7 PM Editorial |Flattening The Climate Curve| 15th June 2020

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Flattening The Climate Curve


COVID 19 pandemic has brought the world to a stand still. A paradigm shift in structure and functioning of societies is expected once the pandemic subsides. This is seen as an opportunity where a sustainable development model can be pursued with a low carbon footprint. But this requires political will from leaders of the nations similar to how they are tackling the COVID 19 crisis.

Let us understand Climate change, its impact and impediments in global cooperation.

Understanding climate change:

Greenhouse gases are those which absorb longwave solar radiation reflected by the earth surface. Carbon dioxide(CO2), Methane(CH4) are examples. If their quantity in the atmosphere is under control, there are no issues. But if their concentration goes beyond limits, due to absorbed heat by these gases, they will increase the temperature of the earth. This is called climate change. CO2 concentration is an indicator, as it the main cause climate change

CO2 concentration had started increasing 18000 years ago when it was below 200 ppm(parts per million). At 11500 years ago, it reached 270 ppm which led to warming of earth which in turn led to the start of agriculture. Since then till the 19th century, CO2 concentration has always remained below 300 ppm.

Since the mid 19th century, as part of the industrial revolution fossil fuels of oil and coal were burnt and emissions of CO2 have increased. This led to unprecedented accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. Despite nature absorbing half of emissions, in 2018 CO2 concentration reached 407 ppm. Such levels of CO2 were seen 3 million years ago. This led to many adverse consequences.

Consequences of climate change:

Temperature rise is the direct consequence. By 2015 there was a 1 degree rise in global temperature compared to 1915. Climate models predict heating by 4 degrees by the end of the 21st century. Even if commitments of nations under PARIS AGREEMENT are fulfilled, 2 degrees of warming is expected. This will have an adverse impact on global weather and ecosystems.

Consequences of temperature rise:

  1. Rise in heat waves and number of extremely hot days[EHD – temperatures above 35 degrees celsius]. March 2020 was the second warmest March on record. In India, 2010 saw 5 days of EHD, whereas predictions are 15 days in 2050 and 42 days in 2100. Such high temperature will lead to events like Australian bush fires and Amazon fires of 2019
  2. Extreme weather phenomena like drought, hurricanes, heatwaves will become more frequent. There is already evidence for the same.
  3. Melting of glaciers which will result in rise in global sea levels and floods in riverine regions. This will lead to land degradation in coasts where marine water will come further landward. Further island nations face the threat of submergence.
  4. Agriculture faces risks due to erratic rainfalls and extreme weather events. Too much increase in temperature will lead to pests and reduced yields. Locust challenge being faced by India currently is due to unseasonal rains in West Africa due to climate change
  5. Temperature sensitive ecosystems like corals will be severely impacted.

Thus there will be huge adverse consequences if climate change is not addressed. There is a need for a global front to tackle the challenge.

Finances and technology transfer – Broken promises:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC report predicts  $2.4 trillion per year(2.5% if global GDP) investment in energy efficient systems to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. In addition low carbon technologies need to be provided to developing countries to enable a shift from fossil fuel based economy.

Developed countries are the cause of  high levels of greenhouse gases. So they are responsible for providing finance and technology transfer to tackle climate change. To mobilize funds to tackle global climate change, developed countries had promised $100 billion per year in the 2009 Copenhagen summit oF UNFCCC. But this was not adhered to. Only $71 Billion was mobilized till 2017 and 80% of it towards mitigation and. In addition, money provided included loans and development funds which have to be repaid. Technology transfer is also lacking due to Intellectual property constraints.

Developed countries have ignored the principle of Differentiated responsibility leading to weakening of global fight against Climate change. US withdrawal from the PARIS agreement can be seen in this context.

Going ahead:

COVID 19 has presented an opportunity to redefine development processes in a sustainable way based on principles of equity and climate justice between nations. Mitigation measures like geo engineering and carbon sequestration are currently unable to address the challenge and are temporary measures. A complete altering of mindset with leaders displaying responsibility to cut emission is the only way we can address climate change. Only then we flatten the climate change curve of rising CO2 concentration and temperatures.

Source:The Hindu

Mains Question:
  1. What do you understand by climate change? Developed countries have reneged on their commitment to tackle climate change. Do you agree? Explain. [15 marks, 250 words]


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