Why climate summits fail to spur action

Amid one of the largest environmental protests ever, the commitments from some of the biggest emitters — the US, China, and India — are awfully inadequate.

 |  4-minute read |   28-09-2019
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"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —Of cabbages — and kings — And why the sea is boiling hot — And whether pigs have wings.”

The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

The time has indeed come — for action! According to Oliver Tearle, the above poem narrates the story how the the Homo Sapiens infringed nature’s space, their overuse and abuse of nature, which the species feels entitled to.

A lot of talk

The phrase “… why the sea is boiling hot” has an uncanny connotation for sea surface temperature rise, an outcome of global warming and climate change. The remaining seems to be in consonance with the talks that have so far unfolded in climate negotiations. Despite what transpired at Paris Summit 2015, all promises have emerged as blarney talks adorned with jargon! There are no signs of peaking of global emissions that seem to be on a roll! Global temperatures are increasing, with winter temperatures in the Arctic increasing by 3 degree Celsius since 1990. Global warming is making its impacts felt through increasing sea-levels, glacial melts, and death of coral reefs. Impact of climate change is perceived in lower agricultural productivity, lower labour productivity and the threat posed to overall environmental security.

polar_092819111242.jpgWinter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3 degree Celsius since 1990. (Photo: Reuters)

Amid this grave situation, the UN Climate Action Summit (UNCAS) was held in New York on September 23 with two-fold aims: To activate concrete plans by countries to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, and accentuate global action to achieve the aim of net zero carbon emission by 2050.

It is a sad reflection on human civilisation that despite a framework worked out four years back in Paris, it took an urgent meeting in 2019 to stir up action. The UNCAS saw nations coming up with their own commitments, with 77 countries committing to reduce their greenhouse gas emission to net zero by 2050, 70 countries committing to boost their national actions plans by 2020, and 12 making financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund.

This adds up the recent commitments of doubling the contributions by Norway, Germany, France and UK.

Many would laud this achievement as unprecedentedly concrete!

But somewhere it misses the right chord. Amid one of the largest environmental protests ever and a heartwrenching speech from 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the commitments from some of the biggest emitters — the US, China, and India — are awfully short of creating a significant impact in meeting the target of a 1.5 degrees reduction in global temperatures.

The growth aspirations of China and India, and the surge in the US’ climateagnostic approach, promoting the cause of its fossil fuel lobby, definitely comes in the way of achieving this goal.

It is disappointing to note that China and the US played a “blame-game” at the UNCAS about emissions at a time when the world’s top emitters should have come together to fight a common enemy. China’s aversion to commit to ambitious mitigation/adaptation plans emerges from its concern of a slowing economy due to the trade war.

Less substance

There has long been a generic feeling that adaptation has its limits. But, the large parts of the underdeveloped and the developing world might not have the wherewithal for mitigation and, at times, there are situations where mitigation is almost implausible. Under such circumstances, adaptation seems to be the only answer. However, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has revealed a clear bias in favour of funding mitigation projects over adaptation, with an eye on the rates of return on investments.

Instead of such a rent-seeking approach, the GCF should have an urgent approach which best handles the problem at hand. Until such multilateral funding processes look at the “human” effects of climate change, the climate war cannot be won!

Ecosystem neglected

None of the commitments or press statements mentioned the term “ecosystem services”.

This fails to connect the poorer regions of the underdeveloped and the developing world. Ecosystem services, i.e., the services provided by nature free of cost to humanity (food, water, pollution control, medicinal plants, etc) make for a large component of the livelihood of the poor, and rightly called “GDP of the poor”.

Forces of global warming and climate change have had a deep impact on ecosystem services, affecting livelihoods. While the urban rich complain of carbon emissions and the broader global concerns, the worst-hit communities under climate change are the poor.

The “nature-based solutions” mentione din the commitments, do not account for the poor or the links between ecosystem services and livelihoods.

Undoubtedly, we talked a lot. We are falling flat on the face of the questions raised by our next generation. It is no more a question of “need or greed”. It is a “do or die” situation. It is indeed time for the Walrus or, rather, for entire life on earth to “talk of many things”, and for humans to act!

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: How Greta Thunberg is echoing Mahatma Gandhi's views on environment

Writer

Nilanjan Ghosh Nilanjan Ghosh

Director of Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata

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