Think global, act local to mitigate climate change

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September 30, 2015 12:25 AM

The world desperately needs a sustainable social and economic change to fight climate change. A positive outcome at COP21 in Paris would be a bonus

Any discourse on global warming should change its focus from “climate change” to “climate justice”, which means that the plight of the poor has to be shown greater concern. This is eluding us so far because the rich nations are not prepared to take into account their historical emissions since the advent of industrial revolution.Any discourse on global warming should change its focus from “climate change” to “climate justice”, which means that the plight of the poor has to be shown greater concern. This is eluding us so far because the rich nations are not prepared to take into account their historical emissions since the advent of industrial revolution.

In early December this year, the world is going is have a brainstorming debate in Paris on how to mitigate climate change. Whatever the shape of discussions and their result at the global level, the fact remains that suo motu best actions by all nations locally, at least, can do a lot of good to reduce climate change.

The various steps that have to be taken by countries at the local level should be in line with their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) now almost finalised by them and either submitted or going to be submitted shortly to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Then, UNFCCC would be taking stock of them. It should further evaluate fully scientifically whether their composite contributions would be enough to limit the average global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees centigrade from the pre-industrial level.

Talking about India, what does the country need to do? Firstly, we should focus on generation of clean and renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydropower, nuclear and gas-based, etc, to reduce carbon emissions. The government of India has already committed to having installed capacity of 175 gigawatt (GW) of clean energy by 2022, including 100 GW of solar and 60 GW of wind energy. If approved by the Cabinet, we may have nearly 450 GW of clean and renewable energy by 2030, including 250 GW of solar, 100 GW of wind, 65 GW of hydropower, 15 GW of nuclear and 15 GW of gas-based energy. We need to ensure that we achieve these targets so that our credibility is not dented at the global level.

By achieving the above targets, India would have an impressive 40% of clean energy in the total energy mix by 2030, instead of just 6% at present. However, even this would not be enough since 60% of energy would still be fossil-fuel-based. Therefore, we would continue to have increasingly huge emissions for a long time to come because of our developmental activities to combat poverty.

In view of this, our second step should be towards conservation of energy (because energy saved is energy generated) in all spheres of activities—industrial/commercial, transportation, residential/household, agriculture, health and education, etc. For this, we need to use clean modern technology in all our processes and systems which would require sufficient investment. Although a clamour has been made at various Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings in the past for providing clean technologies to developing and underdeveloped nations at low cost by rich nations, there have been no concrete results so far. Even fast-track fund of $100 billion to be created at the international level for poor nations for climate change mitigation and adaptation measures does not seem to in sight yet. Therefore, we must manage funds on our own.

Third plausible measure to control carbon emissions is to bring about lifestyle changes including our profligate consumption habits. The rich and the very well-to-do need to shun their lavish lifestyle. The greed of materialistic possessions greatly enhances environmental pollution risks, because we need to produce and manufacture more and then transport more from one point to another, which requires lots and lots of land, resulting in a huge reduction in our forest areas which act as carbon sinks.

Mahatma Gandhi had said long ago that the world has enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed, and the statement is very relevant in the context of climate change today. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also amply emphasised on the need of our lifestyle changes and adjustments and imbibing our traditional way of life which maximises the use of resources as one of the best ways to keep emissions low. All this would happen only by self-realisation and voluntary action on the part of the people. All rich western nations and developed nations elsewhere, which have a highly extravagant consumption, have to understand this much more than they do now.

At the international level, any discourse on global warming should change its focus from “climate change” to “climate justice”, which means that the plight of the poor has to be shown much greater concern. This is eluding us so far because the rich nations are not prepared to take into account their historical emissions since the advent of industrial revolution. They should now allow more carbon space to poor countries so that can also develop to alleviate poverty of their teeming millions.

Fourth, in India, population explosion is a big curse on our society since it is continuously degrading our environment in a number of ways. We are getting suffocated with high air pollution, water pollution and water scarcity (even the world could have 40% water shortage by 2030). We are facing the challenges of sewage disposal and waste management of all kinds. Our rivers are getting dirtier by the day and the Ganga is a glaring example of this. More than 50% of our households are without sanitation facilities. Let us implement the ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in all earnest so that we can achieve our target of constructing 12 crore toilets by 2019 with water running in them.

The above issues have assumed alarming proportions over time because of ever-increasing population. So, stabilising our population is a must. It is high time the government takes some innovative steps to achieve this. The poor need to be taught about the advantages of small family such as better health and good education for their children through well-designed and interesting programmes. The government may even think of providing some desirable incentives such as accelerated increments for serving persons who take to family planning according to government’s regulations and advice.

While the climate change issues discussed here are primarily India-specific and would differ from country to country, the important point here is that all COP nations should take action on their declared INDCs locally with utmost sincerity irrespective of what happens globally at Paris. Any worthwhile treaty emerging there—which can be the basis of a good successor to Kyoto Protocol—would be a bonus. The world desperately needs a sustainable social and economic change to fight climate change.

The author is a former UN Consultant and Director, Central
Statistical Office, Govt of India, ppsangal@gmail.com

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