Monday, April 22, 2019
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Sizzling world; time for blame games is up

Paris Summit

The reality of climate change has now become evident to the common people. A warm November with hardly any need for woolens, particularly in the central parts of the country, making the people realize how true the predictions were that were being made for some time.

A region where the cold weather would herald its onset from the last week of October with cool nights requiring covers and light woolens remained unusually warm this year. It couldn’t really attribute it to below-average rainfall. The fact is the winter this year has failed to set in so far and hence one tends to wait for December with trepidation not knowing what it has in store for us. Already, 2015 has been declared the hottest year so far with temperatures worldwide hovering above normal.

Surprisingly, however, northern parts of the country did have their usual quota of cold, sleet and snowfall since late October which worsened in November. Rain and snow hit Jammu & Kashmir as well as Himachal Pradesh with ferocity disrupting road communications bringing traffic to a halt for a few days. But in deep South, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, on the other hand, got a raw deal. It was at the receiving end of extreme and violent weather with heavy rains and floods. Both were man-made -- the first one because of global warming and the flood havoc was because of constructions on drains and wetlands as a consequence of  thoughtless urbanization that choked the points of egress of flood-waters.

While the South is sogging wet, the country a few latitudes above it has been bone dry giving rise to misery for farmers in northern Andhra Pradesh and the new State of Telangana. Rainfall deficit has been up to 70% and the crops have withered and hundreds of farmers have committed suicide. Large scale switch to cotton in regions where rainfall is scanty put the famers in difficulties.

The trends of rainfall deficit and crop failures have been witnessed for some years now. The governments should have been able to devise by now strategies to combat the changed weather pattern. Unfortunately, that does not seem to have happened anywhere in the country and lives of farmers are being lost.

In the east the Sunderbans in West Bengal has been bearing stoically the impacts of global warming. Every year the inhabitants brace themselves for the monsoon which unleashes severe cyclonic storms with rising seas accompanied by coastal flooding and erosion. The Sunderbans is now a constantly shrinking landmass with rising seas that swallow islands, gobbling up more and more land every year progressively reducing its  ‘carrying capacity’ of humans. It is here that global warming has given rise to “environmental refugees” for the first time in India. Many have left their sinking islands to fight their way into the Sagar Island, a large island which is likely to suffer the same fate in course of time. The refugees will then join their folks in Kolkata.

The demographic push will not only be felt in West Bengal, even Bangladesh is likely to witness “environmental refugees” pressing on to the mainland from its larger portion of the Sunderbans and, quite likely, eventually pressure will build up on the Indian borders too. A human problem of immense proportions is likely to unfold in not too distant future action to combat which the governments are yet to decide on.

A recent report says that the phenomenon of global warming will progress faster than what was estimated earlier as the rising temperatures encourage greater natural emission of methane, a greenhouse gas that already is in excess among other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The window of opportunity is, therefore, getting smaller and smaller.

No wonder the United Nations organizes every year Climate Conferences to plan to find ways and means to control not only the emission of greenhouse gases as also, as a corollary, to contain the rise in global temperature to 20 Centigrade above what prevailed during pre-industrial times. This year’s conference in Paris will be the 21st Conference of Parties after the first one held in 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was negotiated and legitimised.

1992 reminds one of George Bush who made the stunning statement that the American (opulent and wasteful) way of life was not negotiable. Two decades have elapsed since but an agreement has eluded the world community so far for achieving the objectives of limiting the rise in global temperature to 20 C above the pre-industrial level during this century.

Differences in approaches have prevented an agreement – the world having been divided between developed and developing countries. The former have been held responsible for pumping most of the greenhouse gases and, according to the developing world, should not only cut down on their emissions but also finance poorer countries to adopt technologies to promote for them a cleaner growth.

Hitherto restricting the global temperature increase to 2°C over the pre-industrial average has generally been reckoned as an adequate means of avoiding dangerous climate change. However, according to climate scientist Kevin Anderson “recent science has shown that environmental and social impacts of 2°C rise are much greater than (what) the earlier science indicated, and that impacts for a 1°C rise are now expected to be as great as those previously assumed for a 2°C rise.”

Climate scientists have explained that for this reason “avoiding dangerous climate in the conventional sense is no longer possible, because the temperature rise is already close to 1°C with effects formerly assumed for 2°C.” Anderson’s researches have shown that a rise of 40 Centigrade by 2060 is very much on the cards given the record of inaction till date on climate change by governments.

Researchers have also indicated that there is a linkage of global warming with the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Currently, this concentration is close to 400 ppm and it has been reckoned that the global rise in temperature can be restricted to 20 Centigrade if the greenhouse gases are not allowed to exceed 550 ppm. It has also been felt that stabilisation of greenhouse gases below 400 ppm would provide a higher degree of certainty of temperature not exceeding the 20 C mark. That, however, seems to be impossible now as the concentration of green house gases in the atmosphere is likely to overshoot 400 ppm anytime now.

Naturally therefore, so much of importance is being attached to the Paris Summit. The world would be seen to be standing at the edge of a cliff; a false step and it will be a disaster. It is a matter of ‘do or die’. There is no time to play the blame game now. We are already late. Our thoughtless actions have brought us to the brink of disaster.

Now is the time to retrace our steps back and get back to sustainable living that does no further damage to our planet. Rich or poor, all have to come together as it is a matter of survival of humanity in this wonderful “commons” that our planet is. The Summit, therefore, places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of world leaders. Hopefully, they will not disappoint and arrive at an agreement that had eluded them so far to rescue Humanity before it is too late

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