Friday, July 19, 2024

Scoring own goals

As stark as the message was when the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a group of world leaders gathered for international climate talks on November 7 to either “co-operate or perish”, he was merely repeating a warning that the science community has been sounding for years now. Of course, that doesn’t lessen in any way the gravity of said impending danger. In the words of the UN chief, the world is now on a highway to climate hell. This year’s annual UN climate conference, known as COP27, comes as leaders and experts have raised increasing alarm that time is running out to avert catastrophic rises in temperature. Already, Fiji’s radical plan to move the country ~ to relocate communities whose homes will soon be, or already are, underwater ~ has caught the attention of the entire world. The 130-page document is considered the most thorough plan yet devised to tackle one of the most urgent consequences of the climate crisis. Last month, the UN released a new flagship report on climate change indicating that harmful carbon emissions from 2010-2019 have never been higher in human history ~ with scientists arguing that it is ‘now or never’ to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The report warned that efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius by 2100 (from what it was in the 1850s) were badly falling short of what’s needed to save the planet. At least 1.1° Celsius of it has already happened. Even if countries keep their pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions made under the Paris Agreement ~ itself a tall order ~ we would still be on track for a rise of around 2.5° Celsius by the end of this century, it cautioned. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that heat-trapping exhaust had to be cut by 43% if the global community is to meet the Paris goal of 1.5° cap on global warming. However, the grim reality today is that annual emissions are yet to peak and we cannot expect a dip until the end of this decade ~ that’s the conclusion provided by scientists. The message is loud and clear: This is not fiction or exaggeration. The world, we are repeatedly told, is not doing enough to decelerate its path to climate disaster. It is what science tells us will result from the current global energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming on the double. High-emitting Governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames by continuing to invest in climate-choking industries. Scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate effects. An increasing share of emissions can be attributed to towns and cities, the report’s authors continued, adding just as worryingly, that emissions reductions clawed back in the last decade or so have been less than emissions increases, from rising global activity levels in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and buildings. As a recent study by the World Meteorological Organisation found, atmospheric levels of the three worst gases ~ carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide ~ reached record highs in 2021. Missing even the outer UN target of a 2° warming cap would set us up for catastrophic weather disruptions, from droughts and heat waves to freak storms and punishing floods, with large swathes of planet Earth turning unliveable and numerous species pushed into extinction. For many people, the climate crisis is already playing out. In India too, heat waves have damaged essential food crops even as rainfall patterns turn unstable. As frequently reminded, we have experienced or are experiencing the damaging effects of climate change here in Nagaland too. The most vulnerable are always the hardest hit. What’s needed is the political will, even at the local level, to live up to collective responsibility. Simply designating a Department of Forest, Environment and Climate Change ~ without actually doing anything to mitigate the impending climate disaster ~ is suicidal.