Junk the term climate change, replace it with one that recognises impending catastrophe

Scotland has already declared a climate emergency and is setting targets to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions to net-zero by 2045.

Climate catastrophe, climate change, the Guardian, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ecosystems, opinions
What about India? Is there a groundswell of public opinion in favour of strong action on climate emergency? (Photo: Reuters)

The Guardian is not the only one that has decided to change approach—and language—to climate change. Across the world, there is a groundswell of opinion that we have to do something drastic to avert the climate catastrophe. It started with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) special report Global Warming of 1.5°C, published in October 2018, which gave the world just 12 years to limit warming to less than 1.5°C to avoid catastrophic impacts. Since its publication, all the scientific reports indicate that we are fast approaching the precipice. A recent report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) shows that health of ecosystems—on which our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life depend—is deteriorating faster than ever. It notes that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history and global warming is playing a significant role in this.

Taking the cue from these dire predictions, a grass-roots movement is slowly emerging that is demanding drastic emission cuts. Led by Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg demanding immediate action on climate change, thousands of school children in Europe have walked out of their classrooms since late last year, for a day every month, to protest against climate change. Extinction Rebellion, an international socio-political movement demanding radical changes, locked down central London for 10 days. Their protest forced the UK Parliament to declare a national climate emergency.

Activists are now working with governments, local and national, to declare climate emergency. Scotland has already declared a climate emergency and is setting targets to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions to net-zero by 2045. New Zealand’s parliament is likely to vote on this issue soon.

What about India? Is there a groundswell of public opinion in favour of strong action on climate emergency? Unfortunately, no. There is little recognition of the climate emergency itself. Indian environmental NGOs and think-tanks are fixated on the politics of developed versus developing countries and waste their time in the blame game. The bureaucracy likes nothing better than the status quo and our political masters have little understanding of the climate emergency. Their level of seriousness can be gauged from the fact that during the entire election campaign, the term ‘climate change’ was not even mentioned by any of our top political leaders.

But there is an emergency and we must recognise this. Look at the extreme weather conditions in the past month in different parts of the country: n The east coast was hit by Cyclone Fani in beginning of May. Thanks to the exceptionally good prediction by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), we were able to save thousands of lives, but the economic losses caused by Fani in Odisha are estimated to be in excess of `50,000 crore. It will take Odisha many years to reconstruct and to bring back people out of poverty.

– Maharashtra and Karnataka are reeling under drought—with 80% of districts in Karnataka and 72% of districts in Maharashtra suffering from acute water scarcity and crop failure.

– Heat wave has gripped different parts of the country and claimed lives in Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Telangana and Maharashtra.

– Dust and thunderstorms have pummeled west, central and north India and claimed the lives of at least 64 people (similar to the loss of lives during Cyclone Fani), a majority of them in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

The fact is that it is going to get worse as global temperatures rise inches towards 1.5°C. India is going to suffer the most from this climate catastrophe because of our higher vulnerabilities and lower coping capacity. It is, therefore, in our interest to take the lead to reduce emissions and build resilience in our economy, infrastructure and ecosystems to withstand the onslaught of the changing climate and its extreme impacts.

The important aspect to consider is that acting on climate emergency is not going to affect our economic growth and our quest to remove poverty and deprivation. In fact, most studies indicate that a strong mitigation and adaptation programme will aid us in meeting our sustainable development goals (SDGs); like reducing poverty and hunger, improving health and well-being, and providing essential services and gainful employment to everyone.

But, a strong action on climate emergency will require a drastically new way of doing development. For this to happen, our language on ‘climate change’ will have to change. We must recognise that climate emergency is real, and we must call it as such. It is time we all junked the term ‘climate change’ and replaced it with terms that recognise the impending climate catastrophe.

I will not use the term ‘climate change’ anymore either. That word will be replaced by the more accurate ‘climate emergency’ or ‘climate catastrophe’ in my dictionary. It is time we called a spade a spade.

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First published on: 22-05-2019 at 00:06 IST