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Paris Summit: TOWARDS CHANGE OF CLIMATE?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 2 Dec, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 2 December 2015

Paris Summit


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


All eyes are on Paris. The historic climate change conference, which is in session there, is expected to reach a global agreement based on commitment by all nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Over 180 countries, amounting to 95 per cent of the world’s emissions, have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which outline their commitment to reduce emissions between 2020 and 2030 through domestic action. However, scientists who have analyzed these found that even if these were implemented, which is unlikely, the global temperature would rise to around 3 degrees by 2100.  


The situation thus is indeed disturbing. Various measures need to be taken to curb the incidence of greenhouse gases and it is for the developed countries to take the lead. However till now they have been reluctant. For example, India’s INDCs is more ambitious than that of the US in terms of moving towards non-fossil fuels.


Perhaps, a rewind of Pope Francis’ first speech at the UN General Assembly would be welcome, where he condemned the ‘grave offence’ of economic and social exclusion. He stated: “A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.” He appeared to have echoed the sentiments of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, against the exploitation by the rich and powerful through direct and indirect ways and grabbing more than normally due.    


Francis criticized unbridled capitalism in the two years of his papacy. The Argentine pontiff called on government leaders to ensure that people enjoy the minimum means needed to live. “In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour and land”, he stressed. His observation has great significance, when there is world-wide concern on the grave consequences of environmental pollution and over exploitation of the Earth’s resources for an ever-increasing population.    


The Pope’s warning or advice should have wide-ranging repercussions on political leaders across the world, specially the West, where consumption standards are very high while large sections of the population in Africa and South Asia languish in poverty and squalor. How long should this be allowed to continue in a world where everybody is talking about sustainability, equality and balanced development would be a key concern?    


A report of the Global Footprint Network revealed that humanity lived within the Earth’s means till 1970 but driven largely by carbon emissions, it has steadily been increasing debt ever since. It means humanity is on course to consume 1.6 Earths this year and, if the current course is maintained, we will be using the resources of two Earths per annum by 2030.


While the consumption has been an unsustainable burden on planet, over 60 per cent of the earth’s ecosystem has been degraded or used unsustainably. Experts are unanimous that our current way of life is unsustainable. The fast depleting oil reserves, the lack of fresh air and  shortage of water not to speak of drinking water are obvious signs of unsustainable use by an ever-expanding population.  

A recent article by Julia Layton in Environment Science noted that if everyone lived on Earth like a middle class American, consuming 3.3 times the subsistence level of food and about 250 times the subsistence level of clean water, the Earth could only support about 2 billion people. On the other hand, if everyone on planet consumed what he or she needed, 40 billion would be a feasible number. As it is, the people in the developed countries are consuming so much that the other approximately 75 per cent of the population is finding it difficult to live with what they barely need. 


In his book ‘The Future of Life’, renowned Harvard University socio-biologist, Prof. Edward O. Wilson has stated: “If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1,4 billion hectares (3.5 billion acres) would support 10 billion people”.  Further, he explained that 3.5 billion acres would produce approximately 2 billion tonnes of grains annually. This would be enough to feed 10 billion vegetarians but would only feed 2.5 omnivores because so much vegetation is dedicated to livestock and poultry in the US.      


There is, however, a small section of experts who believe that the world with its vast resources has the potential to create a sustainable world where 100 per cent of the population can live comfortably and in harmony with the environment. This is rather difficult to believe as a drastic transformation in our mindsets and consumption patterns of life and living doesn’t look possible in the coming years. Besides, it would take a very long time to innovate in different fields to make available hitherto unexplored resources and give these for human use.


The onus of change is primarily on the political leaders of the G-5 countries though developing countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa have a major role to play. In addition, civil society, the scientific community all have to join hands in the endeavour to conserve resources, reorient consumption patterns, explore and innovate new areas. But before this, the ever increasing greed of a section of humanity has to be drastically reduced.


The orientation of our lifestyle, our behaviour and our wants has to be in synergy with the strategy of development. Development in Third World countries like India has to be so geared that there is a grass roots approach, whereby all people are assured of the basic necessities of life and living. Moreover, the planning strategy has to take into account that growth does not affect the environment, i.e. industrialization shouldn’t be allowed to pollute the planet.  


Herein comes the question of sustainability. Though there has been much talk of the need for a sustainable world since the release of the Bruntland Commission report, there is little that has been done. While the developed nations have paid lip service towards controlling emissions and continued with conspicuous consumption, emerging economies like China, Brazil, India etc. with their large populations have failed to control pollution. Moreover, their growth has not been based on environment-friendly models as a result of which pollution has grown rapidly.           . 


Both groups accuse each other of not adhering to environment-friendly norms. But it is a fact that the developed nations have not given the resources promised to the Third World countries nor transferred environment-friendly technologies to them so that their growth is not hampered. The present INDCs of respective governments entail huge expenditure which is extremely difficult to generate. For example, India’s post 2030 climate action plan would require around $2.5 trillion between now and 2030. With limited resources at their command, the developing countries have not been able to achieve much while keeping pace with their development objectives.


Recall, the Kyoto Protocol didn’t achieve its desired objective and though a treaty or agreement may be signed in Paris, at the end there may be little to cheer. The agreement to be signed is not just about an accord to cut emissions but how the world will operationalize equity. While we need to keep hope to save our mother Earth, the role of environmental activists during and post the conference would be the key to keep up the pressure at the national and international level. ---INFA 


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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