Greta Thunberg highlights urgency of climate action, the future will be bleaker if her message is ignored

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Published: September 26, 2019 5:00:18 AM

Whatever the criticism, there can be no doubt that Thunberg is right in foregrounding climate action, rather than climate negotiations and deals, as the need of the hour.

Greta Thunberg (AP Photo)Greta Thunberg (AP Photo)

What Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg—who is travelling the world when, in her words, she should have been in school—is pleading, and why, is far more important than the how of it. Thunberg made a passionate plea for urgent climate action at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, and lashed out at world leaders for dithering. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words … We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” Thunberg raged. There are many who have criticised the style and substance of Thunberg’s activism before, and many more joined the list after her angry speech. Some commentators, nearly all of them climate-sceptics, have not-so-subtly brought up Thunberg’s autism, and depression in attempts to blight her activism, and the overall stance of urgent climate action. Some others believe that the immediate action that Thunberg is urging will undermine democracy as the world knows it, and raise bogeys of climate action somehow fuelling populism—of the trade protectionism and anti-immigrant kinds that are rife today, championed by known climate sceptics. There are also some who endorse the substance of Thunberg’s stance—time is running out to act on climate change, and future generations will greatly suffer if those in power today fail to take action—but, believe that Thunberg’s methods are more panic-mongering than a reasoned call to action. Whatever the criticism, there can be no doubt that Thunberg is right in foregrounding climate action, rather than climate negotiations and deals, as the need of the hour.

Nearly all of the developed world seems to be still going soft on climate action. As per the Climate Action Tracker, only seven nations—India, Morocco, the Gambia, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Costa Rica, and Bhutan—are on action paths that are “2oC compatible”, that is, if all countries were taking similar action, it would be possible to realise the Paris goal of keeping warming to <2oC from pre-industrial levels. But, a report by United in Science, a coalition of prominent climate science research institution, released just before the UN Climate Action Summit has sounded the foghorn—greenhouse gas emissions reduction must be at least tripled, and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the Paris 2015 goals. Current plans take the world to average temperatures of between 2.9oC and 3.4oC by 2100, which could cause catastrophic change. Ahead of the summit, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres exhorted world leaders to take more coordinated action; “we have no time to lose,” he said, as all manner of extreme weather and weather-related events—long heatwaves, record-breaking downpour and floods, raging wildfires, glaciers getting wiped out, etc—have played out in alarming frequency in the last few years. There is overwhelming evidence that the climate crisis has deepened over the past three decades, with the last one witnessing drastically accelerated impact.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year said that the world has nearly run out of time for action—it is now hotter than pre-industrial levels by 1oC, and will soon be hotter by 1.5oC. At 1oC of increase, we are already seeing untold devastation. In such a scenario, it is likely that Thunberg, who is seen by some as the voice of climate conscience that the world needs at the moment, has come to the stage too late. But, however bad the future that faces us, it will be much worse if we ignore what she is saying.

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