FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 19

Time to take climate challenge seriously

The climate summit convened by President Joe Biden recently marked a step forward from the regressive policy adopted by President Trump, who called the issue of climate change a hoax. The summit brought together 40 world leaders in a bid to secure new commitments to lower greenhouse gas emissions and step up efforts to help the developing world tackle the climate crisis.

In terms of the historic Paris Agreement, the onus is now on countries to bridge the gap between their ambition to limit temperature increases to near 1.5 degrees Celsius and the commitments put forward in Paris, which amounted to temperature increases of around 3 degrees. Needless to say, the small average temperature increases will be truly catastrophic — causing widespread droughts, flooding, mass migrations, water shortages, species loss and the proliferation of invasive species.

The US, responsible for a major part of toxic gaseous emissions, has a major role to play in controlling environmental pollution. Now under President Biden, the U.S. climate diplomacy is gearing up in the run up to the most important climate conference since Paris, COP26 due to be held in Glasgow in November.

The Biden administration has now committed to delivering on hopes for a commitment to reduce U.S. GHG emissions by 50-52% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels — an ambitious pledge indeed. On the other hand, Japan has agreed to a seemingly underwhelming 46-50% cut below 2013 levels by 2030. Three governments and nine companies also built on work done by the Environmental Defense Fund, announcing the LEAF Coalition to mobilize at least $1 billion this year for large-scale forest protection and sustainable development designed to benefit indigenous peoples and forest communities.

On its part, South Korea pledged to end public financing of coal-fired power plants overseas, but it is yet to set its revised 2030 target and its current target is only a cut against business-as-usual emissions. China’s target is to limit the use of coal over the next five years and reduce emissions from coal in the following five, while promoting greener investments through its Belt and Road Initiative. Brazil’s pledge to go climate neutral by 2050 and to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030 was overshadowed by criticism inside and outside the country for President Jair Bolsonaro’s abetting of illegal land-grabbers and ongoing oversight of a significant increase in Amazon deforestation.

As for Russia, President Vladimir Putin said that he would make efforts to “significantly limit” net emissions by 2030. Russia also described methane as a problem and urged joint efforts to tackle it. India reiterated a previously announced commitment to install 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, but did not mention a 2030 emissions target.

The views expressed at the summit made it clear that the market for fossil fuel is shrinking fast and the world is gradually moving towards a zero-carbon model. As experts have pointed out, the climate debate must move beyond rhetoric to hard action to avert the looming climate crisis. It is time to make good on figures and numbers and hold countries to account for achieving the targets. It calls for detailed plans for implementation within the given time frame.

No doubt, the virtual summit was a success, but it has to be ensured that COP26 should be a significant step forward from Paris. Now the leadership of the climate movement is with the U.K, which bears a heavy responsibility for making things work.

Of the 40 participants in the summit, 17 produce roughly 80% of all planet-warming emissions and account for the lion’s share of the global domestic product. The summit focused on global-warming emissions with no much attention given to other aspects of global warming, such as the melting of glaciers.

In recent years, environmentalists have written extensively on the issue of melting of the Himalayan glaciers. Some time back, the World Bank made an assessment of how South Asia may be affected by global warming. The WB report underlined the danger of floods that might result from the melting of the Himalayan glaciers that feed water to the rivers flowing into South Asia as well as China and Afghanistan.

The media recently carried reports about the breakup of a glacier in the Himalayas causing a deadly flash flood that smashed through a hydroelectric power plant and destroyed homes in Uttarakhand, a mountainous northern state in India. The government rushed disaster response teams but it was too late. A second power plant was also damaged. The glaciers are melting due to global warming and pose a serious threat to South Asian states. A joint regional response to the threat must be formulated at the earliest to avert a bigger tragedy in coming years.