Half the planet is on fire, while the other half is flooding. We cannot delay the transition to clean economy
By Anirban Ghosh
The new IPCC report is out. It is written after consultation with governments and, for the first time, includes the perspective of paleoclimate researchers—people who have studied climate trends to understand how it will change in the future. The report begins by addressing the core question of human contribution to climate change: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” Nearly six years after the Paris Agreement, the target of keeping global temperature rise under 1.5°C seems like a race that will be hard to win.
The report shows that the last decade was hotter than any period in the previous 125,000 years! On the basis of emission trajectories and commitments of today, it says the globe will be warmer by 1.5°C by 2040. This comes as a blow, as we had all been reasonably confident that getting to net zero by 2050 will limit warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.
The impact of accelerated climate change is all around us. Along with the pandemic, 2020 gave us near-record lows in Arctic sea ice, evidence of significant methane release from Arctic permafrost, wildfires in the Amazon, unprecedented heatwaves in the US, and the collapse of the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic.
This year pushed boundaries even further. Western Canada was caught under a ‘heat dome’, with record high temperatures capping at 121°F. Not to speak of the wildfire in the American West, where thousands of firefighters battled large blazes. In mid-July, Germany and Belgium were hit by floods that ravaged towns and villages. A historic deluge hit China and claimed several lives. In India, Tauktae continued the new phenomenon of severe cyclones on the west coast. It almost seems as if half the planet is on fire, while the other half is flooding.
According to the NASA, India runs the risk of sea level rise with the potential to submerge 12 coastal cities, including Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi and Visakhapatnam, under three feet of water by the end of the century. Sea level rise through the middle of this century has largely been locked in, which means no matter what, people living in coastal areas will need to adapt to higher water levels. In addition, India will experience the detrimental effect of greater warming of the Indian Ocean and sharp reduction in Himalayan glaciers on its weather systems.
But, scientists say, nature rewards good behaviour. According to the report, heating will stop soon after emissions cease, and temperatures will stabilise in a couple of decades. This gives us a chance to meet the targets in the Paris agreement, but it gets more difficult with every passing day. We must act now and give nature a chance to heal itself.
There is hope for a transition to clean economy because many economically feasible solutions are available and the tunnel is not pitch dark anymore. Companies and consumers must adopt viable low-carbon solutions in lighting, heating, cooling, transportation, renewable energy, industrial solutions, et al, as quickly as possible. We must also make clean hydrogen, green processes to manufacture steel, cement and aluminium, and resource efficiency practices economically viable as fast as we can. If we act on these things now, we will have the bandwidth to work on other solutions like flexible solar films and carbon capture and usage in time to make a real difference. Some billionaires around the world have started investing in green technologies, ‘ESG funds’ are finding favour with investors, and the trends must become a flood.
Embracing a low-carbon path to development can yield rich dividends for India. Rapid reduction in the cost of generating solar energy as also of storage batteries can help India address energy security and emission reduction problems. The electric two-wheeler revolution has been triggered and India has the potential to be the largest, most sophisticated clean two-wheeler player in the world. Similar opportunities lie the electric three-wheeler and other spaces of the new economy.
Real success will lie in setting an example that climate action can be taken by every nation in the world. It can trigger a virtuous cycle of climate action, but to be effective, we must accelerate implementation now.
The author is chief sustainability officer at the Mahindra Group