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Glasgow and Beyond

27 Dec 2021

Climate Summit at Glasgow was a unique and rich experience with the representation and participation of 120 country leaders and people from over 200 countries. The enthusiasm and vibrant participation of the youth and indigenous people have been encouraging adding to its uniqueness. In the entire city of Glasgow, one could see hoardings depicting various images of climatic impacts with captions such as “The World is Counting on You.”   

The Summit has undeniably brought the climatic crisis to the central stage of discussion.  Recalling commitments made at Paris and the importance of reducing emissions got highlighted beyond doubt. It also witnessed a lot of focused conversations around possible collaboration and actions among parties towards accelerated and sustained climatic action. Phrases like climate adaptation and resilience were often doing rounds at discussion tables. A lot has been shared on green technology and promoting clean energy infrastructure. The context of loss and damage and the critical issue of climate finance, especially for developing countries, remained a huge priority. COP26 was a good reminder for developed countries to re-commit to the Paris Agreement pledge of USD100 billion annually as climate finance. 

The indigenous peoples who live an eco-friendly and climate-friendly life steward over 80 per cent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity. It is for the first time in the history of COP that 28 indigenous people were nominated to share their knowledge and experiences with the world. By and large, there has been a greater acceptance of the role of indigenous people, especially youth, to inspire climate action. Their voices and inspiration could play a major role in mitigating the climate crisis. Yet it was realised that their voices were not yet heard sufficiently. Many indigenous people outside COP26 venue too voiced about a neo-colonisation that commodifies the nature and its resources. 

A brief stocktaking of the key achievements:
•    Leaders from over 120 countries pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.
•    A methane pledge, led by the US and the European Union, wherein more than 100 countries agreed to cut methane emissions by 2030.
•    More than 40 countries – including major coal-users such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile – agreed to shift away from coal, one of the biggest generators of CO2 emissions.
•    Nearly 500 global financial services firms agreed to align USD130 trillion – some 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets – with goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius.
•    In a joint declaration, the US and China pledged to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. Reiterating their commitment to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal alive, they agreed to collaborate on issues such as methane emissions, transition to clean energy and decarbonisation.
•    At least 13 nations committed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.

However, in their final statements, Parties softening their stand from a complete “coal phase-out” to “coal phase-down” was rather disheartening and disappointing. One begins to wonder whether there would be any substantial change in the coming 20 years, except a possible increase in a new way of colonisation. 

After COP26 concluded, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres shared that “the COP26 outcome is a compromise, reflecting the interests, contradictions and state of political will in the world today. It’s an important step, but it’s not enough. It’s time to go into emergency mode.”

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in her address mentioned, “over 60% of the CO2 emissions have occurred since 1990 and a third since 2005. If this is considered to be climatic action, then we don’t want it”, indirectly hinting at less of ‘Blah, Blah, Blah and more of action.” Yet there is hope and that hope is in individual actions, synergy and collective consciousness. 

Climate Change is Real

The world has witnessed wildfires in North America, extreme rainfall in Asia, Africa, the US, Europe, and others. For the beautiful Indian Ocean Island, Madagascar, environmental challenges are enormous and mounting. With an extended dry period due to the worst drought in 40 years, the island is subjected to several yearly cyclones, vicious winds and dust storms, burying villages and forcing people to flee. According to the UN, “Madagascar is likely to go down in history as the first brought on by extreme and unusual weather patterns”. This is not the case of a country which is at war or in conflict, but in peace and with virtually zero carbon emissions!

Tigris and Euphrates rivers are drying up. While in Syria, this year’s drought has been the worst in last 70 years, in Iraq, this year’s summer was the second-driest in 40 years. Drought in Iraq and Syria could totally collapse the food system for millions of people. The warmest daily maximum temperature is projected to increase by 4-7°C, with the highest temperature changes in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, northern India, Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bhutan.

In Bangladesh, 28 per cent of its population lives in coastal areas. Tidal flooding caused by sea- level rise accelerates displacement. As per estimates, with a projected 50 cm rise in sea level, Bangladesh may lose approximately 11 per cent of its land by 2050, affecting an estimated 15 million people living in its coastal areas. Thus by 2050, one in every seven people in the country will be displaced by climate change, and up to 18 million people may have to move because of sea level rise alone. Sri Lanka is also facing threats of sea level rise, as about 25 per cent of its population lives in low-lying areas. Extreme weather events are severely impacting the country’s ecosystem, life and livelihood of people at large. Pakistan too experiences recurring heatwaves and droughts, riverine and flash floods, landslides and cyclones affecting lakhs of its people. 

In the context of India, a recent study by the Council for Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a premier New Delhi-based think tank, estimated that 25 of 35 States and Union Territories are highly vulnerable to climate-induced floods and drought, with Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar being most at risk. While 75 per cent of the districts, including 95 per cent of coastal ones, are extreme event hotspots, around 45 per cent of these districts have undergone unsustainable landscape and infrastructure changes increasing their climate vulnerability. Flash floods are increasing at an alarming rate and intensity.

In Maharashtra alone, floods between June and October this year destroyed over 13.59 million acres of crops. Recent disasters in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, cyclones in Odisha and West Bengal and droughts in different parts of the country are major concerns. 226 people reportedly died and several went missing due to extreme rainfall in this year alone in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Kerala. Cyclone Fani killed at least 89 people in eastern India and Bangladesh and caused damages worth nearly USD8.1 billion. Severe rains, flash floods and landslides are proof of the reality of climate crisis we are in. Northern Bihar areas continue to face riverbank erosion due to extreme floods, subsequently forcing people to relocate. 

Commitments and Contradictions

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced five major commitments or "Panchamrit" at the COP26, which stated that India will: 
•    Achieve net-zero emissions by 2070
•    Bring its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030
•    Bring its economy's carbon intensity down to 45 per cent by 2030
•    Fulfil 50 per cent of its energy requirement through renewable energy by 2030
•    Reduce 1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions from the total projected emissions by 2030.

While there have been many efforts towards green recovery, energy and technology, especially about 3 bn USD to be invested in battery development and photovoltaics (PV), the country continues to engage in the use of coal with several loans sanctioned for many thermal power projects. 

According to Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific agency tracking climate actions since 2009, India’s climate targets and policies are ‘Highly insufficient’ and inconsistent with the target of keeping the temperature to 1.5°C temperature limit. According to them “Under India’s current targets and policies, emissions will continue to rise and are consistent with 4°C or more of warming when compared to a modelled domestic emissions pathway.” 

India has to phase out coal use from its power sector by 2040 to be aligned with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit. In order to achieve significant progress, it has to shift its dependence on fossil fuels, which unfortunately is not the case. India’s coal capacity is to increase from current levels of over 200 GW to almost 266 GW by 2029-30 with 35 GW expected to be in place in the coming five years which is an increase of 17.5 per cent increase in coal capacity. It is also worth noting that its coal-run power plant pipeline is the second largest in the world and the country is one of the few countries that has increased this since 2015. 

A lot more coal mining has been opened up to more private investors of late, which raises a lot of questions on the commitment to carbon reduction. While COP 26 reached a deadlock when it came to ‘phasing out of coal’, perhaps no country including Inda can reach its target without stopping any new coal capacity additions. It is also important to note that India gives out approximately 35 per cent higher subsidies for fossil fuel-related sector than for renewables. 

The Road to be Taken

World looked at COP 26 negotiations as the “last, best hope” to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Although more than 140 governments have announced net zero goals, covering 90 per cent of global emissions, according to CAT, with all target pledges, including those made in Glasgow, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will still be around twice as high as necessary for the 1.5°C limit. 

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, a CAT partner organisation said, “The vast majority of 2030 actions and targets are inconsistent with net zero goals: there’s a nearly one degree gap between governments’ current policies and their net zero goals.”  He also said that “if the world leaders have no plans as to how to get there, and their 2030 targets are as low as so many of them are, then frankly, these net zero targets are just lip service to real climate action. Glasgow has a serious credibility gap.” 

“Glasgow has a massive credibility, action and commitment gap as the world is heading to at least 2.4°C of warming, if not more”, the CAT warned. Reducing the credibility gaps before we come to emission reductions is critical. 

In the coming days we need to focus more on:
•    Prioritising policies that respect human rights and support a just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.
•    Principles of equity and common, but differentiated responsibilities should be made central to any discussion on deep cuts in emissions critical to address catastrophic impact of climate change.
•    Integrating adaptation goals with sustainable development so that development actions to address poverty are not put at peril.
•    Ensuring fair and adequate people’s participation, especially of women and vulnerable and marginalised communities, in all decision-making and implementation of climate-related targets and actions.
•    Classifying critical green technologies being developed as public goods and their access made affordable for all to care for the common home. 

We need to realise that placing people, their lives and livelihood before profits has to end, and we need to radically and immediately transform our relationship at all levels, taking awareness and responsibility for the current situation of climate crisis. Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si shows us a way for a conversion at various levels, individual, institutional and collective.

We should not limit to rhetoric, wanton debates and false promises on ‘net zero’. And the much-stated and quoted commitments towards achieving those deliverables should not put undue pressures on the poor, marginalised, and local indigenous communities. The narrative should be robust, consistent and devoid of any ambiguities for commitments made to be realised. 

There is no doubt that Prime Minister Modi’s speech at Glasgow was historic and the commitment of the country expressed by him was much appreciated globally and locally stating it as ‘ambitious’ and ‘pathbreaking’. While the announcement of the ‘Panchamrit’ is perhaps the most desired and wanted set of ideas and actions for reform, it is hoped that much of them may not remain like yet another rhetoric, which is quite usual for most world leaders when it comes to climatic action.

(The writer is Director - Conference Development Office, Jesuit Conference of India/South Asia)

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