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War against Nature~I

Humanity is running out of time. It will be a race against time if concrete action is not taken sooner rather than later. Before the Madrid conference, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, observed that the world’s efforts to stop climate change have been utterly inadequate‘ with global warming reaching a point of no return.

KP Shashidharan | New Delhi |


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’ s Conference of the Parties (COP) was held in December in Madrid in an effort to initiate action for climate change. The blueprint pertains to finance, technology, action plan, transparency, adaptation, markets, gender measures for ‘Blue COP.’ Article 6 of the Paris Agreement aims at market and non-market related mechanisms. These include mobilizing $ 100 billion per year by 2020, setting a new goal from 2025, membership of the Adaptation Fund Board, providing guidance to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) wanted traditional knowledge to be applied in supporting climate action. The special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)t on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate emphaised ‘Science-Based Ocean Solutions’ as oceans are facing dangerous impacts. It is imperative to share lessons, experiences, expertise, concrete policies, and finding resources for solutions.

There is urgent need for joint work on agriculture to improve nutrient use and manure management. It is time for the world to act, changing to the topmost gear towards food security for all. Scientific reports confirm unambiguously that global warming is a reality caused by anthropogenic reasons. Water vapour, the most abundant greenhouse gas, increases as the Earth’s atmosphere warms with the formation of clouds and precipitation. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted through natural processes and through human activities including deforestation, change in land use and burning fossil fuels by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began.

Methane is also produced through natural sources and human activities like decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, rice cultivation, ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock. Nitrous oxide is produced by using commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production and burning of biomass. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are used in many applications, now regulated by international agreement for reducing its impact on ozone layer depletion.

Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities have increased greenhouse gases, warming the oceans, melting glaciers and ice caps, and contributing to and increase in sea level. In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that there is more than 95 per cent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have increased Green House Gas (GHG) emissions causing climate change.

The latest Emissions Gap Report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides a scientific assessment of the gap between the current and estimated future Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and the prospects for the world to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. The comity of nations collectively failed to stop the growth of GHG emissions. Innovative technologies for cost-effective emission reductions need to be adopted for transformational action.

The UN Secretary-General’s Global Climate Action Summit, held in September 2019 convinced governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and international organizations to collaborate and help nations to achieve their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020 and strive towards net zero emissions by 2050. At the Summit, around 70 countries were keen to submit enhanced NDCs in 2020, while 65 countries and major subnational economies were committed towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050. IPCC furnished two special reports in 2019: the first was on climate change and land, dweling on the impact on desertification, land degradation and sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas.

The second report dealt with the impact on the ocean and cryosphere due to the changing climate. The reports substantiate the need for achieving the temperature goals set in the Paris Agreement, 2015. Fossil CO2 emissions grew by 2 per cent in 2018 to 37.5 GtCO2 per year. By 2030, emissions should be 25 per cent and 55 per cent lower than in 2018 to achieve the target of below 2 degree C and 1.5 degree C respectively. Climate change action expects countries to ‘refrain from extracting new, alternative fossilfuel resources; reallocate fossilfuel subsidies to support distributed renewable electricity-generation; shift towards widespread use of public transport in large metropolitan areas; redirect subsidies granted to companies for the extraction of alternative fossil fuels to building-sector measures.’

Brazil committed to decarbonization of the energy supply by 2050; introduction of electric vehicle (EV), using biofuels and 100 per cent CO2-free new vehicles and increasing low carbon-based public transport alternatives. China opted for banning new coal-fired power plants; governmental support for renewables, 100 per cent carbonfree electricity system, public modes of transport, electric mobility, CO2-free new vehicles, near-zero emission buildings. EU regulation aims at avoiding investment in fossil-fuel infrastructure, EU emissions trading system (ETS) leading to zero emissions; 100 per cent carbon- free electricity supply by between 2040 and 2050; a phase out coal-fired plants; zero-emission industrial processes; banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars and buses to be replaced by zero-carbon vehicles; increased public transport and intensive retrofits of existing buildings.

Japan’ action plan aims at halting the construction of new coalfired power plants, a phase-out existing plants with 100 per cent carbon-free electricity supply; increase carbon pricing; phase out the use of fossil fuels-based passenger cars; electricity from renewable energy, net-zero energy buildings and net-zero energy houses. The USA regulates power plants with clean energy standards and carbon pricing towards 100 per cent carbon-free; carbon pricing on industrial emissions; bringing vehicle and fuel economy standards with zero emissions for new cars in 2030; clean building standards with 100 per cent electrified by 2030.

The report dwells on how to bridge the emissions gap by taking measures in six spheres ~ air pollution, air quality, health; urbanization; governance, education, employment; digitalization; energy- and material-efficient services for raising living standards; and land use, food security, bioenergy. Action in five areas may deliver significant emissions reductions: renewable energy for electrification; phasing out coal and decarbonization of the energy system; decarbonizing transport with electric mobility; decarbonizing energyintensive industry; avoiding future emissions.

Coordination between energy and other infrastructure sectors connecting demand and supply-side policies are needed to address job losses, rehabilitation of ecosystem services and reduced health and environmental costs. Technological, environmental and land-use policies must be harmonized. Synergies between climate action and economic growth must be tapped. Climate action commitments by non-state actors are vital for real transitions. Solar power photovoltaic systems and wind turbines replace new coal plant construction and phasing of existing plants.

Humanity is running out of time. It will be a race against time if concrete action is not taken sooner rather than later. Before the Madrid conference, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, observed that the world’s efforts to stop climate change have been “utterly inadequate” with global warming reaching a “point of no return.” Humanity has scientific knowledge and technical competence to limit global warming, but what is lacking is political will. Almost 200 countries of the would deliberate how to adhere to the commitments of 2015 Paris climate accord, creating international emissions trading systems and how to compensate poor countries for losses they suffer due to climate change.

UN Secretary General cautioned, “Our war against nature must stop.” The Paris accord aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally 1.5C by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times. As average temperatures have increased by about 1 degree C, targets need to be reset to meet the objective. The right measures include putting a price on carbon, stopping subsidies on fossil fuels, stopping building coal power plants from 2020 onwards, shifting taxation from income to carbon and taxing pollution instead of people. About 70 countries, which are vulnerable to climate change, pledged to stop emitting more greenhouse gases by 2050. Unless the world’s largest emitters are taking adequate measures, the goal is unreachable. Creating a worldwide market for emissions, a critical element of the sixth article of the Paris accord remained contentious.

(To be concluded)

(The writer is former Director-General, CAG of India. Views are personal)