Planet’s Climate is Already Threatening Humanity
Year 2014 has been the hottest year recorded in human history and 2015 is going to be hotter! And it is only 0.85 degree warming over the pre-industrialization era!!
Around 40,000 brains from 195 countries will gather in November end in Paris for a meeting that they hope will relieve the world of global warming and climate change worries. The aim of the conference is to arrive at agreements that commit nations to massive emission cuts so that temperature of the globe doesn’t rise more than 2 degrees by 2100, above the pre-industrial era 2 centuries ago.
Ahead of the conference, 146 countries have made pledges to cut their emissions (in the UN language it is called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)) from 2020. Even if these pledges are honestly implemented (which most people doubt), experts calculate 2.7 degree Celsius rise by 2100.
So the vital goal of Paris meeting will be to have countries agree to much deeper emission cuts and arrive at some mechanism to bind them to their pledges. Of course, the ideal solution is to shift entirely from fossil fuel economy to renewable energies which is again a matter of political will and countering vested interests of companies in burning fossil.
Importance of 2 ˚C Scenario (2DS)
Scientists and experts have been warning that if the greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current pace and the planet warms beyond 2 ˚C by century end, above the pre-industrial levels, earth’s climatic conditions would get catastrophic and irreversible. Under the current business-as-usual emissions trajectories planet’s temperature is heading for well above 2 degree, to about 5 ˚C rise. It must be nightmare for those walking on the earth at that time.
The World Bank’s 2013 report, Turn Down the Heat and Price Waterhouse Coopers speculate 4 degree rise by the end of the century if the business-as-usual scenario continues, but International Energy Agency (IEA) sees the world heading for a 6 degree rise if we do nothing.
According to Professor James Hansen even a 2 ˚C rise will cause “major dislocations and extremely hostile climate for human life”. What is at stake is the human civilisation; therefore, global warming or climate change should not be reduced to the level of trivial coffee shop topic. In fact, low lying and vulnerable island countries would want global temperature rise to be restricted to 1.5 ˚C. But the so-called developed world is not comfortable with that and rejected the idea in 2009 in Copenhagen itself.
Scientists have calculated that in order to stay below 2DS only 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide can be emitted by 2050. But oil companies are sitting on five times more reserves.
Developing countries have always maintained that for the atmospheric CO2 problem, the fault squarely lies with the industrialized nations who became rich before other nations could catch on by burning fossil fuels to power their industrial development. Therefore, prime responsibility for drastic emission cuts lies with developed nations.
Moreover, they argue that providing post-2020 finance to developing countries is based on the historic responsibility of the so-called ‘developed’ nations. In India’s viewpoint this is ‘fundamental’ to the success of Paris Summit and it has to be ‘predictable’. and scaled up from $100 billion upwards.
Of course, the so-called ‘developed’ nations want to evade contributing to the Green Fund and want to rope in other players such as – the emerging economies, the World Bank and the private sector.
Story Behind Pledges made by Countries
An analysis of 20 countries that are responsible for 81% global emission doesn’t inspire much hope.
China, the largest emitter with 24% emission share, plans to double its CO2 emission – it will be adding 363 additional coal-fired power plants. The second largest emitter, US, is likely to do what it has done in the past. President Obama may agree to whatever emission cuts at Paris, but there is no chance of Congress approving it, just as it vetoed the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. It is still controlled by the fossil fuel lobby.
The third largest emitter India plans to treble its emission by 2030 despite mega plans to embrace solar power and energy efficiency. The next largest emitter Russia plans to expand its industrial base by 38%. Next in line, Japan, will be building more coal-fired power plants and South Korea is also doing nothing much.
Saudi Arabia and Iran appear unconcerned about global emission cut concerns. The UAE is also happily increasing its emissions, except to say that it will invest more in solar and nuclear power. Brazil’s only concern appears to slowing down felling and burning of Amazon raiforest.
The EU is the only part of the world pledging to cut emissions by 40% by 2030. But even there, Poland and Germany plans to add more fossil powered power plants.
What about the Green Climate Fund for the benefit of developing countries? It was earlier agreed that by 2020 it will get $100 billion each year? So far, pledges add up to only $700 million.
Global Leadership Crisis
The United States, sole superpower in the world, has failed to show any sense of responsibility and leadership quality to justify its superpower status. It chickened away from signing the earlier Kyoto Protocol of 1997. It is a country that is run for the rich, by the rich who have considerable stake in continuing fossil fuel economy.
The US seems to be a weird country: it can put together a global alliance to fight its so-called ‘war on terror’ and pump several trillion dollars. But it fails miserably when it comes to fighting poverty or climate change. Clearly, it finds fighting wars and invading countries more profitable for its companies. Imagine the profits its arms and oil industries made from its long-drawn Middle East military adventure. Wars offer solid boost to GDP, as is common knowledge.
In the current scenario, there is no way to make the US mend its ways. The only thing that might possibly force it to show any environmental leadership is a scenario where the country is hit really hard by a series of natural disasters that cause widespread losses and shake the rich elites – just as 9/11 terror attack shook it to gear up for ‘war on terror’ in 2001.
Humanity Rising Against Global Warming
However, increasing penetration of internet around the world now ensures that ordinary people of the world have access to information from non-media non-journalist sources. So they now have some say in what was so far in the privileged domain of politicians, governments and powerful global vested interests. Corporate media continues to work for their corporate bosses, but fortunately it no longer has absolute monopoly of dissemination of information and shaping public opinion.
Increasingly, people around the world are discovering the power of electronic social media – websites like facebook, twitter and other online channels now connect people with information instantly. As this cyber community continues to grow stronger, its power to shape public opinion and change government policies is also growing. Now any news on climate change gets instantly transmitted across the world, without editing, twisting or filtering by the so-called ‘experts’ and journalists.
As a result, it appears that more and more stakeholders are getting eager to become part of climatic solution – even the die-hard climate change deniers are switching sides once exposed to harsher climatic events and scientific data. Their side is increasingly losing ground in the traditional tug of war with the pro-action humanity. Low carbon world is no longer as threatening to them as technological progress in the non-fossil alternatives ensure them to still live within their ‘energy comfort zone’.
There is Cause for Optimism Now!
In the past, low carbon solutions were not attractive enough for consumers or investors. But then governments stepped in with subsidies on both demand and supply side for renewables. They also tried to price carbon through taxation or cap and trade system. Though the efforts did not change global emission trajectory but ended up creating large enough low carbon markets that reduced costs of alternate technologies. It is encouraging both consumers and investors that would further expand the markets and further reducing prices – a virtuous cycle by all means. This is the cause of optimism and hence the paradigm shift.
Therefore, even if the Paris Summit fails to produce any tangible and meaningful result and global leadership fails this year, they will be facing much ferocious pressure next year, and year after that, till they do what global citizens want.
Now is perhaps the best time to accelerate the pace of global energy transition and phase out fossil economy, forever.