More than 70,000 delegates including the member states (or Parties) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), business leaders, climate scientists and various other experts/stakeholders are expected to meet in Dubai between November 30 and December 12 in the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP). They will address the climate crisis, such as limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, helping vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of climate change and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Climate change, defined as any long-term change in the patterns of average weather of a specific region or the Earth as a whole, is the result of a number of factors. But this happens more due to human activities. Studies have shown that since the Earth's climate system is considerably large and moves slowly, it has time-lags in its reaction to inputs. For instance, a year of dry conditions may cause lakes to shrink slightly or plains to dry marginally. These conditions in the following year may result in less rainfall, that can likely lead to a drier year. That climate change has been predominantly worsening due to pollution or environmental change originating in human activities is a cause for serious concern. For example, this July which saw the highest temperatures across the globe was the hottest month in the last 12,000 years.
Yes, our Earth’s climate is changing faster than ever before according to the recent bulletin released by the United Nations’ weather agency, World Meteorological Organisation. Notably, greenhouse gases (GHGs) -- like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) that have the property of absorbing infrared radiation, which is the net heat energy emitted from earth’s surface and reradiating it back -- have broken records in 2022. By 2030, GHCs are projected to fall by only 2 per cent below the 2019 levels, nowhere near the 43 per cent reduction needed to avoid the worst impact of climate change. Globally, 40 percent of total N2O emissions come from human activities and its molecules can stay in the atmosphere for an average of 121 years before being removed by a sink or destroyed through chemical reactions. The impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is 265 times than of 1 pound of CO2.
Reports from various sources, including Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), highlight that the challenges faced due to global warming are mainly due to cumulative historical and current GHG emissions of the developed countries.
Even as India accounts for more than 17 percent of the global population, it has contributed only about 4 percent of the global cumulative CO2 emissions between 1850 and 2019; it has been taking concerted steps to combat climate change. India is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; it has ratified the Kyoto Protocol (1997) which committed industrialised countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce GHG emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets.
The National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) launched in 2008 provides for climate change mitigation and adaptation through its national missions in solar energy, energy efficiency, water, sustainable agriculture, health, Himalayan ecosystem, sustainable habitat, green India and strategic knowledge for climate change. Under the NAPCC, apart from several measures to promote renewable energy, the Union Government’s initiative to make India a global hub for production, utilization and export of Green Hydrogen and its derivatives is laudable. The campaign to switch over to LED bulb is aimed at reducing emissions by 40 million tonnes annually. To improve efficiency, while many thermal power plants have adopted use of efficient technologies, thereby reducing coal consumption and consequently lowering emissions, 260 units of inefficient and old thermal power generation units have since been retired.
India is also a signatory to the Paris Agreement (2015) which aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. At least 149 countries have reportedly updated their pledges under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to curb their GHG emissions by 2030. In line with the Paris Agreement that mandates each nation to prepare and maintain its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to mitigate the impacts of climate change, India has submitted its NDC balancing the concerns and priorities of climate change, sustainable development including poverty eradication and economic growth of the country.
According to the updated NDC, India has an enhanced target to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 45 percent by 2030 from 2005 level, achieve about 50 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. A long-term low-carbon development strategy is also reportedly under implementation. A ban has been imposed on identified single use plastic items effective from July 1, 2022.
So, climate change is an expensive problem globally which includes direct and indirect economic losses. Particularly, extreme weather conditions lead to considerable adverse societal costs. According to estimates, the global costs of extreme weather conditions attributable to climate change is a whopping USD 143 billion per year and 63 percent of this is due to human loss of life.
If CO2 amounts are reduced so as to stop it increasing after the year 2050, then the global average temperature will increase from 1-1.5°C, which is considered a best-case scenario, else our future generations can be impacted rather adversely in the worst-case. It needs to be realised that climate change affects the health of human beings directly, causing more sickness, death and destruction. Indirectly it also impacts nutrition, reduces working hours and increases climate-induced stress. One estimate suggests that if global temperature were to rise by 2°C, many of our cities would become uninhabitable. Climate emergencies like extreme heat, cyclones, floods etc., are expected to occur with increasing regularity. These will interfere with food security and livelihoods posing multifarious challenges. The amount of climate change by the end of the century depends on decisions made today. Many macro level climate solutions require world’s largest economies to effectively deal with emissions cuts.
We can contribute in many ways to minimise the effects of climate change by going greener and cleaner. These can range from better solid waste management, tree plantation, wetland restoration and adopting renewable energy. Transportation accounts for 23 per cent of human emissions globally. For example, 14g of CO2 is produced by a person for a km of train travel. For an average car it is 55g per person per km, 68g for bus travel, 72g for two-wheeler and a whopping 285g for travel by plane. With the availability of improved audio video communication facilities, travel ought to be undertaken only if it’s is absolutely essential.
Studies have shown that consumer-spending fuels the global economy which is the biggest single cause of climate change. Importantly, there is an imperative need to curb one’s disposable habits by buying only what is needed as it can reduce emissions from packaging and transportation. As much of such spending is discretionary, changing consumption habits can go a long way in protecting our planet. Be it the engineering design of a home in terms of heating and insulation or product choices, every small initiative taken in adopting environmentally sustainable products can help reduce carbon footprints. For example, using energy efficient electrical/electronic home appliances can help reduce power consumption as well as carbon emissions. A unit of energy saved is equivalent to two units generated.
Thanks to our several start-ups, many of the green products (used in the world’s greenest countries ranked on environmental performance index, that boast of preserving and restoring the natural environment) are now available in India. Such green products, including green laundry detergents, cleaners, reusable shopping bags manufactured using toxic-free ingredients and environmentally-friendly processes are not only sustainable, but designed to minimise its environmental impacts during its whole life-cycle and even after it is of no use. They have reduced or zero carbon/plastic footprint. As they can be recycled, reused, being biodegradable in nature, it reduces waste and maximises resource efficiency. For instance, tea bags made from corn and wheat starch, recycled corrugated boards as product tags, recycled cotton drawstring pouches etc., are finding use in the place of plastics.
Organic green products like pulses, grown without the use of toxic chemicals or genetically modified seeds under hygienic conditions, lead-free, vegan cosmetics, cruelty-free lipsticks, nail polishes, eyeshadows – all free of toxins, paraben, alcohol and sulphates are all gaining popularity.
The impact of climate change we are witnessing is just a tip of the iceberg but the writing on the wall is quite clear: much worse lies in store for us ahead, unless we quickly act to arrest it. A small step by every individual can help combat climate change.