India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the World Leaders' Summit of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 2. (Photo: AFP)
Has Glasgow been a failure or a success? A lot depends on how one sees the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which ends tomorrow.
When leaders delivered speeches, activists demanded specifics. While leaders offered pledges, activists asked to see concrete plans.
And always, always, activists wanted action now. “Political will is all very well,” said Lydia Machaka of CIDSE, “but at the end of the day, what we need right now is action.”
Like many other issues in the world, the reactions to climate change mirror the very unequal politics of the world today.
Nations that have grown rich through their unjust exploitation of other nations in times past, and who pride themselves on being advanced, refuse to contribute their fair share to make this earth more livable for all.
The 13-day Glasgow summit was meant to encourage dialogue and negotiation between the developed world and less developed countries on the future of our planet.
We are already beginning to see large-scale migration as people leave homelands destroyed by drought or floods for more hospitable climes
In a time of environmental crisis, we desperately need the cooperation of each one. We must all cooperate, for instance, in keeping the global temperature from rising.
A rise in global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius will melt the polar ice caps, raise the level of the seas, and flood and destroy every city built along the coasts. All this within 10 years.
For it seems obvious, except to the very blind and stupid, that we cannot carry on the way we are.
For most of the world, climate change has meant intense heatwaves, unpredictable rains, sudden floods and rising sea levels for most countries, especially for places in the tropics like India.
And of all those affected by climate change, it is the poor who are hurt most of all. We are already beginning to see large-scale migration as people leave homelands destroyed by drought or floods for more hospitable climes — only to be met by hostility, barriers and the outright refusal of other people to accept them.
All environmentalists know what greenhouse gases are — water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone. Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of the earth’s surface would be about minus 18C (0 degrees Fahrenheit), rather than the present average of 15C (59F). In other words, it's greenhouse gases that make our earth livable.
But what industrial pollution has caused is the greenhouse effect whereby the sun’s heat is trapped on the earth’s surface and heats it up unbearably, causing a change in climatic patterns. Environmentalists have called this global warming.
The developed countries, on the other hand, refuse to accept any responsibility for climate-induced losses
Global warming is responsible for changing patterns of rainfall, bringing cyclones, drought and flooding in their wake. Global warming makes the earth’s surface more and more unlivable.
The main complaint of the less developed countries is that the present crisis on earth is largely due to the reckless pollution caused by the advanced countries of the world over the last 200 years. These countries, therefore, demand compensation for losses.
The developed countries, on the other hand, refuse to accept any responsibility for climate-induced losses.
In fact, now that the damage is done, the West tells the rest of the world to cut down on their industrial pollution — to give up coal-based industries and fossil fuels, for instance, and invest in cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar.
But these new technologies require heavy financial investment and the industrialized world will not put in its fair share of investing in these technologies so that other countries can also benefit.
In 2019, for example, the developed countries provided US$16.7 billion as a grant for climate finance. This works out to just one dollar per person per month — a negligible amount when one looks at the huge subsidies given for fossil fuels.
India is a vast country whose needs for cheap and safe energy are enormous. So what can a country like India do?
At the moment, India is 54 percent dependent on coal, 30 percent dependent on oil, and 6.3 percent on gas — almost 90 percent on fossil fuels. And most of its emissions come from coal, its biggest producer of electricity.
The Covid-19 pandemic revealed that in the absence of public trust, even a developed country like the USA was unable to vaccinate its people
One promise India made is to increase its capacity for non-fossil fuel energy by 2030. This means effectively turning to solar, wind and nuclear power (presently just 1 percent each).
Will this be achieved in eight years? It’s highly unlikely.
A popular hashtag at Glasgow among activists was #TelltheTruth. It exemplified the frustration felt by so many young people at the lies and prevarications of their leaders in the matter of climate change.
Two things that have emerged from COP26 and the Covid-19 pandemic are the erosion of public trust in governments and corporates, and a sharp awareness of the deep inequality which exists in many societies like the USA, Brazil and India.
The pandemic revealed that in the absence of public trust, even a developed country like the USA was unable to vaccinate its people.
In India, we see daily the effects of public distrust in the communal skirmishes, trolling on social media and increasing hostility between communities cleverly fostered by a partisan government.
There is no way a country divided within can face an ecological threat. India is a grossly unequal society . Will it ever be able to face the disasters of climate change in spite of the public posturing of its leaders?
This is the real challenge of COP26.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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