Game of Thrones, Climate Change and the need for stronger Policy Responses

Game of Thrones, the HBO television series which was adapted from George R.R. Martin’s novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire” explores conflict and a power struggles that occur  among seven kingdoms. While war rages on, in the frozen North, an 800-foot wall protects the kingdom from dark forces that live beyond the wall. Despite an unprecedented attack occurs and continues pleas, the seven kingdoms have chosen to turn a blind eye to this threat posed by these forced beyond the wall. Those that have encountered the forces attempt to convince others of the need to prepare for the coming of these forces and to not focus all their energy and resources on the civil war. With their refusal to acknowledge the existence of this common threat, all kingdoms remain in danger.

Game of Thrones and Climate Change

The similarities between this fictional world and its failure to react to the threat that is bigger than the need to gain overall control of the kingdoms can be compared to the failure of global leaders to take the threat posed by climate change seriously.  Over the years, with the expansion of research on climate change has expanded, scientists have warned that temperatures are on the rise due to human activity. According the American Meteorological Society, there is a 90 percent chance that global temperatures will rise by 3.5 to 7.4 degrees Celsius in less than a hundred years. These shifts may seem minimal but will have destabilising effects. Predicted effects include rising sea levels, warming temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns. These changes will threaten food security by affecting crop yields and may lead to over population as changes in climate may drive many to migrate. For a problem that affects all global populations, cooperative responses are necessary. In a world with different actors who have competing agendas and different political histories, responses need to be effective, fair and holistic.

International Responses

The United Nations(UN) has acted towards ensuring that global states tackle climate change. This has included the setting up of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, a body made up of experts who would assess scientific information on climate change. Concerns raised by the IPCC in its first assessment report led to the UN General Assembly establishment of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 and re-enacted in 1992.

Conventions that followed led to the formulation of the Kyoto Protocol . By signing the protocol, parties committed to follow internationally binding emissions reduction targets.  Industrialised countries would be legally obligated to reduce greenhouse emissions by 5 percent by 2008-2012 while developing countries including China, Brazil and South Africa would not face any restrictions but were encouraged to adopt greener policies. The treaty can be judged as a failure in that from the beginning the protocol omitted three countries with the highest share of global carbon emissions. China and India never signed the protocol while the United States signed but never ratified the treaty. Majority of the 20 countries that met their emission targets did not have a high share of emissions. With the absence of the globes biggest culprits, one can question the purpose of the protocol.

kyoto Protocol participation map 2010 | wikimedia commons


Following on from the Kyoto Protocol, all  hope has not been lost as in 2015, 195 global states adopted the Paris Agreement which is the first ever legally binding global climate deal. Led by the United States, nearly every country in the planet put aside political differences to begin the process of tackling climate change. Unfortunately, under a new president’s leadership, the United States has now expressed strong intention to withdraw from the legally binding agreement. In a politically charged letter, President Trump has expressed the strong intention to withdraw from the agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, no country can give notice of its departure until November 4, 2019. The continued insistence to leave and continued requests for negotiation therefore goes against agreed terms. It therefore remains unclear exactly what President Trump is attempting to negotiate.

Moving Forward

Because climate change is a problem that affects all global states, there is a need to regulate the actions and the use of resources by actors. Sacrifices and compromises need to be made, however this may prove difficult. Can developed countries who continually seek to maintain or improve their dominant economic positions sacrifice their position for developing countries who understandably cannot slow down their journey to prosperity? Perhaps there should be some form of penalty system for those who abuse global resources and have a larger ecological footprint? Whatever the case, it remains important for global states, both developed and developing to recognise that climate change poses a threat that goes beyond the need to maintain global dominance. It is our world, that we are damaging collectively. Collective, selfless action is therefore necessary for us to save our planet.

Featured image | A Game of Thrones | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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