Climate Change: Now or Never
When it comes to combating climate change, the time to act is now or never. In countries across the world, people on the streets and scientists from the labs are sending out this message to their rulers loud and clear. To deliberate upon the gamut of inter-related issues dealing with climate change and agree on concerted, meaningful action, about 150 world leaders are now assembled in Paris. Thanks to a global economy powered by fossil fuels, the Earth is about 1 degree celsius hotter on average than it was in pre-industrial times. Negligible though this difference may seem, it has triggered destructive storms, floods, landslides, droughts and associated phenome around the world. Polar ice caps are fast melting, glaciers retreating, ocean temperatures spiking and sea levels rising to threaten coastal communities and low-lying countries. The latest data from World Meteorological Organisation have shown that the current year 2015 may end up as the warmest year on record. But once the average global surface temperatures rise above the 2 degrees celsius mark, a point of no return may be reached. Scientists warn that this may be a ‘tipping point’ beyond which ruway climate change will melt more ice at the poles and drive sea levels ever higher. The Earth may then react in unpredictable, catastrophic ways to offset three centuries of man-made changes to climate. There is a real possibility that after 3-4 generations, this planet may become a very difficult place to live upon. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already sounded the warning that the 2 degree celsius mark will be breached if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced to zero between now and 2100.
This means that the intertiol community will have to give up burning fossil fuels like petrol, diesel, gasoline and coal, which releases enormous quantities of heat-trapping carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. It will be an expensive proposition to find and switch over to a clean, renewable energy source (and thereby a low-carbon economy) at short notice. The climate meets at Rio, Kyoto and Copenhagen failed to arrive at a universal, legally binding agreement; but mounting scientific evidence of climate change has lent an urgency to the Paris meet. Already, the US has pledged to cut emissions 26 percent as per 2005 levels, while the EU has promised 40 percent cuts as per 1990 levels — to be effective in fifteen years by 2030. By that time, India has promised 33-35 percent emission cuts as per 2005 levels, as well as having 40 percent of its installed power plants operating on non-fossil fuel sources. Chi has promised its carbon-dioxide emissions will peak by 2030 and decline thereafter. Though about 180 countries have submitted tiol action plans to limit emissions, the question is — will all these commitments be enough? Even if the intertiol community agrees to tremendous give and take and all countries stick to promised emission cuts, global temperatures will still rise 2.7 to 3 degree celsius by 2100. The increased levels of carbon-dioxide already in the atmosphere will take centuries to stabilise by the tural process. Till that time, climatic disasters will continue unless mankind finds effective solutions to mop up the excess carbon-dioxide. So the Paris meet may have to devise a ‘review mechanism’ to raise emission targets further and ramp up action in the future. Since extreme weather conditions will hit poor countries the hardest, with countries like Bangladesh and Maldives even facing submergence under rising seas, there has to be a world body mechanism in place to help.
Then there is the question of fincial and technological help to poor countries, so that they avoid the path rich countries took of polluting their way to development. It has been estimated that on average, an American or a European has adversely impacted the environment 16 times more than an Indian or a Chinese individual. If developing countries now follow the same destructive growth model, the Earth will choke up. These countries argue that they did not create the pollution or greenhouse gases mess — so rich countries should help them clean up, as well as compensate them for their sacrifices in being forced to adopt sustaible but costlier growth models. On his way to Paris, Prime Minister rendra Modi stated that with science progressing and altertive energy sources becoming available, rich countries are now insisting developing countries should bear equal responsibility. ‘Just because technology exists does not mean it is affordable and accessible,’ Modi has pointed out. Developed countries have pledged contributions of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020, which is yet to materialise, so the Paris meet has its task cut out to make developed countries bear up to ‘climate justice’ and ‘differentiated responsibilities’. Meanwhile, parallel to the Paris climate talks, there has been two significant initiatives to take the solar energy route, with India figuring prominently in both. The first is at government level, with India and France launching the Intertiol Solar Alliance of over 100 sunshine-rich countries lying between the tropics. This grouping will negotiate en-bloc to wrest better deals from investors in the renewable energy market, particularly in fince and technological support. The second initiative is by the corporate sector, with top investors like Bill Gates, Richard Branson Mark Zuckerberg, Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata coming together to launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Along with Mission Innovation, this initiative aims to deliver clean, reliable and affordable power from the research lab to the market. The future of the Earth is hanging by a thread, but the Sun may yet show the way.