Strategy to counter warming

Synthesis Report

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

It is encouraging to hear the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) come out with periodic reports warning of the consequences of global warming. There can be no denying of the disastrous consequences that are already being felt due to climate change but the actions being taken by nations, though to a great extent satisfactory, do not fulfill the requirements that need to be brought in place.

The recently released IPCC Synthesis Report at Interlaken, Switzerland has come forward with a summary of all reports produced since 2015 on the reasons and consequences of global temperature rise due to anthropogenic emissions. Experts are of the opinion that this is the most comprehensive look to date at the causes of global warming, the impacts of rising temperatures are having on people and ecosystems across the world and strategies that need to be adopted to counter this situation. Leading climate scientists of the world said keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius required deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reduction in all sectors.

Keeping in view the planned fossil fuel infrastructure – coal-fired plants, oil wells, factories, cars and trucks – will already produce enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet roughly 20C, these projects need to be cancelled, retired early or otherwise cleaned up to keep warming below that level. The 1.50 C limit can only be achieved “if nations take a quantum leap in climate action”, the UN Secretary General Antonnio Guterres observed and called on countries to stop building new coal plants and to stop approving new oil and gas projects.

“The Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that if we act now, we can secure a liveable sustainable future for all”, the IPCC chair, Hoesung Lee observed. The report underlined that “10 percent of households with the highest emissions per person contributed 34-45 percent of all household emissions while the bottom 50 percent contribute 13 to 16 percent”. India has been emphasising the importance of mindful and deliberate utilisation of natural resources against mindless and wasteful consumption.

Obviously, consumption inequality needs to be addressed through policy, infrastructure and technology access, which is a major message of the report. But to implement such things is an uphill task and not at all practical. The rich would continue to consume more as, not just the Western world, but even countries like India are into unbridled materialism where we need more than we can consume.

It is not just talking of the bottom 25 percent of people globally, but it is also talking about the top 10 percent of the households, who have a disproportionate consumption and contribution to growing emissions. It is significant that the report stressed that fossil fuel use is overwhelmingly driving global warming. In 2019, around 79 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions came from energy, industry, transport and buildings and 22 percent from agriculture, forestry and other land use.

It has rightly been pointed out that at current levels of warming – even after various nations have taken and announced strategic action – food production is starting tocome under strain while pollution levels are on the rise. The world is still producing more food each year, thanks to improvements in farming technologies but climate change has slowed the rate of growth, the report pointed out quite rightly. One cannot doubt the fact that in populous countries like India, food security is at risk as the growth of population is on the rise.

The last conference at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in November brought up the issue of loss and damage, which incidentally is very crucial. As almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, floods, storms and droughts were 15 times higher in vulnerable regions. Experts said that areas like Sunderbans fits the “loss and damage” description because of a sea level rise double the global benchmark, exposure to frequent high intensive cyclones and low socio-economic resilience of its residents.

According to Prof. Joyshree Roy, an economist and one of the authors of the present IPCC report: “The loss and damage impact is going to increase sharply with additional warming . . . coasts and areas like the Sunderbans, already under the climate change hammer, are beyond the coping capacity with an approximate temperature rise of 1.1 degrees over the pre-industrial level”. He rightly pointed out that “mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damage for nature and people, it will provide wide benefits” but all this is possible if warming can be controlled.

However, the actions being suggested may be very difficult to implement in the foreseeable future, specially for the Third World countries like India due to resource constraints and also due to the fact that sufficient funding from the West is not being made available to them. This has put severe financial pressure on the developing world.

In such a situation, the oft-repeated slogan of sustainable development is rather difficult to achieve in view of developmental activities in and around forest areas, thereby disturbing nature. Added to this, as far as India is concerned, it is becoming very difficult to tackle natural disasters like floods, cyclones, affecting lakhs of people who reside near coastal areas and belonging to the lower echelons of society. For them sustainable development is a myth as they are affected almost every year.

India’s efforts in tackling climate change have been carried out to the extent possible, specially in areas like renewable energy but pollution in metros or combating floods remain a big problem. Moreover, if expansion of coal-based plants is stopped, as suggested in the part, it would have a grave impact on the economy. In this connection, it needs to be stated that biodiversity for the country is crucial not just because of the ecosystem services but also because it directly supports the livelihood of large swathes of people and this challenge India must take.

Though the Union Environment Minister recently claimed that India has achieved close to 27 percent of the area under conservation with its protective area network that includes reserved forests, national parks, wildlife, sanctuaries, mangroves, Ramsar sites and eco-sensitive zones, the path to sustainability is a long way to go. Moreso because by 2050, water demand will increase by 40 percent, energy demand by 50 percent and food consumption rise by 25 percent.

Research and innovation need to be explored for more efficient transport and energy policies with an eye on curbing environmental degradation. Though the expertise is available, this is not being utilised so as not to disturb the cozy relationship between politicians and industrialists. But considering the serious consequences of warming, India has to be more vigilant. Thus, the Mission LIFE movement, launched by Prime Minister Modi in October last year, aiming towards environmentally conscious lifestyle must become a reality if we are serious about achieving the sustainable path of growth. — INFA