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Carbon Footprint and Climate Change

Carbon Footprint and Climate Change Inspite of the increasing incidence of forest fires and rising global temperatures, most countries of the world are still not on track to reduce their carbon footprint. The pledge made in Paris Agreement has not been fulfilled which is clear from the UNEP’s ‘Emission gap’ report. It says that the countries must raise their ambition to cut down on global emissions by at least three times to meet the 2 degree celsius target. If the emission gap is not closed by 2030, we will not be able to read this target even by 2100. This IPCC report quantifies how disastrous the situation would be if wide sweeping and drastic measures to cut down on carbon footprint are not taken. The evidence presented in this report says so far only 57 countries (representing 60% of global emissions) were on track to do so by 2030. India is not one of them and is likely to miss its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Most biggest contributors are far from achieving this target which is a worrying concern.

Most of the G-20 countries still rely on fossil fuels, almost to the tune of 82%. However, India’s NDC is closest to the 1.5 degree Celsius limit. The recent green policies like the National Electricity Plan, may help us to meet it by 2030. Simultaneously we are also targeting a total forest cover of one third of our land area which currently stands at 24%. It is not a surprise that the world has lost 60% of its biodiversity over the last 50 years only. Clearly human beings are stretching their natural limits too thin, jeopardising bio-capacity (The ability of an ecosystem to renew itself). Our ecological footprint has grown by 190% in the last 50 years, nearly ten times the growth of bio-capacity. There’s a huge pressure on earth and that’s a bad news for all of us. Look at the mismatch! Only about 30% of earth is covered by forest when they are home to 80% of all terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Most of the tropical and subtropical forests have been felled for farming. To meet rising demands of wheat and rice for growing population, natural forest covers have been reduced drastically.

Now let us see what we can do about our increasing ecological footprint and decreasing bio-capacity on our own personal level:

Temperance- Temperance means self-restraint, moderation and discretion. In terms of sustainability, it is required to live within the sustainable limits of the Earth. Profligacy leads to environmental degradation. Can we limit our wastefulness while buying and consuming?

Prudence- Prudence helps create sustainability because it maintains the attitudes of prevention, conservation, caring and mitigation. Can we be wise enough while doing things which have repercussions on the environment?

Fortitude- Sustainability involves not only knowing what is right but also the ability to stick at it, so being sustainable, on an individual level, requires courage, determination and heart. Once we take a pledge for being environmentally conscious, can we stay at it?

Justice- We must do the right thing not just for ourselves, but for the common good and for the environment as well. Sustainability cannot be left to a few, while the rest are profligate. Can we all take responsibility for ourselves?

If we all set our moral compass towards being a responsible citizen of the world, we can achieve much more than we have ever thought of. Environment preservation and conservation is a way of life, not just an agenda to follow.

Seema Malik

Project on Biodiversity

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Reflections on IPCC special report

A recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that global warming must be limited to 1.5 degree celsius in the next twelve years, after which even a rise as small as 0.5 degrees could have devastating effects. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0 degree Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels. It is likely to reach 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2050 if it continues unabated. Long term changes have already happened such as sea level rise and erratic weather phenomena across the world.

Now, let’s see what can be the benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. This means Arctic ice remains intact through summers, saving the habitats of polar bears, whales, seals and penguins. The world has already seen unprecedented heat waves and forest fires, raising the number of ‘highly unusual hot days’ Also, large swathes of land suffer from extreme drought now. Many regions have also seen acute water scarcity, throwing everyday life out of gear. Many plant and animal species have already seen dwindling of their range of species. Mass mortality of coral reefs is another major fallout. There is a danger that they may entirely disappear after getting heavily bleached. Flooding of coastal areas, rendering millions of people vulnerable is already causing suffering around the world. Crop yields are dropping significantly, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia, Central and South America, stunting future generations with starvation and malnourishment.

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is expected to reduce increase in ocean temperature as well as associated increase in ocean acidity and decrease on ocean oxygen levels. Thus risk to marine biodiversity can be minimised. It will have a positive impact on human health, livelihood opportunities, food security, water supply and thus overall economic growth. Estimates of the global emission outcomes of currently stated 2 degrees as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions. Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if the global emissions start declining well before 2030. Thus sustainable development, eradication of poverty and reducing inequalities would be better addressed if global warming were to be limited to 1.5 degrees.

For strengthening the capacities for climate action, the governments, civil society, private sector and local communities will all have to come together. Major lifestyle changes and policy changes are required to get synergies for sustainable development goals. There will always be trade-offs but the transition will have to be managed both with acceleration of technological innovation and collective behaviour changes. I firmly believe that our schools can also make a change by becoming aware of the grave climatic situation we are faced with.

Seema Malik

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