‘Nature does not need humans- It is humans that need nature.’
‘Change is inevitable, abnormal change is disastrous.’
‘Normally emergencies are unexpected. Not so climate change’.
‘Human rights supersede all other rights’
Greta Thunberg had become the most recognized face of climate change even before she berated world leaders at the UN Summit in September 2019. This 16 year old ‘Joan of Arc’ who leads the charge for Climate Change had the courage to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to press home the point of reducing the footprints of air travel emissions. She started her campaign last year by demonstrating outside the Swedish Parliament, every Friday, with a sign ‘School Strike for the climate’. In effect she was breaking the Swedish law which makes school attendance compulsory. This brought her to the notice of green activists. She emphatically stated ‘Why should I be studying for a future that soon would be no more, when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save the future?’ Thunberg is not agitating about something the world is not aware of, but notice is being taken of her because she represents the generation which will bear the full brunt of climate change. She has created awareness amongst the young generation, who by their sheer voting strength can become a huge pressure lobby. Let us see whether her campaign brings about any change in outlook and forces Governments to enforce additional climate protection measures. If there is one who genuinely deserves the Nobel Peace Prize it is plucky young Greta Thunberg!
Do world leaders need to be berated by a 16 year old to understand the magnitude of the problem? Changes deep in the ocean or high in the mountains are not always as noticeable as some of the other hallmarks of global warming, such as heat waves on land (Paris touched 42 degrees Centigrade this summer), or wildfires as in the Amazon Rain Forests and Indonesia and alternate floods and droughts in some regions. These places may appear distant but what happens in one region will have ripple effects across the globe.
According to current predictions, the regional temperatures are likely to increase between 3.5°C and 6°C by 2100, leading to significant receding of mountain glaciers across the world by 80 percent. These could totally disappear within the span of this century. This would affect the availability of water for millions of people who depend on meltwater, downstream, for drinking, irrigation for agriculture and production of hydropower from dams.
Some of the starkest problems concern the ocean, where major shifts are already underway. As ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt and push up ocean levels, extreme coastal flooding, that was once rare, has started occurring more frequently. Rising sea levels, threaten to fuel ever more powerful tropical cyclones and floods, further imperiling coastal regions and worsening a phenomenon that is already contributing to storms like Hurricane ‘Harvey’, which devastated Houston. Heat waves in the ocean are expected to become 20 to 50 times more frequent this century, depending on how much greenhouse-gas emissions increase. To cope with these problems, coastal cities will need to build costly sea walls and many people will likely need to move away from low-lying areas. Changes in the oceans threaten to disrupt the complex and often delicate ecosystems that underpin marine environments. The upper layers of the open ocean have lost between 0.5% to 3.3% of their oxygen since 1970 as temperatures have risen. The frequency of marine heat waves — which can kill fish, seabirds, coral reefs and seagrasses — have doubled since the 1980s. Many fish populations are migrating far from their usual locations to find cooler waters, throwing local fishing industries into disarray. The maximum amount of fish in the ocean that can be sustainably caught could decrease by as much as a quarter by this century’s end. That would have sweeping implications for global food security: Fish and seafood provide about 17% of the world’s animal protein, and millions of people worldwide depend on fishing economies for their livelihoods.
In the lead up to the International Day of Peace on 21 September, the United Nations called upon all countries for action to tackle climate change. This was followed on 23 September, by a Climate Action Summit to formulate concrete and realistic plans to accelerate action to implement the Paris Agreement. The Summit focused on the heart of the problem – the sectors that create the most emissions and the areas where building resilience could make the biggest difference. The main stumbling block is the realpolitik of economic progress, which is dependent on consumption of energy. It is perceived that protection of the environment by reducing CO2 emissions would have a deleterious effect on economic development which is dependent on energy consumption, mainly fossil fuels.
China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and despite being the most populous nation also has a very high per capita consumption of fossil fuels (6.4 metric tons). USA ranks second with the highest per capita consumption (15.0 Metric tons). American President Donald Trump has declared his intentions to withdraw America from the strictures of the UN Resolution on Climate Change. India ranks third, but with a low per capita consumption of 1.6 metric tons. Russia is fourth with a high per capita consumption of 9.9 metric tons. The ‘climate change deniers’ see economic opportunities in the degradation of the Polar Ecosystem and the melting of the ice sheet. It will enable America and Russia to exploit the wealth of their ice frozen regions in Alaska and Siberia respectively. Russia, always in search of warm water ports, would benefit as it would get direct North Sea routes from Russia to Europe instead of the extended route of sailing South and reaching European ports via the Suez Canal.
Climate change will have disastrous effects on the fragile ecology of the world, especially in countries whose economies are dependent on agriculture. India will certainly be adversely affected. There will be large-scale uncertainty in rainfall patterns. Floods will become more frequent and severe in the mountainous and downstream areas of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, due to an increase in ‘extreme precipitation events’.
Our Himalayan sentinels in the North are young fold mountains with a fragile ecology. Our glaciers are shrinking and changing weather patterns are adversely affecting agricultural output. Tragedies like the Amarnath flash flood of 2013 are bound to recur. The scarcity of water is hitting the tourist industry of hill stations. Snowfall which was a usual phenomenon has reduced considerably, the capacity of various sources of water. In 2018, Shimla was without water for 10 days. It offers a terrible glimpse of what most of our cities will face. On the other extreme, was the flash flooding of Chennai in 2015. This was the result of climate change and drastic reduction of water bodies which had been encroached upon by land sharks. Bangalore which 30 years back was termed the ‘Air Conditioned’ Garden City now has nothing but air conditioners. It also has the dubious distinction where a lake caught fire. This was because of the inflammable effluents floating on the surface of the lake water.
A substantial part of the PM’s address to the UN General Assembly on 27 September 19, was devoted to the efforts being made in combating climate change, the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and global leadership in solar and renewable energy and campaign against single use plastics. On global warming the PM said that even though India’s contribution to global warming in terms of per capita emissions is very low , it is at the forefront of the response against it. America’s carbon footprint is three times that of India. China is the world’s largest emitter. Despite its huge population its per capita emissions are the largest in the world. The thinly populated Gulf states, despite their low population, are high emitters due to the oil industry. Positive steps in Europe have seen a dip to match their population share. The PM highlighted steps taken to fight climate change, including the 450 GW of renewable energy target and the formation of the International Solar Alliance.
India can bring about a drastic reduction in its carbon footprint by a few measures which can be progressively taken. We need to harness the new revolution of Nanotechnology, use Nano fertilizers, which are non-polluting, instead of chemical fertilizers. Greater research should be made on harnessing alternate power generation methods to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. The vast tracts of railway land and long highways should be utilized for planting local varieties of trees to increase per capita of forest cover. School and college students should plant one tree each and care for it till it becomes full grown. Just planting trees is not enough. They also need to be nurtured. We should preserve our rivers, prevent their pollution and ensure that disposal of the dead is in electric crematoriums instead of wood burning pyres which result in deforestation and smoke pollution. The forest rights of tribals should be ensured as they are the best sentinels of forest lands.
‘Climate Change’ should be an important component of the ‘New Education Policy’. It is an essential element of the global response to climate change. It helps young people understand and address the impact of global warming, encourages changes in their attitudes and behavior and helps them adapt to climate change-related trends. Above all there should be effective and strict enforcement of laws to preserve our environment
Climate change causes clear threats to international peace and security. Natural disasters displace three times as many people as conflicts, forcing millions to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere. The salinization of water and crops is endangering food security, and the impact on public health is escalating. The growing tensions over resources and mass movements of people are affecting every country.
Peace can only be achieved if concrete action is taken to combat climate change. Speaking to young Maoris and people of the Pacific Islands in New Zealand in May, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, ‘Nature does not negotiate’ and emphasized four key measures that Governments should prioritize in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050: tax pollution, not people; stop subsidizing fossil fuels; stop building new coal plants by 2020; focus on a green economy, not a grey economy.
The world’s nations should dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the severity of threats to the environment. Countries will need to adapt to many changes that have now become unavoidable. Even if, for instance, nations rapidly phase out their greenhouse gas emissions in the decades ahead and limit global warming to well below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels — a goal enshrined in the Paris agreement, a pact among nations to fight warming — the world’s oceans and frozen landscapes would still look very different by the end of the century than they do today. Warm-water coral reefs would still face devastation. Global sea levels could still rise another 1 to 2 feet this century as ice sheets and glaciers melt. Fish populations would still migrate, creating winners and losers among fishing nations and potentially leading to increased conflicts. The probability of ‘ Water Wars’, in the future, would endanger the very existence of mankind. So global warming is a collective problem of the whole universe and each country must participate in the green measures stipulated by the UN.
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.