The 26th Climate Summit at Glasgow has ended on rather predictable lines, in a way that is familiar to many international conferences. The ending must be such that all parties can have a feeling of going back with something.
This is well achieved by saying that participating countries remain committed to striving to limit global warming to 1.5degreesC. This is a vague statement open to various optimistic interpretations. Of course, critics can tear into the details to show that the world is actually far away from this target, but this will not stand in the way of most participants and organisers departing on a note of hope and achievement. So be it.
Even representatives of vulnerable small island nations who stated bluntly that they were returning empty-handed, nevertheless managed to find some consolation in the concluding statements. No one would grudge such consolation to tired negotiators, but there is one real problem and a big one too. This is the undeniable fact that climate change as well as other big issues which make up the survival crisis are getting more and more serious.
Climate change is now at least getting the attention it deserves. Other related serious environmental problems and accumulation of weapons of mass destruction have not been getting the same attention. So in the middle of all the discussions and negotiations the doomsday clock (a symbolic clock created by some leading scientists) continues to show just 100 seconds to midnight, a warning of how close our planet and its inhabitants are to disaster as a result of human-made problems and mistakes.
Climate change is just one part of the several serious problems which make up this survival crisis. The essentials of what scientists have been saying on climate change are simple. During the last century, there has been unprecedented increase in the emission of greenhouse gases due to human-made causes. This increase beyond a certain point can badly disrupt the life-nurturing conditions of our planet. We are very close to reaching this point and to prevent this, reductions in GHG emissions have to be achieved very quickly.
To prevent what may be irreversible damage to life-protecting conditions of the planet, high priority has to be given to checking climate change. There can be consensus on these main points. However, various powerful groups respond to this in their own ways.
Of course, they want to prevent destruction, but by orientation, training and sheer habit they are not used to thinking about what they can do to save and protect the world. The reality of our world is that of glaring inequality and concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few. They look at the emerging reality from their own viewpoint.
Due to their power, their views are likely to prevail. Common people and particularly the poorest are more vulnerable to suffer from climate change, but their views, the views of small farmers and workers for example, will barely be reflected in decisions regarding climate change.
International climate change negotiations and planning are to be seen and understood in this perspective. The realities of the world being what they are, there is a strong likelihood that the most discussed and negotiated solutions will not necessarily be the best available. The best available options may well remain outside the framework which are adopted for mainstream discussions and negotiations.
Keeping in view that the task of reducing GHG emissions is so important, one suggestion can be that the production of harmful goods should be heavily curtailed. Since goods that meet real needs have to be produced in increasing quantities to end poverty and deprivation, it is obviously harmful goods like tobacco, alcoholic beverages, intoxicants, hazardous goods, destructive and wasteful goods which need to be reduced.
Can we reduce such goods by anything ranging from 30 to 90 per cent? This will bring health and social benefits, and reduce GHG emissions in a big way.
Perhaps the most harmful product group is weapons, arms and ammunition. So, disarmament and war prevention should get top priority, and if we succeed, this itself would be the greatest blessing. If this enables the world to reduce weapons production by around 90 per cent, this would reduce GHG emissions greatly, plus the reduction of GHG emissions achieved by avoiding war and war preparations, including movement of troops and weaponry.
Apart from avoiding all destructive and wasteful products, we need to consider if the methods of producing some essential goods are wasteful and involve avoidable GHG emissions. The most obvious case is that of food and other crops. If they are produced using organic/natural farming, not only will health and biodiversity improve but massive reduction and absorption of GHG gases will be possible. By prioritising production of local staple foods in mixed farming systems, GHG emissions and economic costs in food transport and reduction can also be reduced.
But such issues are seldom discussed in international negotiations. Anyone raising such issues would be accused of raising out-of-context issues. The interests linked to weapons, tobacco, alcohol and agrochemicals are extremely powerful. Even though chemical fertilizers contribute greatly to climate change by harming organic content of soil and by increasing pollution by nitrous oxide, a GHG gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the world’s fertilizer giants have positioned themselves as contributors to checking climate change.
This is a world based on high levels of glaring inequality, domination, violence and injustice (IDVI). These four serious problems are related to each other and responsible for most of the distress. It is in such a world that policy to tackle climate change is being framed. In this situation, there are basically three kinds of possible responses. Firstly, there is a response which seeks to resolve the crisis in ways that will also reduce related problems of IDVI. This will reduce inequalities, weapons and all violence including wars.
It will link assurance of basic needs of all people to huge reduction of GHG emissions within a specified time frame. This will include important governance reform. This is the best and the most sustainable solution as it solves all basic problems at the same time. It is only by following this path that mass mobilisation of people is possible.
The second response can be on the basis of maintaining status quo regarding IDVI and somehow trying to reduce GHG emissions within the existing framework of a IDVI-based world, also improving adaptation to climate change to the extent possible. In this approach, the arms race, weapons of mass destruction, trends towards space warfare, wars and violence, industrial farming, glaring inequalities at many levels, proliferation of billionaires, escalating luxury consumption of some persons etc. continue more or less as before.
The third response is one in which powerful forces try to use climate change as an opportunity for further increasing their power, ruthless exploitation and suppression of others while inflicting even more injustice and deprivation on common people as well as already marginalized sections. Signs and preparations for such a response can be seen already. This can involve the destructive use of untested technology with unforeseen, potentially catastrophic consequences.
All these responses are possible at this stage and the mobilisation of people on the basis of combining peace, justice and environment protection will be very important for ensuring that the right choices are made.
(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Planet in Peril)