Earth Day this year has become special with world leaders putting their sigtures to the climate pact they negotiated in Paris last December. The United tions has proudly announced that it is the first occasion when an intertiol pact has been signed on the first day by as many as 171 tions. Of course, the pact will have to be ratified domestically. Once it is done by at least 55 percent member tions, it will assume the force of intertiol law. For a change, environment activists were not out on the streets this Earth Day protesting the indifference and iction of world leaders to wrenching global climate change, as they have been on earlier years. A degree of sobriety seems to have sunk in, despite politicians like US Republican Party presidential contender Dold Trump still doubting there is such a phenomenon as climate change. This hardline is reminiscent of former US President George Bush torpedoing the 1992 Kyoto climate protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions. People all over the globe are now seeing devastating climate changes accelerating within their lifetimes, when geologically speaking, such changes should have acted out over millions of years. March this year was the warmest on record, with global temperatures 1.07 degrees celsius hotter than the 20th century average, as confirmed by Japan, US and UN meteorological agencies. While 2015 was the warmest full year for Earth, 2016 has been marked by the warmest start to a year since record keeping began. As for extreme weather phenome, the strongest ever hurricane for both the northern and southern hemispheres have already been recorded this year. Northern India is in the grip of a fierce heat wave that has come two months earlier, while California in US is going through an unprecedented continuing drought.
There are now real concerns that even as the world community is getting around to acknowledge it has a gargantuan challenge on its hands, the clock may already be ticking too fast towards irreversible climatic and environmental change. The major problem according to most experts is that countries will have to sprint fast to meet a short-term deadline by 2030 to limit rise in global temperature by 2 degree celsius, as well as a longer term deadline by 2050 and onwards to the end of this century to further bring down the temperature. In the last quarter century as countries bickered over the reality of climate change and who will shoulder the costs and provide the required green technology, the levels of solar heat trapping carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere kept building up inexorably. This unleashed heat waves, began melting polar ice caps and raised sea levels. So even as island tions like Maldives and Madagascar are pressing to lower the cap on global temperature rise from 2 degree to 1.5 degree celsius, the UN itself is estimating that the Earth would warm by around 2.7 degree celsius. But that would be sufficient to trigger most of the climatic upheavals feared, warn experts. Mindful of the Kyoto fiasco, the dealmakers in Paris refused to set hard and fast targets this time, allowing countries to fix their own emission cuts and draw up climate action plans. What this means is that the world community will not be able to react swiftly in unison to climate change. There is still no clarity among leading polluters US, Chi, European Union, India, Russia and Japan as to how to phase out fossil fuels completely, find altertive power that is clean, and set the foundations of a zero-carbon economy by 2050. Political leaders will need the support of the corporate groups as well as activist groups, which have hitherto been on opposite sides.
As for India, it has its task cut out to cut its carbon emission by 35 percent as well as generate two-fifth of its power from non-fossil fuel sources. Last year, Prime Minister rendra Modi had set an ambitious target of generating 1,00,000 MW or 100 GW solar power by 2022 — with 40 GW coming from rooftop solar installations. As part of that target, capacity addition of 12 GW had been targeted this year (2016-17) from solar projects. But the likely figure will be barely half at 5-6 GW, as estimated in a recent report by the solar consultancy group ‘Bridge to India’. The report further says that by 2022, the country may barely generate 57 GW solar power with rooftop solar contribution unlikely to cross 10 GW. However, the outlook need not be pessimistic if the government keeps up the momentum in altertive energy. Power minister Piyush Goyal recently said that due to continuing investment in solar infrastructure, solar power has already become a more cost-effective option than coal-based power. This is significant, as India generates over 60 percent of its power from coal-based thermal plants. With per unit solar energy prices already dropping to Rs 4.34, chances are that by 2020, solar power could be 10 percent cheaper than coal power. If this happens, it could trigger a wholesale shift to solar power in a country where one-fourth of the population is still not covered by the power grid. There could be an added incentive with this clean energy source, as 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. This would require a massive parallel effort to set up ‘carbon sinks’ in the form of forests, water bodies and other tural systems to soak up carbon-dioxide. After signing the Paris climate pact on Friday, Union minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar said an additiol carbon sink of 2.5 billion tonnes would be set up in India. Identified as a frontline country in the struggle for the planet’s sustaible future, India will have to brace for the battle ahead.