Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Fate of Planet Earth

As torrential rains forces the authorities to close Chennai Airport, as Beijing chokes under a thick, brown smog and air pollution reaches 20 times what the World Health Organization considers to be safe and as Delhi become the ‘Most Polluted City in the World’, leaders from 147 nations addressed the opening session of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris between November 30 to December 11.
One of the objectives of the COP21 (it is the 21st yearly session of the Conference of Parties), is to review the implementation of the 1992 Rio Convention. In Brazil, world leaders had agreed on a UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and avoiding ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’.
The UNFCCC has now 195 parties/members.
During the COP3 in Japan, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted; then the COP11 in Canada agreed to the Montreal Action Plan, while the COP15 in Copenhagen could only acknowledge that the Kyoto Protocol targets had not been achieved; this perhaps triggered the creation of a Green Climate Fund during the COP17 in Durban.
This time, the aim is to find an effective and equitable agreement to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
Will it succeed?
Probably not: simply because the interests of the different players are too divergent. However one should look at the COP21 in another perspective.
Never in the history of mankind, have so many heads of State and Governments congregated in a single place. For months, the world’s chancelleries put tremendous efforts to enable a consensus during the Meet.
France, as the host of the COP21, says that “it is committed to the role of an impartial facilitator for forging an ambitious agreement.”
Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP21 Chairperson has been criss-crossing the world for months. After his visit to Delhi on November 20, he rushed to South Africa, Brazil and Canada to look for possible solutions and this, despite the disparate interests.
Each and every capital has done some homework. Take Beijing, it recently released its latest scientific assessment, a 900-page document called ‘Third National Climate Change Assessment Report’; some 550 scientists have participated to sum up the present knowledge and environmental consequences of rising greenhouse gas levels for China.
They found that average temperatures across the Middle Kingdom have been rising faster than the global average, and that te trend is likely to continue.
If you multiply these efforts by more than 100 nations who have taken the issue seriously, the COP21 is already a success.
The human race has realized that its fate is in the balance.
Of course, the West and Asia do not see eye to eye.
Steffen Böhm, a professor in Management and Sustainability at the University of Essex is one of the few Westerners who understand the less-developed nations’ point of view; he wrote: “Stop blaming India and China for the West’s 300 years of destroying the environment”
Böhm believes that the COP21 will be failure: “The basic reason is that the unequal distribution of carbon emissions is not even on its agenda. The historical responsibility of the West is not on the table, nor is a method of national carbon accounting that looks at how the emissions a country consumes rather than produces.”
The Indian Prime Minister, while addressing the opening session, expressed similar views: “Over the next few days, we will decide the fate of this planet. …the consequences of the industrial age powered by fossil fuel are evident, especially on the lives of the poor. The prosperous still have a strong carbon footprint. And, the world's billions at the bottom of the development ladder are seeking space to grow. So, the choices are not easy. But, we have awareness and technology.”
A western journalist wrote in La Libre Belgique: “India claims the right to pollute”. She represents the view of many in the West, but this type of attitude can lead nowhere.
President Obama was more diplomatic; he urged negotiators to deliver a meaningful deal, because the ‘next generation is watching’; he added: “Climate change could define the contours of this century more than any other challenge.”
The urgency of the situation is the only consensus right now.
There are however several positive initiatives.
Narendra Modi along with French President Francois Hollande launched the International Solar Alliance. It will be hosted in the premises of the National Institute of Solar Energy in Gurgaon and India will provide land and contribute about US$ 30 million to build the Secretariat: "This day is the sunrise of new hope –- not just for clean energy, but for villages and homes still in darkness; and for our mornings and evenings filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun," said Modi. Let us hope.
The world event in France will see the participation of the ‘civil society’, the green NGOs, ‘stakeholders’ of every hue and of course the climatosceptics, who do not believe in climate change, but only see it as a conspiracy of the rich nations.
Probably a crucial concept will be forgotten, that is Sustainable Consumption which means that humanity has to start consuming less, if it wants to survive. Humans need to realize that the resources of the planet are limited and need to be shared by all. But who should start acting first, the rich or the poor?

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