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Promises like Pie Crust: Climate Stakes Beyond Agreements

Coal sets the earth ablaze

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The article reflects on the global nonchalance towards the climate crisis, juxtaposing it with the urgency seen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It emphasizes the need for collective awareness, collaboration, and a shift in priorities to address the impending climate disaster.

It is interesting to ponder whether it is difficult for India to reach the mark of a five trillion economy or achieve the net zero agenda by 2070. Although we have certain debates about the first one, the latter seems far-fetched. Almost after eighteen years of signing the Kyoto Protocol the global temperature remains a concern. But concern for whom is the question. If we look into the globe on one side we can watch wars over three places, the Red Sea, Gaza, and Ukraine, and on the other side either governments are trying to escape the economic crises or internal conflicts. Yet, maintaining the global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level remains a big question. The way our body can only survive within the pH range of 7.35-7.45 if the earth’s surface temperature goes above this 1.5 mark, then a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that extreme temperature, precipitation, drought, and abrupt changes in climate and weather can make life vulnerable.

Tracking the off-track

Under the enhanced transparency framework of the Paris Agreement, countries must submit reports on their performance and progress towards climate change mitigation, capacity building, and support received or provided. However, there is an expectation for countries to periodically increase their ambitions. It is just a matter of a decade or two, the situation will likely compel the UN to eliminate the margin between expectation and obligation. Information collected under the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) is compiled in the Global Stocktake. The report published during the Conference of Parties, COP 28, indicates how the world is falling short of its long-term collective climate goals. The hope of meeting the targets of the Paris Agreements appears bleak. To align emissions with COP 21 goals, there is a need to reduce CO2 by 23 billion tonnes. The current potential suggests it could only come down to 2-3 billion tonnes, leaving a significant gap. While there are instances of commendable efforts in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), these are often sectoral and fragmented. Inclusivity is crucial to achieve such massive goals. Efforts to stop deforestation, enhance carbon sinks, or reverse agricultural practices must be feasible and viable for people to adopt alternatives.

Achieving a desirable climate requires both overall and equitable growth. Unlike economic goals, growth cannot proceed with inequalities. Decreasing the average carbon footprint of a country is meaningless if the per capita carbon emission in certain regions is higher than the world’s average. In a country with a higher GDP and higher inequality, government policies play a pivotal role in resource redistribution. However, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a particular individual or firm can affect the whole world. The EU’s carbon tax is a great example of how countries can monitor the production and trade of carbon-intensive goods. Still, imposing taxes on such negative externalities is not a final solution. This echoes Bill Gates' explanation in his book, "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster." Every unit of additional Global Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere is like running water from a tap into a tub. Even if we slow down the flow, the tub will eventually fill, and water will spill over. Urgency is paramount, as emphasized by the final lines of the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell in his closing speech in Dubai: "While we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end." The need of the hour is not merely to switch to renewable sources of energy but to quit using fossil fuels entirely. This distinction is crucial for meeting the net-zero agenda of 2050. Aside from phasing out fossil fuels, almost all other goals of COP 28 are an extension and repetition of the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Building resilience, fostering innovation, integrating with active projects, or increasing funding in climate research is evident for every country, but the priority determines the outcomes. Empty promises at global conferences, self-centered goals, and blaming geopolitics lead nowhere if we cannot foresee the seriousness of all problems, the problem of survival.


Understanding the urgency

Global collaboration, scientific guidance, adaptability, public awareness, and government policies regarding climate change mitigation rely on a sense of urgency. Understanding this urgency is crucial for both those actively working towards it and those unaware of its gravity. Here, we can draw parallels with the example of COVID-19, a pandemic that impacted everyone, thus the seriousness of which was known to all. We should also learn how countries, organizations, and scientists work together to develop and distribute vaccines. The successful vaccination program was possible because of the robust response with which the world reacted. During that phase, neither funding nor existing knowledge posed a problem; the main challenge was creating and distributing the vaccine to everyone. A climate disaster can be worse than a pandemic and the biggest problem then would be the insufficiency of time. We must not forget about the Nobel Prize winners of 2023 in medicine, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. Their collaboration and research on the development of effective mRNA vaccines go back to the 1990s, which emphasizes the importance of continuous research and preparedness we need before such events. Today, developed regions of the world are ahead in innovative investments. Assisting developing nations is crucial as they strive for economic growth. However, financial assistance alone is insufficient because climate concerns are complex and integrated with all economic, social, and political aspects. Encouraging large-scale investments, rather than relying solely on monetary support, should be prioritized. Specifically, regarding CO2 emissions, research indicates that 23 developed countries are responsible for half of all historical emissions. In light of this, developing countries like India must be cautious about the type of development and its sustainability. Speaking of India, the Delhi Declaration of G20 recognized, for the first time, the need for a massive increase in finance required for the world to transition to a renewable energy economy. The Declaration noted the need for USD 5.8-5.9 trillion in the pre-2030 period for developing countries, as well as USD 4 trillion per year for clean energy technologies by 2030 to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. India, recognized as the leader of the global south, can act as a linchpin connecting threads to different countries of G20, SAARC, or BRICS to collaborate, cooperate, and, most importantly, prioritize active engagement in this common goal—a role it played during the pandemic.


By: Jiban Jyoti Routray

2nd Year, Economics Honors, Delhi College of Arts & Commerce, DU


References :

Book- "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" by Bill Gates

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