Commentary: Why global climate cooperation can be hampered by tribalism

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So, average growth will probably need to slow down. At the same time, however, the ratio of consumption to investment must change, because massive resources will be needed to address climate change, as well as meet other social and development goals, such as reducing inequality.

The good news is that global actors, including the International Monetary Fund, increasingly recognise the need for systemic change. And China has quietly stopped targeting GDP growth – a sign that sustainability is now being prioritised over the blind pursuit of higher output.

But, as Gilding recognised, such a systems change will be exceptionally difficult, not least because growth is currently hard-wired into profit plans, debt contracts, consumption decisions, and public policies.

The shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world complicates the situation further, because no single power can take responsibility for making tough decisions about global action.

Add to that the zero-sum logic of a new cold war, and systemic change becomes all but impossible. And intensifying tribalism is making that outcome increasingly likely. For example, China views US concerns about its actions in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan as nothing more than a bid to undermine its sovereignty.

Diverting resources from addressing domestic inequities to pursuing an arms race is a tribalist response.

Beyond fueling great-power competition, tribalism has made rational negotiations harder at the national and local levels. As Amy Chua, Reuben E Brigety II, and others have observed, tribalism has fractured US politics, fueling social polarisation and leading to gridlock on many urgent issues.

The gutting of the Biden administration’s US$5.4 trillion spending plan is a case in point. When it comes to climate action, gridlock at both the national and global levels is a nightmare scenario.

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