A Difficult Task

Scientists agree that the reason behind extreme weather events is climate change and world leaders promise to fight climate change, but there is almost nil follow-up action, probably because big business would have to be reined in, which would deprive politicians of campaign funding, and citizens would have to be advised to cut down on their current lifestyles, which may prove electorally disastrous

A Difficult Task

Representation image [Photo:SNS]

The common man looks on bemusedly as world leaders gather for interminable climate conferences, and the UN and its myriad agencies issue dire climate warnings, almost daily. A victim of climate change, but powerless to do anything about it, the common man can sense that something has gone terribly wrong. To elucidate: all countries of the world were hit by extreme climate events last year. Heat waves hit the Indian sub-continent in March 2022, right after winter receded.

There was no spring season; temperatures crossed 45°C at many places in the Indian sub-continent, with Nawabshah in Pakistan recording a high of 49.5°C. Breaking all records, Lytton in British Columbia, Canada recorded a temperature of 49.6°C. Similar temperatures were recorded in Mid-Western and SouthEastern USA. Many places in Britain and France recorded temperatures exceeding 40°C. After early floods, China faced an unprecedented heatwave and drought, with temperatures at some places exceeding 50°C.

Contrarily, after the early heatwave, Pakistan experienced prolonged, torrential rains, and the worst floods in its history. The Southern Hemisphere experienced similar heatwaves with Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and certain parts of Brazil, recording extreme temperatures in January 2022. Since then, another climate conference, COP27 in Egypt, has taken place, but nothing has changed on the ground.


Countries and individuals continue to behave in their usual irresponsible manner. Scientists of the International Institute of Sustainable Development had warned of extreme weather in 2023 – a warning that unfortunately seems to be coming true. Freak weather phenomena are on the rise in 2023, the first quarter saw tornadoes hit places as far apart as New Zealand, Mozambique and the US. Cyclone Freddy buffeted Mozambique and Madagascar for a record five weeks. The US faced 168 tornadoes in January, and 55 in February.

California recorded its worst March storm, which affected 35 million people and left 100,000 people without power. While it snowed in California ~ a rare phenomenon ~ Washington DC, in the north, reported record heat. Then, Europe faced a heatwave in January. India has just experienced its hottest December and February since 1901.

With El Nino waiting in the wings, India is forecast to have hotter weather in 2023, than 2022, which is a frightening prospect. Scientists agree that the reason behind such extreme weather events is climate change and world leaders promise to fight climate change, but there is almost nil follow-up action, probably because big business would have to be reined in, which would deprive politicians of campaign funding, and citizens would have to be advised to cut down on their current lifestyles, which may prove electorally disastrous.

PM Modi made a small beginning by putting the spotlight on individual behaviour. At COP26, Mr Modi announced the Lifestyle for Environment (Mission LiFE) initiative which aimed to motivate individuals to undertake simple acts in their daily lives that can contribute significantly to mitigation of climate change. Briefly put, LiFE Mission intends to replace the present ‘use-and-dispose’ culture with one of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.’ Mr Modi was lauded by world leaders for the LiFE initiative but so far, little action is visible on the ground.

One of the key decisions at COP27 was to hold businesses accountable for environmental depredation. But this is work in progress, as at the end of the Conference, the UN SecretaryGeneral asked UN Climate Change to come up with a plan on how to ensure transparency and accountability of non-state actors. Even otherwise, such statements have a hollow ring because successive COPs have been sponsored by the worst climate culprits.

For example, the sponsor of COP 27 was Coca – Cola, the largest plastic polluter in the world, which uses three million tons of non-biodegradable plastic packaging every year. Coca-Cola also has very highwater usage, despite its water neutrality pledge. It would, indeed, require great resolve from Western governments to turn against their benefactors.

Just before COP27, the HighLevel Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities of the United Nations, released a report that stated that the carbon neutrality pledges of many corporations, local governments, regional governments, and financial institutions around the world, often, amount to nothing more than greenwashing.

Also, a research consortium called the Net Zero Tracker issued a report evaluating the climate neutrality pledges of 116 of 713 regional governments, of 241 of 1,177 cities with populations greater than 500,000, and of 1,156 of 2,000 publicly-listed companies in the 25 countries with the greatest emissions (whose pledges cover more than 90 per cent of the world GDP) which found that many of these climate pledges were largely on paper and more than half of cities had no plan for tracking and reporting compliance with pledges.

Western affluence and its ‘use and throw’ culture is nurtured by polluting industries and unregulated use of fossil fuels, which would explain the lack of willingness of rich countries to act meaningfully on climate change. Leaked documents accessed by the BBC, prior to COP26, revealed massive lobbying to influence the outcome of COP26: wealthy nations like Switzerland and Australia questioned payments to poorer states to enable them to adopt greener technologies.

Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia were among countries that asked the UN to moderate its stance on the need to move away from fossil fuels. LikeMinded Developing Countries (LMDC), a group of 22 countries, including major emitters China, India and Saudi Arabia, asked for the commitment to climate mitigation to be entirely removed from the draft text of COP26.

Queen Elizabeth II, too, was sceptical, in a private conversation she said: “It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.” It is heartening that COP27 could hammer out an agreement to provide a Loss and Damage Fund for vulnerable countries hit hard by floods, droughts and other climate disasters.

This historic decision was hailed as “an important step towards justice,” by the UN Secretary-General, because for the first time, countries recognized the need for finance to respond to loss and damage associated with the catastrophic effects of climate change.

However, details like who should pay, where this money will come from and which countries will benefit are still to be worked out, and operationalization will be considered by COP28. There are two alternatives before India; either, go with the mainstream and make hollow promises with no intention of fulfilling them, or try and repair the climate over our own country. Insulation from the Asian landmass, by oceans in the south and the Himalayas in the north, protects us ~ though not totally ~ from depredations of our neighbours. An honest effort to limit pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources ~ the major causes of climate change – at the national level could yield rich dividends, sooner rather than later.

Fortunately, for us, environmental protection laws are in place, but, unfortunately, a sham progress vs. environment debate has been created. Far corners of the country are being opened up by building highways and railways, even in the hills, which have triggered landslides and floods, and exposed simple folks to undesirable influences.

Then, plans are afoot to deforest Nicobar Islands and introduce alien commercial plant species in the virgin jungles of the Andamans and the North-East. The current, unstated Government policy appears to be of letting the environment look after itself; if an environmental rule or law stands in the way of Ease of Doing Business, the law has to give way.

Examples are numerous: Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Indian Forest Act, 1927, were amended, as also the Environment Impact Notification and the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, mostly to loosen environmental controls. Stephen Hawking, the eminent physicist and author had warned: “One can see from space how the human race has changed the Earth. Nearly all of the available land has been cleared of forest and is now used for agriculture or urban development. The polar ice caps are shrinking and the desert areas are increasing.

At night, the Earth is no longer dark, but large areas are lit up. All of this is evidence that human exploitation of the planet is reaching a critical limit. But human demands and expectations are ever-increasing. We cannot continue to pollute the atmosphere, poison the ocean and exhaust the land. There isn’t any more available.” We can only hope that our leaders wake up in time to save the earth from a climate catastrophe.

(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax)