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'India should not wait for the clock to act'

By SHOBHA WARRIER
December 02, 2023 10:14 IST
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'Keeping the global temperature below not just 1.5 degree Celsius, even 2 degree Celsius is beyond our reach now. Both are impossible.'

IMAGE: A woman uses her bag to protect herself from the sun on a hot summer day in New Delhi. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
 

The United Nations report on climate change released on November 14, 2023 says that when the world needs to cut down carbon emission by 43% by 2030, but it is set to fall only by 2% below the 2019 levels by 2030!

It also notes that governments are making insufficient progress in cutting down greenhouse gas emissions to avert the worst impacts of global warming!

It is against this backdrop that the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, referred to as COP28, is being held from November 30 to December 12, 2023.

Although environmental experts had been issuing warnings after warnings that the entire world was going to experience extreme weather conditions due to climate change in the years to come, nobody took them seriously.

Now the public also has realised that they were not talking about a far-off future as every corner of the world is experiencing the impact of climate change in the form of extreme heat waves or floods or extreme cold.

The 2023 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report found that the chance of the average global temperature to rise above 1.5°C has increased to almost 50% in the five-year period between 2022 and 2026.

Some EU scientists say that 2023 will be the warmest year in 125,000 years!

2023 has already recorded 1.43ºC above the pre-industrial average.

"If there is a top-down approach, India can reduce its carbon emissions," Dr Roxy Mathew Koll tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier. Dr Koll is a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, chair of the Indian Ocean Region panel and a lead author of the IPCC Reports.

The latest IPCC report says, if the world cuts carbon emissions by half by 2030, it can limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius. Is it possible?

Keeping the global temperature below not just 1.5 degree Celsius, even 2 degree Celsius is beyond our reach now. Both are impossible.

That's because the current trajectory of emissions and the number of countries committed to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable, are less than what was agreed upon in the Paris agreement (The Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change that was adopted by 196 countries at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris on December 12, 2015.)

Even if they stick to the Paris Agreement, that is not enough to keep the temperatures below 1.5 or even 2 degree Celsius.

With the current progression and speed of innovation, I don't see the world cutting down emissions by half by 2030.

By 2030, we will hit 1.5 degree Celsius. In fact, we have already hit 1.5 this year, but that's not the 1.5 threshold we talk about. What we are talking about is the rise of 1.5 degree Celsius for several years as average temperature.

Countries like India should not wait for the clock to act because we are already facing the effects of climate change. And it is only going to increase.

IMAGE: The Indus flowing through Leh in Ladakh. Photograph: The Late Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Another research study says that if the global temperature were to rise by 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial level, 2.2 billion people living in the Indus River Valley in the northern part of India and eastern Pakistan may experience extended periods of heat and humidity that can exceed human tolerance.

Yes, that's why we need to focus on adaptation also.

On a global scale, what all the countries can do is, transfer technology. Though this was agreed upon in the UN climate change discussions, it is not happening.

You mean, for the benefit of the entire world?

Exactly. Through technology transfer, if the developing countries can also attain a certain level of efficient energy, we can certainly reduce our carbon emissions globally.

Along with that, we (India) have to stress upon adaptation a bit more because we are already facing the brunt of climate change.

At present, most of the focus in India is only on mitigation, that is reducing carbon emission, and less focus on adaptation. Less funds are kept aside for adaptation.

IMAGE: A girl selling water uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun as she waits for customers on a hot summer day, in New Delhi. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

What is more important? Mitigation or adaptation?

Both have to go hand in hand. Mitigation is reducing carbon emission. Adaptation is adapting to climate change effects like extreme weather events.

We need a global scale effort for mitigation. It doesn't depend on one country anymore; the entire world has to work unitedly to reduce carbon emission.

Since that is not happening, and we are already losing lives, livelihood, property and biodiversity due to extreme weather events, we have to urgently opt for adaptation.

In fact, some of the marine ecosystem is beyond adaptation levels. For example, the corals have a certain tolerance level. If temperature goes above a particular temperature, corals will not survive. Then, we cannot do any adaptation methods to rescue them.

But we can still help the coastal community which is fully dependant on the ocean but do not have the resources or capacity to adapt. So, with external help, they can adapt to these changes.

But we have to keep in mind that the adaptation methods needed for each region are different as the climatic changes in each region are different. For example, what Chennai coast needs is different from what Mumbai coast needs.

IMAGE: Dr Roxy Mathew Koll. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Roxy Mathew Koll

It was reported that Bhutan has become the only carbon negative country in the world. Is it because it is a small country that it is able to achieve this feat? Or, do you think if you put your mind to it, any country can do this?

If the approach is from top downwards, you can achieve it.

In India, you see a lot of grassroot approaches at the local level. But that is not enough for the large scale climate change effects we are witnessing.

So, what we need is people with vision at the top.

You mean, a carbon negative situation is achievable?

Definitely, it is achievable. I will give you an example.

Recently, I had gone for a climate conference in Rwanda. I was amazed to see that the entire country is plastic-free. It is environment-friendly and climate-friendly, and there was no burning anywhere.

They have maintained their terrain as it is.

Their carbon footage is very less, and their adaptive capacity is better because they are not tampering with natural conditions.

This is only because of the top-down approach. At the top, they have a government that is well-educated and listens to science and research.

So, if there is such a top-down approach here, India also can reduce its carbon emissions.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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