Climate Change for Us – The Statesman
The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, concluded on 13 November 2021. The Conference was attended by 197 countries, represented by 120 Presidents/Prime Ministers. More than 40,000 private participants, 14,000 observers and about 4,000 media representatives, also attended the conference. All facets of climate change, the science, the solutions, the finances were discussed threadbare. After two weeks of pontification, most countries agreed to achieve climate control targets by 2050, while India proposed to do so by 2070.
Consensus emerged to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels, preferably, to limit the increase to 1.5°C. Significantly, no timelines were prescribed. On the downside, participants noted that limiting global warming to 1.5°C required rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, but according to current predictions, aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels were projected to be 13.7 per cent above the 2010 level in 2030.
Also, not a single penny of the US$100 billion contribution from developed countries, required to help poorer countries make a transition to clean energy and develop climate resilient infrastructure, has materialised. In conclusion, all participants were long on rhetoric but short on commitment. Secondly, everyone looked to set goals far in the future when none of the attendees could be held responsible for their misleading promises. Thirdly, richer countries were unwilling to commit funds for climate control.
Fourthly, COP26 focussed on reducing dependence on fossil fuels but the main sponsors of the Conference, like that of the last Conference, were fossil fuel and finance companies! Climate activists expressed concern about the inclusion of large delegations of industries, particularly big polluting companies, and financial organizations in the conference. Animal and climate justice groups pointed out that almost 60 per cent of the menu at the Conference was made up of high-carbon, meat and dairy products.
Also, business leaders like Jeff Bezos, and politicians like President Biden, Prince Charles, PM Boris Johnson, and Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Glasgow in private jets, belying their promise of reducing carbon emissions. Moreover, no delegate saw climate change from the viewpoint of an affected party; Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA), a term describing groups and territories disproportionately affected by climate change, went almost unrepresented at COP26. What happened outside the conference hall was equally noteworthy.
Protests were organised by climate-change activists who wanted more immediate and farreaching action on environmental preservation. Almost 100,000 people joined in a protest march in Glasgow. According to the Times, around 2 million people around the world protested on 6 November 2021, the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. Leaders of countries with the worst pollution records, Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Jair Bolsonaro, of Amazon de-forestation infamy, skipped the conference.
Queen Elizabeth II, too, was sceptical; in a private conversation she said: “It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.” Leaked documents accessed by the BBC, prior to COP26, revealed massive lobbying to influence the outcome of COP26: wealthy nations like Switzerland and Australia questioned payments to poorer states to enable them to adopt greener technologies. Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia were among countries that asked the UN to moderate its stance on the need to move away from fossil fuels.
Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), a group of 22 countries, including major emitters China, India and Saudi Arabia, asked for the commitment to climate mitigation to be entirely removed from the draft text. Thus, the prognosis is not very encouraging. Climate Action Tracker, a research group monitoring government action for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, concluded that with current policies, global temperature may rise by 2.7°C by the end of the century.
The temperature rise will be limited to 2.4°C, if the pledges for 2030 are implemented, and by 2.1°C if the long-term targets are also implemented. Global warming would be limited to 1.8°C, only if all targets were implemented in their entirety. Probably, as a warning signal, this year had more than its share of extreme weather events. Unusually early heat waves, that brought terrifying wildfires and powerful floods in their wake, were noticed globally. India, Pakistan, China, Europe, Australia, North and South America, all suffered badly.
Heat waves hit the Indian sub-continent in March 2022, right after winter receded. There was no spring season; temperatures crossed 45°C at many places in India, with Nawabshah in Pakistan recording a high of 49.5°C. Breaking all records, Lytton in British Columbia, Canada recorded a temperature of 49.6°C. Similar temperatures were recorded in Mid-Western and South-Eastern USA. Many places in Britain and France recorded temperatures exceeding 40°C.
After early floods, China is facing an unprecedented heatwave and drought, with temperatures at some places exceeding 50°C. Contrarily, after the early heatwave, Pakistan experienced prolonged, torrential rains, described as ‘monsoon on steroids’ by the UN Secretary-General, and the worst floods in its history. The Southern Hemisphere experienced similar heatwaves with Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and certain parts of Brazil, recording extreme temperatures in January 2022. Freak hailstorms have battered Germany and Mexico City, and a severe hurricane season has been forecast for the US. Meteorologists see these events as part of a troubling trend, with one problematic weather condition influencing another, probably as an impact of climate change. The climate apocalypse predicted after half a century, seems to have hastened its arrival.
COP27 is scheduled for November 2022, but there is little hope that the outcome of COP27 would be much different from that of COP26, about which climate activist Greta Thunberg had said: “Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say ‘we’ll do this and we’ll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this’, and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don’t really have a big impact.
We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it.” There are two alternatives before India: either go with the mainstream and make hollow promises with no intention of fulfilling them or try and repair the climate over our own country. Insulation from the Asian landmass, by oceans in the south and the Himalayas in the north, protects us ~ though not totally ~ from depredations of our neighbours. An honest effort to limit pollution and overexploitation of natural resources ~ the major causes of climate change ~ at the national level could yield rich dividends, sooner rather than later.
Fortunately for us, environment protection laws are in place, and it should only be a question of proper implementation. But, unfortunately, the wind is blowing in the opposite direction. A sham progress vs. environment debate has been created; the public is encouraged to put environmental concerns on the backburner. The current, unstated Government policy is of not discouraging environmental transgressions, so much so that if an environmental rule or law stands in the way of Ease of Doing Business, the law is often changed.
Examples are numerous: Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Indian Forest Act, 1927, were amended, as also the Environment Impact Notification and the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification. Moreover, aping the West, a culture of consumerism that encourages mindless exploitation of natural resources is being promoted. Far corners of the country are being opened up by building highways, even in the hills, which have triggered landslides and exposed simple folk to extraneous influences.
Then, plans are afoot to introduce alien commercial plant species in the virgin jungles of the Andamans and the North-East. Stephen Hawking, the eminent physicist and author had warned: “One can see from space how the human race has changed the Earth. Nearly all of the available land has been cleared of forest and is now used for agriculture or urban development. The polar ice caps are shrinking and the desert areas are increasing. At night, the Earth is no longer dark, but large areas are lit up.
All of this is evidence that human exploitation of the planet is reaching a critical limit. But human demands and expectations are ever-increasing. We cannot continue to pollute the atmosphere, poison the ocean and exhaust the land. There isn’t any more available.” We can only hope that our leaders wake up in time to save the earth from a climate catastrophe.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 2 2022, issue.