Saving Planet Earth

Ruchi Ghanashyam Tuesday 15th November 2022 02:36 EST

Another UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, is taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 6-18 November. India’s delegation is headed by Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupendra Yadav. He inaugurated the Indian Pavilion and launched the Indian campaign, ‘In our LiFEtime’ to encourage youth between the ages of 18 to 23 years to become message bearers of sustainable lifestyles. 

India has always highlighted the need for sharing new technologies with developing countries and for developed countries to fulfil their commitments towards climate funding in accordance with the principles of ‘polluter pays’ and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. It is vital that funding commitments be met, if our planet has to be saved.  India’s planned transition to a low-carbon development alone will require “tens of trillions of dollars by 2050”, with around $2 trillion needed for adaptation between now and 2030. 

India has committed to an ambitious national plan focused on renewable energy to combat climate change. PM Modi wants half of India's energy to come from renewables by 2030. There is fast progress on solar power generation in India. 

Western media and climate change analysts, however, express concern about India’s continued dependence on coal for power generation. “While renewable energy is growing faster in India than in any other major economy”, says a report in the CNN, “the country remains reliant on coal, which has long powered the country's growth and accounts for more than 80% of its energy mix. Indian officials have also said the country plans to expand its use of fossil fuel even as many of its nearly 1.4 billion people choke on the pollution it causes”. Concern is also expressed about India’s emissions which remain high in absolute terms at over 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year. It is also said that India’s goals are not ambitious enough to limit global warming. 

These concerns, however, mask the real picture. India’s emissions have necessarily to be seen in the context of its massive population. Per capita figures clarify that the contribution of the Indian people is actually minuscule: the average American emits 14.7 tons of CO2 a year, while an Indian person emits around 1.8. Moreover, the responsibility for global warming and causing climate change has to be seen in a historical context. The emissions from the developed countries post industrialization, are the cause of the problem. As a result of industrialization, living standards in western societies improved way beyond those in the poorer developing world, which was largely colonised at that stage. Asking a poor person to bear the responsibility for combating climate change that was caused continues to be worsened by the rich in the developed world, even as the poor struggle to eke out a survival, can not be justified. 

The discussion about responsibility and funding is at the base of the efforts to combat climate change. While this debate goes on, the globe is hurtling relentlessly to a point of no return. As we have been getting concerned about melting glaciers, shrinking rivers, worsening air pollution and eroding soil cover, scientists are talking about the release of vast amounts of carbon stored in the northernmost reaches of our planet. This is said to be an “overlooked and underestimated driver” of the climate crisis. Carbon stored in the frozen grounds of our planet are estimated to be around 1,700 billion metric tons. According to NASA, it is about  51 times the carbon released globally as fossil fuel emissions in 2019. Overwhelmed by images of melting glaciers and shrinking ice-sheets, the thawing of the permafrost is overlooked. Intense wildfires sweeping Siberia in recent years cause, what is being described as, zombie fires, as fires continue to smoulder underground even after the overground fires have been extinguished. 

The planet seems to be in a free fall. While our generation may largely escape the disasters staring mankind in the face, we will surely bequeath a disastrous legacy to our children and theirs! As developed countries grapple with recessionary economies and the war in Ukraine, is there even any appetite left for the larger, all-encompassing crisis that we all face together as a world? There is no other planet in the galaxy where humans could survive, and no matter how much science progresses, there is no way that life as we know it could be recreated on another planet like Mars! 

This planet is our one and only home. Let’s hope that world leaders find the will to save it. 

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