Turning a Nelson’s eye to the looming climate catastrophe

There is an urgency as never before to stem climate change as melting glaciers, forest fires and cyclonic storms are displacing and wiping our communities.

Published: 14th November 2021 07:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th November 2021 09:33 AM   |  A+A-


Representational Image. (File Photo)

There is an urgency as never before to stem climate change as melting glaciers, forest fires and cyclonic storms are displacing and wiping our communities. Tuvalu, the 4th smallest nation, a cluster of islands in the Pacific, is in danger of being completely submerged as the rising oceans erode its shores.  Enele Sopoaga, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, expressed fears that very soon the country’s 11,000 inhabitants may become the first climate-change refugees. 

Thousands of miles away, on India’s western coast, Cyclone Tauktae made landfall in May this year over a vast arch from Kerala to Gujarat, killing 91 people and uprooting and flooding hundreds of villages. 

Amit bandre

As the UN-initiated Conference of Parties (COP26) on climate change winds down in Glasgow, 200 countries are scrambling to sign a treaty they hope will save the planet. The push is to slow down the warming of the earth’s surface. But despite the environmental disaster staring at everyone’s face, the mood is despondent. 

Firebrand climate campaigner Greta Thunberg told a rally of young people in Glasgow that the UN climate change summit was “business as usual and blah, blah, blah” and it was “not a secret that COP26 is a failure.” She said the annual emission cuts necessary were not just being implemented. 

As the wrangling intensifies, the draft circulated at the conclave pitches for countries to adopt the old target — to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C. Earlier, a key analysis said temperatures are on track to rise 2.4 deg C in the next couple of decades if the current pace of global warming is not reversed. This will translate into even worse wildfires, floods and community displacement as sea levels rise. 

Other aspects of the draft include agreeing to net-zero emissions — which means reducing emissions to a level that can be absorbed naturally by green cover or neutralized by active intervention. Most important, the latest draft “calls upon parties to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for  fossil fuels”. 

The warring countries are broadly divided introups. The developed world, the West and EU which are pushing on reducing methane emissions, and phasing out fossil fuels. On the other hand there are the BASIC countries — Brazil, South Africa, India and China, as well as the Saudis — that are dependent on earnings from oil or like China and India who have a high use coal for power generation, and are therefore wary about commitments on emission cuts. 

The poorer countries have rejected the first draft accusing the rich of ‘carbon colonialism’. They say the developed world, which is responsible for the environmental crisis in the first place, has reneged on the commitment made a decade ago to transfer $100 billion a year to the developing world for climate action. Will there be a basic common statement? Who cares? In 2014, there was a euphoric common pledge at Paris, which nobody honoured!

India sidesteps targets
Meanwhile, India’s actions are being closely watched as the world’s 3rd largest emitter after China and the US. Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed up in Glasgow setting a target of net zero gas emissions by a distant 2070, a significantly later deadline than other countries. But can such pledges be monitored? Zero-emissions by 2070 is a half a century away. To cut emissions to specific targeted goals, India has demanded $1 trillion in climate finance by 2030, a demand unlikely to be met by the rich countries.

Mr Modi also said India will generate 50% of its electric power from non-fossil fuel sources and increase non-fossil fuel energy generation to 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 from the current level of about 100 GW. The on-ground story is however different. 

India had previously set itself a target of reaching 175GW by next year. This now seems unreachable. Meanwhile, dependency on coal as an energy generator continues with more than 70% of the power coming from this source. While wind and solar energy is being explored as likely alternatives, prospecting and opening new coal mines parallelly continues unabated. 

India’s forests are important ‘carbon sinks’ that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. However, research done by IndiaSpend’s Tanvi Deshpande points out that India’s tree cover has declined by 5% since 2001. India lost 66,000 hectares (ha) or 0.65% of humid primary forests between 2017 and 2019 and 1.93 million ha of tree cover since 2001, an area equivalent to 13 times the size of Delhi. India has also refused to sign the pledge, committed by 130 other countries, to stop deforestation. 

The effects of climate change are catastrophic and are destroying the planet each day. Yet the rulers and planners lazily see it as some distant, esoteric doomsday talk that will somehow go away. Bushfires in Australia and soaring over-40 deg C temperatures in Canada don’t seem to have brought anyone to their senses. 

As Greta Thunberg said in Glasgow: “The people in power can continue to live in their bubble filled with their fantasies, like eternal growth on a finite planet and technological solutions that will suddenly appear seemingly out of nowhere and will erase all of these crises just like that.”


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