There has been a consensus in the scientific community for several years that human activity was causing the globe to warm. Human activity had produced global warming; it will take human action to bring the situation under control. This required ambitious actions by governments around the globe. With this aim in view, 192 countries assembled in Paris last December and, after two weeks of intense deliberations, concluded an agreement – the Paris Climate Accord.
The Paris Agreement took a different approach from the one adopted by the Kyoto Protocol agreed to a couple of decades ago. It was based on mandatory and enforceable carbon reduction by member countries. Paris, on the other hand, called countries to develop their own programmes, submit them to the United Nation’s body responsible for overseeing global warming, keep the programme under review and update it every five years after the Accord was ratified. The agreement would enter into force when at least 55 nations representing 55 per cent of global emissions officially join the Accord. For each nation, that process includes signing and domestically ratifying the agreement and then depositing an “instrument of ratification” at the United Nations. Two major steps were taken in the first week of October to cross the threshold.
India completed the process on October 2, bringing to 63 the number of countries that together represent 51.89 percent of global carbon emissions. India’s action mattered since it is now the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide accounting for 4.1 per cent of the global total. The United States and China the two largest emitters had led the effort at Paris and were among the first countries to join the Accord. India, by joining the Paris club, won applause especially when it brought the total of committed countries to 51.89 per cent, close to the 55 per cent target. The EU action pushed the agreement over the threshold of 55 percent. “The entry into force of the Paris Agreement less than one year after its signature is a massive achievement, given that it took eight years for the Kyoto Protocol to become effective,” said European Parliament President Martin Schluz.
Scientists broadly agree that the individual plans made by countries under the Paris Agreement will not stave off worst effects of global warming. Among those who worry is the highly respected NASA scientist James Hansen,whose recently published paper argues that a 1.3 degree increase above pre-industrial level is well past the climate safe zone. He argues that to “stabilise the planet at 1.5 or two degrees Celsius now probably means developing expensive new technologies, which do not exist at a large enough scale, to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That means extracting of carbon dioxide from the air in order to achieve the agreed goals.”
The South Asian region will be affected the most if the pace of global warming does not get slowed. There are signs all over the Subcontinent that weather changes have arrived. Most of the water that flows down the areas large rivers comes from the melting of glaciers. Pakistan has many of the world’s glaciers and they are threatened by warming temperatures. South Asia has a long coastline, most of it in India, which makes it vulnerable to rising sea levels. Millions of Bangladeshis will be rendered homeless as sea levels rise. The Subcontinent has experienced devastating heat waves in recent years, which have led to deaths and seriously affected agriculture. Collective action is the only way to deal with the worsening situation. India is the only South Asian country that is giving some attention to climate change. It made news on October 2 when it completed the process that would contribute to the formal launch of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the main reason for India’s impressive moves in the area. He is determined to move the country to a broader mix of electrical resources by significantly increasing wind, solar and hydropower. There are plans that will have the country produce more than 20 per cent of solar power in the world. If the goal is met, it will help to meet the growing demand for electricity as the country urbanises and improves the living standards of its people. According to one account, the Indian “government has three initiatives to help achieve its climate goals – a market to balance supply and consumption of electricity which should be launched next year, a programme to enhance the efficiency of the agriculture sector, and a programme to spur more efficient technologies in air conditioning which is critical given that cooling accounts for half of the growth in new efficiency demand.”
Pakistan’s leaders have yet to turn their full attention to developing a credible climate change and environment protection policy. In fact, by choosing to solve its energy shortage by building large coal-using power stations, it is moving in a direction that goes against the spirit of the Paris Accord. This is bound to be noticed by the outside world and will become another area for international condemnation. Pakistan, already high on the international disapproval list, can’t afford to have another item added to that list. The leadership elite has to gather the courage to develop the needed consensus to invest in large hydroelectric projects.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2016.