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.