Perhaps among the most contentious issues that face the leaders of the G20 countries face at their two-day summit in Hamburg beginning today is that of global warming. As the countries most responsible for the energy profligacy that is behind the global rise in average temperatures, the G20 countries, which consists of the G8 countries (the world’s eight largest economies) plus the 12 emerging economies, have the greatest part to play in the problem, which is an existential threat for mankind. However, one of the most interesting problems is that the representative of the largest economy, the USA, its President, Donald Trump, doesn’t believe it’s happening, that it’s a Chinese conspiracy meant to kill US growth, and thus stop the USA from becoming great again.

There lies the problem, at two levels. First, the rejection of scientific evidence is unparalleled in the history of the West. Trump’s argument is not based on an acceptance of the argument, but a rejection of the remedy by a tweaked interpretation of the findings. It involves a rejection of the findings themselves. That rejection is based on a kind of counter-elitism, one which rejects the scientific establishment that made the findings and then interpreted them as elitist, liberal and probably Democrat, and has been symbolised by President Trump having pulled the USA out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change. The withdrawal from an Accord meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was because the USA was not permitted to grow as much as it could. The withdrawal was immediately condemned by China and the European Union. Both will also be present at the G20 Summit.

The EU and China have supported the Accord not just because they have been left with more space to grow, but because they agree with the science underlying the Paris Accord. This should bring the realisation that global warming does not merely threaten the growth that has been so far achieved by the human race, but its very existence. At one level, President Trump’s anti-intellectual refusal to accept scientific fact threatens the whole concept of growth, the entire post-Enlightenment placing of science in the place of religion as the core of the belief system. At a more practical level, if Trump is left to his own devices, the USA will alone cause the climate change that will destroy all of mankind.

Before that happens, extreme climate events will become more frequent. Indeed, they already have. The floods in Pakistan in 2010, which led to 2000 deaths, may well mark the beginning of a pattern than represent a mere aberration. At bottom, the EU argument is also economic. Such events will occur all over the world, but will impact the Third World more, not just because it has more people crammed into coastal areas, but because the West will have to face calls to provide help to deal with the issue. The 2010 floods are a case in point. It was the EU which gave Pakistan tariff concessions as a form of post-flood aid. Not the USA.

Another result of extreme weather events is the creation of refugees, both as economic migrants and as political refugees. There has not been enough emphasis on the civil war in Syria having resulted from an economic crisis caused by global warming affecting agriculture because of reduced water availability. Also, there is a crisis in the Sahel, that part of Central Africa which is on the edge of the Sahara Desert, and which is spreading, making an already marginal agriculture even more parlous. That crisis is causing economic migration from Central Africa north, to Libya mainly, and then across the Mediterranean to Italy. The repeated reports of large numbers of passengers being drowned partially conceals the larger number of successful migrants. True, some are fleeing a ravaging of their Sahelian homes similar to the violence that is forcing so many Syrians to become refugees, but the large majority are economic migrants.

It must be noted that the EU has to act as the front line of the West in facing this consequence of global warming, not the USA, nor China, which President Trump blames for claiming it exists. In both of the cases mentioned, though it is Third World countries which have had to face the direct impact of extreme weather events or climate change, it is the EU which has either had to give the actual tariff concessions or handle the actual refugees. The EU will plead for a distribution of the refugees, but the USA is demonstrating an obduracy, where it will not accept refugees.

The question is then posed as to what happens when the EU itself is hit by extreme weather events. This impoverishment is apart from that coming from having to deal with Third World extreme weather events. True, the EU is wealthy, but the impact of global warming will arrive probably sooner than anyone thinks. To take only one example, coastal areas will be flooded as melting polar ice caps make sea levels rise. While many coastal inhabitants will flee inland, island nations will be totally submerged, with no ‘inland’ for their citizens to flee to. The Maldives is a leading example; it could be entirely flooded by the end of the century. Where will its people go? Not Trump’s problem, for he will almost certainly be dead by then. Indeed, so will virtually all of the G20 leaders at the Hamburg Summit.

Part of the reason why the USA pulled out of the Paris Accord is this: There are no immediate consequences. No one seems sure when the limit to producing greenhouse gases will be reached. Some scientists argue it already has been. That implies that no effort will suffice, which has led some scientists, including iconic astronomer Stephen Hawking, to say that a new planet must be found, and fast, if mankind is to survive. President Trump has been too canny to announce that the USA will make or spearhead such an effort, analogous to the 1961 announcement to Congress by President John F. Kennedy that the USA would put a man on the moon.

An interesting aspect is the bilateral manoeuvring preceding, and at, the Summit. Though only a sideline meeting, President Trump’s with Russian President Vladimir Putin is already acting as a focus of attention, not least because of the controversy over Russian contacts at home. Less painful at home, but causing great angst among Pakistani policymakers, was the pre-Summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where the two got on like a house on fire.

His other crucial meetings are with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinpeng. The former is being touted as a replacement for the leadership of the West; the latter as that for doing something about climate change. Not to forget that China must rein in North Korea before Trump, Xi, Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un blow up the world between them. Perhaps President Trump should realise that walking into so much disapproval might well mean that one is wrong. He should realise that by challenging the scientists, he is challenging a core Western value, not just a worldview. Incidentally, that has created a problem for the Pakistani establishment. How does it please the USA? By ascribing global warming to a conspiracy by its best friend?

n             The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive

editor of The Nation.

The EU and China have supported the Accord not

just because they have been left with more space to grow, but because they agree with the science underlying the Paris Accord.