The COP26 must face up to the existential climate threat which now hangs over the planet.
Perhaps no one has recently expressed greater concern about climate change than the leaders of a few island and low-lying nations who view the situation as an existential crisis. Last week at the current United Nations General Assembly, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih observed that “the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees is a death sentence for the Maldives.” President David Kauba of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean warned that “we simply do not have higher ground to cede and the world cannot further delay climate ambition.” Likewise, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali was outspoken in pleading with the rich and powerful national leaders: in the end, it will do little for them to emerge king over a world of dust.
Sharing their concerns more broadly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the upcoming COP26 as “a wake-up call to instill urgency in the face of the dire state of the climate process” and noted that it is facing a high risk of failure unless world leaders take more stringent action. to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Nobel Prize-winning progressive economist Paul Krugman puts it more forcefully: âCivilization faces an existential threat: if we don’t take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, in the long run nothing will happen. ‘other – no health reform, no income inequality, not even financial crisis – will matter â.
The next COP26 organized by the UN in Glasgow, with 185 national officials and other stakeholders, follows the COP21 held in Paris in November 2015. As mitigation measures to ward off the worst impacts of global warming climate, world leaders then agreed to limit the increase in temperature over the current century to 1.5 degrees Celsius (although according to detailed projections it is approaching 2 degrees Celsius), reduce by half global emissions by 2035 and reduce them to net zero by 2060. A US $ 100 billion climate finance plan to assist poor countries to meet their agreed national targets ( referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions) has also been finalized. While most of the signatories to the global deal have continued to ratify it according to their own protocols, a major setback has come from the United States, whose next President Donald Trump has unilaterally decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. . With the reluctance of a large country like the United States, the future of agreed targets and aid has become uncertain. As a result, global concern for climate change issues has faded into the background.
However, the global manifestation of climate change events over the past two years, and the drastic consequences they have had, have once again restored the necessary attention to this significant threat affecting all human, biological and botanical life. A gradual increase in average global temperatures of 0.75 degrees Celsius over the past 137 years was perhaps as much as humans could live, but the sudden warming over the past 40 odd years since 1975 by nearly two-thirds , has radically changed climate models. The snowmelt accelerated rapidly, the oceans warmed, precipitation became unpredictable causing widespread flooding in several parts of the land which had been previously âsafeâ. In others, there are severe famines and droughts. Calamitous events such as wildfires, hurricanes and storms of unprecedented magnitude are becoming commonplace. Direct damage and losses resulting from such events are no longer isolated and cannot be ignored. Other consequences are also evident: excessive heat leading to health problems that have both immediate and long-term negative effects and impacting land productivity. In fact, with an increasing amount of land becoming arid and forests burning, cultivated land is likely to shrink dramatically. Significant population displacements due to adverse climatic events are inevitable.
While some wealthier nations and their societies may be able to cope with the consequences of climate change better than others, no one can ignore their negative impact. While the timing and severity of the impact can be debated, there is no doubt that the civility of nations as a whole is deteriorating. Given this reality, it should come as no surprise that with a change of administration earlier this year, wiser advice prevailed in the United States. Democrats led by President Joe Biden have leaned on climate change issues, and the United States has pledged to join COP26 and honor its commitments made in Paris. The forthcoming deliberations in Glasgow have thus regained their meaning.
The last 6 years (or even the last 12 years since the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009) have unfortunately seen little material progress in the reduction of global average temperatures or greenhouse gas emissions. Although leaders around the world are voicing hollow and resounding platitudes and concerns such as “the environment is something of which we are the custodians and must leave a better environment for our children and great-grandchildren”, few concrete actions have been taken. While the global average temperature rose slowly in the 20th century, the decade 2010-19 saw the greatest increase in heat. Earth scientists fear that it will increase by up to 1.5 degrees over the next 20 years and even 2 degrees Celsius by 2040. There has been no evidence of the decrease in gas emissions greenhouse effect despite the decline in economic and social activities since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic some twenty months ago.
The causes of the slow progress in recent years, if not decades before, should be fully explored at the next 15-day Summit. At the same time, discussions on imposing more rigid macro (global) standards in a shorter time frame than before should continue. Some critical elements must be taken into account: do not accept an increase of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in the average temperature of the Earth by the end of the century, with developed countries, including China, becoming carbon neutral by 2040, everyone else (including India) will follow by 2045, and the world’s emissions will be halved by 2030 by all nations. At first glance, such goals may seem altruistic and require enormous sacrifices on the part of everyone. But in the face of grim reality bordering on a threat to human survival, buckling down and getting cracked before it’s too late is the only option.
Quick and better actions for improvement are demanded by both rich and less wealthy nations. However, a few of them will necessarily have to take more responsibility. The exercise of these responsibilities cannot be limited to their national borders and must extend to those whose actions could be of concern. Nature does not recognize man-made boundaries, and the elements in their aggressive moods do not distinguish between rich and poor, adults and children, or between any race, ethnicity and culture. So-called external economies and diseconomies are fully manifested in climate-related events. Combating them becomes as much a collective responsibility of all as that of those who cause or directly suffer their current consequences.
Among the âmost powerful nationsâ that need to engage and accomplish more are India’s three partners in the new Quad grouping (US, Japan and Australia) as well as its main instigator, China. Including India, nearly 50% of the world’s population (around 4 billion) live in these five countries, with almost two-thirds of global GDP represented by them. These are not only big polluters, but also nations that can afford to make substantial progress.
China is the world’s largest coal burner, while India, although considerably less than China, is the second largest user of fossil fuels. Both countries would be required to step up their pace of transition to cleaner energy sources. They will also be under pressure to make announcements about an immediate halt to adding any new coal-fired power generation capacity. Progress towards shutting down all existing coal plants to ensure they meet the goal of halving emissions and becoming carbon neutral should also be clearly indicated.
The United States, unsurprisingly, is last in assessing the progress made since COP21; in 2017, it withdrew from the Paris Agreement, after which climate change considerations were hardly the focus of attention. However, neither Australia nor Japan have done much better, while India has remained in 10th place for the past two years. Japanese CO2 emissions per capita amount to 9.7 million tonnes; Australia is at 17.27 mt. 15.52 mt is American, while in India it remains at a low 1.9 mt, possibly due to its large population. Without a doubt, these numbers must be mastered in all areas. India’s three richest and most technologically advanced partners are also in a position to help develop many of the optimal solutions to control greenhouse gas emissions, such as the sophisticated global cold chain infrastructure. created to store and transport Covid-19 vaccines. According to some sources, 3 to 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by it alone. Fairer sharing of their already developed technologies with other nations by relaxing IPRs, in addition to taking on themselves and through their financial organizations, a larger part of the climate finance plan alongside.
The urgency of immediate and comprehensive global action to become greener is now paramount for nations, their institutions, NGOs, think tanks and scientific and technological institutions. Climate change, already in deadly action, is deeply influenced by human activity. Many of these changes are almost irreversible. The Swiss Re Institute estimates that without the implementation of the necessary mitigation measures, global GDP could decline by 18% by 2050. In 2019, the International Labor Organization noted that due to heat stress, global productivity loss in 2030 could be the equivalent of 80 million full-time jobs. A rapid transition to a green economy would undoubtedly lead to many disruptions, especially financial ones, but the gains far outweigh the losses.
Dr Ajay Dua, progressive economist and public policy expert, is a former secretary of the Union.
This is the first part of a series of 4 articles by Dr Dua on the challenges of the next COP26. These would appear in the following weeks.