Experts and concerned citizens around the world are deeply divided about how to best address the global climate crisis, according to participants in a solutions-focused Doha Debates programme coinciding with the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
The virtual debate hosted by Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates, brought together three renowned speakers and a judging panel of young people. Over 1.5mn online viewers tuned in around the world.
Naomi Klein, an award-winning journalist, bestselling author, and professor of climate justice at the University of British Columbia, argued that urgent and dramatic actions against greed and capitalism must be taken to turn the tide against climate change.
Bjorn Lomborg, a bestselling author and president of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, said that climate change is real, but argued it is not cause for alarm or extreme measures. The way through it, he said, is through innovation and adaptation.
The third speaker, former president of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, argued for what she said would be a more pragmatic approach that called for an immediate reduction in emissions, but also centred the inequalities suffered by the global south. Revolutionary change, she said, was not a realistic goal.
Student voices were featured several times during the programme. Appearing from Glasgow, Sama Ayoub and Abdallah al-Darwish spoke as participants in the Qatari delegation at the UN Climate Change Conference. Ayoub said, “We are the lucky ones. We are voicing our opinions at COP26.” She questioned whether decision-makers would listen to the voices of environmentalists protesting outside the conference. Both answered “yes” when asked, “Do you think we can rise to the challenge of climate change?”
Klein called for “courage to confront corporate rule and greed-based capitalism,” which she blamed for much of the climate crisis. She called on the international community to “rein in the power of transnational capital over our governments, close down the tax havens, ban corporate campaign donations,” and to “kick the oil and gas companies out of the climate negotiations.”
Lomborg rejected the urgency of climate change and said that humanity could survive and even thrive with more green innovation. “Instead of asking everyone in the world to drive less, eat less meat, be colder and poorer — which won’t work — we should focus on green energy innovation and make green energy cheaper than fossil fuels.” He called for increasing spending “to $100 billion a year on innovating better batteries, solar, fission, wind, and other potential solutions.”
Gurib-Fakim branded the climate change crisis “the mother of all our problems, threatening our existence on this planet.” She faulted “destructive industries” that she accused of “destroying the forests in the global south, the lungs of our world.” She said extreme measures against climate change are not a viable proposition and called on world leaders to “tackle greed and inequality, which are the main drivers of our present crisis.”
After hearing from all the speakers, their arguments were summarised and voted on by a judging panel of several dozen young people. Klein’s position was “Now or never, rein in capitalism.” Lomborg’s argument was “Stop alarmism, let’s innovate.” Gurib-Fahim’s stance was “Be realistic, but demand fair policies.” A plurality of the voting panel sided with Klein, at 39%, over Gurib-Fakim’s 31% and Lomborg’s 30%.