The Perils of Climate Change

By Vignesh Ganesh, G.J. Advani Law College, Mumbai.

With the world growing in economic prosperity by making rapid strides in various fields, there is no question that the human civilization has developed and prospered over the millennium.

But can development be measured in terms of economic parameters only?

With the challenging issue of Climate Change looming over us, different forms of media make us aware of rising global temperatures, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise, widespread occurrence of droughts, floods and a range of natural disasters that strike at a global scale. These are the consequences of our abuse of all that the Earth has provided us and climate change is a monster of our making. Here are some facts from over the years that reflect the crisis we are in.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, from 1901 to 2010, the global average sea level rose by 19 centimeters as oceans expanded due to warming and the ice melted. With the current concentrations and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, it is estimated that the world will see a 1-2 degrees Celsius increase in global mean temperature over the 1990 level (about 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial levels). Even if the emissions were to suddenly stop, the effects of global warming and climate change will still persist for centuries.

An iceberg that was twice the size of the country Luxembourg (size of Luxembourg is 2586 km2) broke off the Antarctic ice shelf between the 10th and 12th of July, 2017. Weighing over a trillion tons, this 5800 km2 behemoth, dubbed as “A68” is just the tip of the iceberg though. What actually bothers scientists is that the Larsen C ice shelf (the ice shelf from which the iceberg calved) could itself become unstable and splinter into smaller pieces, further contributing to the rise in sea level. The iceberg “A68” was one-tenth the size of the ice shelf. Sea ice captures and helps remove CO2 from the atmosphere as a part of the natural processes that regulate the climatic systems in the world. With massive tons of ice rapidly melting from the poles, a large amount of captured CO2 is being released into the atmosphere, further upsetting an already endangered balance.

Another fact is that the U.S.A has been struck more frequently by hurricanes of rising intensity and duration since the early 1980s. Hurricane Katrina, a deadly tropical storm, caused massive destruction along the gulf coast from Central Florida to Texas. 1,245 people died due to the storm and subsequent floods. It was the third most intense landfalling tropical cyclone to hit the U.S.A. Hurricane Sandy, another great hurricane, hit the east coast of U.S.A. and the Caribbean, leaving behind a trail of carnage and destruction with an estimated 1.8 million structures destroyed or damaged and an estimated 10,000 jobs lost. The economic losses were estimated to have exceeded 65 Billion Dollars and it claimed over a 137 lives in different countries.

In our very own Indian Subcontinent, a rising incidence of erratic monsoons and cyclonic activity has, by extension, caused flash floods, landslides and successive droughts, playing havoc with life and property. Countries like Bangladesh are grappling with issues of increasing sea levels threatening its shores. Rising temperatures and evaporation are causing changes in precipitation and with greater incidents of rivers flooding their banks, fears are on the rise that the low-lying lands of Bangladesh will soon be submerged. This scenario would cause a massive exodus of refugees into the neighbouring countries, specially India, causing massive population congestion and a substantial increase of conflict on an already pressurized region over depleting resources. According to an answer given by the Environment Ministry, on the basis of a study conducted by the University of Oxford, between 2030 and 2050, 1,36,000 climate related deaths are projected to occur. This was a response to the question raised by a Parliamentarian in the Lok Sabha (Lower House). India witnesses a high incidence of farmer suicides every year due to massive crop failures and by extension, mounting debts. These crop failures occur due to a deadly mix of unseasonal rains and widespread drought in the country. Another consequence of climate change is the blanket of toxic fog, smog, that envelops cities thus leading to breathing problems and diseases. 

Smaller island nations like the Maldives are some of the most endangered nations due to flooding from climate change and if we were to follow the IPCC’s 2007 Report, by the year 2100, the upper limit of sea level rises will be around 59 centimeters (23 inches) and Maldives may see 200 of its inhabited islands abandoned.

There are several such indicators out there for us to follow that happen to be signals from our environment that the time to act is now. Instead, we are on our way backwards.

President Donald Trump, the 45th and current President of the United States of America, does not acknowledge climate change as a credible threat and this reflects in his energy policies. On 1st of June, 2017, he announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement that deals with the mitigation of greenhouse emissions in over 170 countries.United States of America was the only large nation to pull out, but this move has dealt a great blow to the movement that aims to protect the environment. Several world leaders and civil activist groups vehemently criticized this move, but the U.S.A. remains adamant. However, this isn’t the only time a developed nation has shirked its responsibilities. For decades, a tug of war has been ongoing between the developed and the developing nations with each faction blaming and imposing responsibility on the other. The developed nations want the developing nations to take urgent steps to reduce their emissions, which comes at a cost to the latter’s economic growth. On the other hand, the developing nations blame the developed nations for the sorry state of affairs they have left the world in, with their capitalism and consumerism.

Several legal instruments lie at our disposal like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 1992, the Kyoto Protocol 1995, the Paris Climate Agreement 2016, etc., that happen to be comprehensively detailed conventions dedicated to encourage and strengthen global response to the threat of climate change, by keeping the global temperature rise to marked levels outlined in these international conventions. The Paris Climate Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

With several countries signing and ratifying these conventions, a promise has been made to pursue efforts to prevent and combat this global menace from causing irreversible damage to the planet. With legislation being drafted along the lines of these international accords and protocols, execution is what is bound to follow.

India has also taken measures to tackle emissions by drafting comprehensive policies like the National Action Plan on Climate Change, which outlines eight national missions that speak about multiple preventive measures on various fronts to curb India’s greenhouse emissions and make a slow but steady transit from non-renewable to renewable sources of energy. India has also conceived a policy of a levy on coal which was introduced in 2010, with funds going into a National Clean Energy Fund. Even the Supreme Court of India observed that the health of the citizen is more important than the commercial interests of the automobile industry and ordered a freeze on the sale of Basel III vehicles from April 1st, 2017.

With humanity finally waking up to its present crisis, we can only pray that our future generations do not have a gas chamber for a planet!

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