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Following the cataclysmic events that marked the end of World War II, the World witnessed a profound transformation. The devastation let by this global community was etched into the annals of history, serving as a stark reminder of humanity’s capacity for destruction. Yet, from the ashes of this war-torn world arose a glimmer of hope – the birth of the United Nations in 1945. The United Nations emerged as a beacon of cooperation, a symbol of our collective commitment to prevent further global catastrophes. Its framework allowed for the addressing of various global issues, including conflict resolution, health and environmental concerns, education and cultural promotion, territorial expansion, peaceful military interventions and nuclear proliferation.

The UN, by default has succeeded in stopping another global conflict to date. It has succeeded in galvanising the world to respond to environmental catastrophes, natural disasters, hunger, and epidemic. The UN has taken a front seat in the fight against Climate Change, but global response to this probable existential threat to normal life here on Earth is largely dependent on good faith promises from member nations.

The United Nation has not had much success in curbing expansionist military incursions in many hotspots around the world. This is partly because the UN has no military force of its own. Whenever one is created, it is basically a toothless police force strictly designed for peace keeping and contributed by some member nations. The failure is also in part due to the complicity of some of the members of the UN Security Council in these conflicts, the same body that was meant to strike down international conflicts decisively. With the respective veto powers of the five permanent members, the Security Council is perfectly structured to never reach a consensus on issues where their own national interests are involved. This subjective power ushered in the fractured state that the UN in became in the 20th Century when ideological battles and wars were fought between the USA and the Western Democracies on the one hand, and the USSR and the Eastern Block of Communist countries on the other hand.

Post World War II and until the last days of 1991, the World was in the throes of the Cold War between the USA and USSR with their allies firmly in tow. So much energy and resources were poured into this war that the World saw the biggest arms race this planet had not seen previously. Having deployed the atomic bombs in Japan to bring all conflicts of the second World War to an end in 1945, the USA was ahead of the pack with this weapon of mass destruction and all other antagonists and allies alike were rushing to acquire similar nuclear capabilities for themselves. The power blocks emerged as USA, USSR, GREAT BRITAIN, CHINA, and FRANCE. India joined the Club in 1974, followed by Pakistan in 1998. Sometime before these dates, perhaps as early as late in 1966, Israel too joined the Club but kept it a secret from the public. All these happened despite the fact that the UN had in 1957 set up the International Atomic Nuclear Agency (IAEA) a watch dog body that was meant to advice and advance peaceful use of nuclear power, while keeping a watchful eye on rogue states seeking to militarize atomic power. To date other nuclear power
entrants include North Korea. Iran appears not to ye far behind in acquiring one. And if it does, Saudi Arabia might follow too. Japan only needs a change in its constitution before taking the nuclear steps if it feels threatened by North Korea and China. So too is Germany (quite remote actually) if Russia continues with its bluster and sabre rattling in Europe. There is South Korea who is in a dormant truce in its war with North Korea. If the South at any time feels not satisfied with its defence pact with the USA, they will most likely head in the nuclear arms direction.

The short period we have had at er the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR has thankfully afforded the World the opportunity to address another existential threat to the planet Earth. That threat is Climate Change. Quoting from Climate Change History, a narrative by History.com Editors; “Climate change is the long-term alteration in Earth’s climate and weather patterns. It took nearly a century of research and data to convince the vast majority of the scientific community that human activity could alter the climate of our entire planet. In the 1800s, experiments suggesting that human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases could collect in the atmosphere and insulate Earth were met with more curiosity than concern. By the late 1950s, CO2 readings would offer some of the first data to corroborate the global warming theory. Eventually an abundance of data, along with climate modelling and real-world weather events would show not only that global warming was real, but that it also presented a host of catastrophic consequences”.

Through dogged persistence by researchers and environmentalists who struggled to explain the weather induced catastrophes that were becoming alarmingly regular, the issue of climate change and environmental protection gained more attention within the UN in the latter half of the 20th century. One of the significant milestones in addressing this was the signing of the treaty; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), by 154 countries in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The UNFCCC coming into force in 1994 laid the groundwork for subsequent international agreements and efforts to combat climate change.

The next most notable and impactful agreement that followed this historic treaty was the Kyoto Protocol, established in 1997, which set legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries. Later, the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 by 194 parties (193 countries and 1 entity, the European Union), became a landmark treaty under the UNFCCC. It brought nearly all nations of the world together in a shared commitment to combat climate change and limit global warming. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to keep global temperature rise well below 2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to limit it to 1.5 Celsius with time.

Having reached these historical thresholds, how are the individual countries and united ideological and economic blocks dealing with either of these two threats?

With the drums of war sounding in almost all continent of the world and with the climate issues long pushed to the other rooms with no elephant, these three part articles will bring into discussion once again the fears and anxiety that I have shared in this column follow by my thoughts in the last 40 years. Next week, part 2 will examine the threat of nuclear war. 

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