27/09/2019 The Hindu Editorials Notes – Mains Sure Shot
Question – What is climate emergency? Is there a need to declare a global climate emergency?
Context – The recent meetings on climate change.
What is climate change?
- Climate change is a change in the pattern of weather (weather is the state of temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall and so on of a place over a long duration of time usually several weeks), and related changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets occuring over a long period.
- Long period of time generally refers to a period more than a decade.
- Climate change may be due to natural processes, such as changes in the Sun’s radiation, volcanoes or internal variability in the climate system, or due to human influences such as changes in the composition of the atmosphere or land use.
- Short term fluctuations in climate, such as droughts, are not referred to as climate change but changes in the long-term statistics of the climate system are called climate change.
An inconvenient truth:
- Our first attention to climate change was mainly drawn by the 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth.
- The movie portrayed the dire causes and consequences of climate change. But people hardly paid attention to it.
- Though it initiated debates on climate change most of the people did not believe that our planet would ever run out of resources.
- It was thought that discussions would take place among scientists and environmentalists, but that the impact of climate change would never really be felt by us. And that if it were to be felt, it would take a long time, perhaps a couple of centuries.
- But we are already facing the impacts and the reality is visible to all.
What is climate emergency?
- Bristol councillor Carla Denyer was the first put forward the idea declaring a climate emergency.
- Simply put climate emergency is the acceptance of the fact that climate change is real and has occured on a severe scale and need urgent action before it’s too late.
Why declare a climate emergency?
- According to the United Nations we have just 11 years left to limit a climate change catastrophe.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that by 2040 there could be global food shortages, inundation of coastal cities and a huge refugee crisis.
Why is climate change a concern?
- Higher temperatures and more extreme, less predictable, weather conditions are projected to affect availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater, and further deteriorate water quality. Low-income communities, who are already the most vulnerable to any threats to water supply are likely to be worst affected.
- More floods and severe droughts are predicted. Changes in water availability will also impact health and food security and these have already proven to trigger refugee dynamics (both inter-state and intra-state) and political instability.
- Global warming will drastically affect agriculture — the production of rice, wheat, maize and soya will decrease significantly. This will lead to food shortages and malnutrition especially in the tropical areas.
- Apart from malnutrition, climate change will give birth to newer infections and illness.
- This imbalance will in turn affect the economy which will lead to conflict, war and global unrest.
- If this continues, sea levels will rise and submerge coastal areas. These natural disasters will make millions of people climate refugees.
India and climate change:
- Studies have shown that the countries in the tropics will be worst hit by climate change than the temperate areas. India lies in the tropics.
- We have already started facing the burnt. For example, Cyclones such as Thane, Vardah, Ockhi and Gaja have affected Tamil Nadu in recent times; Chennai saw terrible floods in 2015. Floods wreaked havoc in Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar this year, and Mumbai received record monsoon rains. Kerala witnessed floods for the second consecutive year. Cyclone Fani devastated Odisha, Cyclone Vayu ravaged Gujarat this year. All these are because of climate change.
- First and foremost it is important to understand that climate change will affect each one of us on this planet, it will not see who made the maximum damage. Rather it is the countries that have made the least damage like the African countries and India are at the maximum threat. So, which countries are responsible for historical emissions is now past the stage of debate.
- Second, there is a need to declare immediate climate emergency and take urgent steps as we take during any other emergency to find an applicable solution to it.
- The Paris Agreement was one of the best steps to deal with it on a global scale. It brought all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. But U.S.A., the world’s second most polluter after China has pulled out of it. So, there is a need to declare a global climate emergency bringing all States under its fold.
- Countries will have to increase the pace of their efforts. Countries like the U.K., Canada, France and Ireland have already declared climate emergencies. So have local bodies and NGOs worldwide. Unfortunately India and U.S. are still slow to act.
- Steps specific to India – The Indian government should declare a climate emergency immediately. Immediate policy changes should include reducing the usage of fossil fuels by half by 2030, encouraging the use of public transport, increasing forest area, promoting non-conventional energy, devising good water management policies, implementing the plastic ban stringently, banning the burning of waste, promoting innovative urban planning policies and reducing mass rearing of cattle for human consumption.
- Note: There is another article on economic slowdown titled ‘how can the India economy ride out of the storm?’.
- We have dealt with the economy in too much detail, not once or twice but several times. The direct reference to this article’s argument was in our summary of 16th September, 2019.