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Sounding the alarm: The Tribune India

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Shyam Saran


Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Senior Fellow, Center for Policy Research

The draft of the 6th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just been published. Its conclusions should be taken seriously as they represent the consensus among climatologists and experts. Each report has had a significant impact on raising international awareness of the nature and intensity of climate change and on mobilizing national and international action to meet the challenge. The historic Rio Convention of 1992, which led to the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was inspired and informed by the IPCC’s first report of 1990 which drew attention to the pace accelerated climate change and the urgency of tackling it through collaboration. , multilateral action based on equitable burden-sharing. Assessment reports and ad hoc special reports on specific issues constitute a real encyclopaedia on climate change. The special report on 1.5°C published in 2018 led to the implicit adoption of a lower target of 1.5°C for the average increase in global temperature, rather than the 2°C limit enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which included 1.5°C as an ambitious target.

India is a major player because its decisions on energy security will have impacts, both on its own economy and on the world’s ability to fight climate change.

Looking at the series of IPCC reports since 1990, it becomes clear that: climate change is the result of human activities, in particular the adoption of an energy system based on fossil fuels; the ability to tackle climate change lies in successfully transforming the energy system away from fossil fuels; it happens too slowly to make a difference; climate change is occurring at an accelerating rate; its impacts are and will be more severe in the tropical and subtropical zones of the planet; beyond a certain temperature threshold (currently estimated at 1.5°C), there will be irreversible and catastrophic changes in the planetary ecology; that failure to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions through an accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable and clean energy sources will also impose limits on natural and human adaptability to climate change; ensure that climate justice is an indispensable component in addressing the challenge of climate change; economic inequalities between nations and within nations diminish the ability to both mitigate emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change; and the phenomenon has become complex as it interacts through feedback loops with ecological degradation, biodiversity loss and population growth.

The sixth report is remarkable in several respects. It recognizes “the interdependence of climate, ecosystem and biodiversity”. These domains are interdependent and cannot be addressed by interventions limited to each domain. The report goes even further by explaining how climate change has become part of a much larger ecological challenge linked to “the loss of biodiversity, the global unsustainable consumption of natural resources, the degradation of land and ecosystems, the rapid urbanization, human demographic changes, social and economic inequalities and a pandemic’.

This leads to an explicit focus on what the report calls ‘coupled systems’ between climate, ecosystem and human society. But the agent of change is human society. Although not said in so many words, the implications are clear: unless there is a shift in human and societal value systems, it would not be possible to shift to a resilient and sustainable ecosystem. . No technical solution can solve the existential challenge facing humanity. Beyond the technological transformation, there must be the transformation of society, its values ​​and its aspirations.

The report examined the challenge of climate change over three time periods, taking the period 1850-1900 as its base. There are 2021-2040 (short term), 2041-2060 (medium term) and 2081-2100 (long term). The current period (2011-2020) has already seen a temperature increase of 1.09°C. The report concludes that “there is a greater than 50% probability that global warming will reach or exceed 1.5°C in the near term, even under the very low emissions scenario”.

Going back to the special report on 1.5°C, there is a section on more specific impacts on different regions of the world. This has particular relevance for India and the subcontinent. Reference is made to the likely sea level rise which would endanger some of India’s major coastal cities, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. There will be large-scale climate-induced migrations, both inland and across borders, and could reach 40 million by 2050. There could be large-scale negative impacts due melting of glaciers in the Himalayan zone, which could cause lake overflows in the short term and affect long-term perennial snow-fed river systems. These rivers could become seasonal flows, worsening water scarcity and reducing food security across the densely populated Indo-Gangetic Plain. There will be significant health impacts as the frequency and intensity of heat waves increases in our tropical zone.

The report has included some promising examples of successful mitigation and adaptation, but these are few and far between. They are like bandages on a wound that spreads and festers. We need to take very seriously the main conclusion of the report: “The window of opportunity is shrinking for enabling climate-resilient development.

For each country, the response to this growing challenge must be both in terms of national action and multilateral diplomacy. India is an important player because the decisions it makes to ensure its energy security will have major impacts, both on its own economic prospects and on the world’s ability to fight climate change. An accelerated transition to renewable energy and cleaner energy sources would enhance India’s energy security and contribute to global action. The ongoing war in Ukraine is seriously affecting our access to gas and oil imports and their rising prices are depleting our foreign exchange reserves. Even coal prices have gone up. We should strive to ensure that the latest geopolitical crisis does not distract from the need for increased multilateral focus. The catastrophe that awaits us around the corner will have consequences that could eclipse even the terrible tragedy unfolding in the heart of Europe.