Several of Bihar’s 38 districts are flood-hit — people have lost lives, homes continue to get damaged, and countless agricultural fields have been inundated. In Africa, heavy rains ravaged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, and Ethiopia. After being hit by a dual disaster — an earthquake and hurricane Grace — Haiti’s health system is severely strained, as are the rescue teams still hunting for survivors. In the U.S., a total of 41,122 wildfires have burned more than 4.59 million acres. One might think these disasters have been recorded over a long period, but unfortunately these are just a fraction of many natural calamities reported in one week of August alone. Besides, all this is occurring when the world is already grappling with a pandemic. These are numbing data, as numbing as the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report.
The report estimates that the world will probably reach or exceed 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) of warming within just the next two decades. What it also highlights is the current state of the climate: atmospheric concentrations of a range of greenhouse gases are increasing, the water cycle is assessed to be intensifying, frozen parts of the globe are melting, and the oceans are warming up, to list a few indicators. While these findings no doubt give us a sense of impending doom, they come at an important time in human history, a time when environmental consciousness is at an all-time high. Sadly, though, many governments continue to brush environmental concerns under the carpet.
That is why the Report’s third chapter — ‘Human influence on the climate system’ — caught my eye and should be a must-read for everyone. Direct and to-the-point, it charts how our actions over the years have led to where the environment is today. It finds that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of the observed changes in hot and cold extremes on the global scale (virtually certain) and on most continents (very likely)’. It adds that these temperature changes are further ‘amplified at the regional scale by regional processes such as soil moisture or snow/ice-albedo feedbacks, land use and land-cover changes, or aerosol concentrations, etc.’ It estimates irrigation and crop expansion to have increased summer temperatures in some regions such as the U.S. Midwest (medium confidence). And, importantly, urbanisation appears to have furthered temperature extremes in cities.
While such events have been edged on by human-induced climate change, it is most likely to continue to increase with further global warming. Frequent heat waves, droughts, flash floods, and other disasters are proof. Be it large regions such as the Americas, Europe and Asia, or the polar regions and smaller islands, the report is clear that every part of the world is bound to be affected by climate change. Specifically in Asia, marine heatwaves will continue to increase, fire weather seasons will lengthen and intensify, heavy rains will amplify, shorelines will retreat and coastal areas will shrink.
For those who refused to believe in climate change, the news is officially out there now. What needs to be done? For starters, governments need to ensure that the efforts and millions spent on climate action actually deliver the needed results. A recent op-ed in German publication Handelsblatt explains how: ‘The German way has long been to spend many billions on climate action without paying attention to the effects achieved… The use of funds and the effect on climate protection are blatantly disproportionate. The absurdly high funding for the expansion of renewable energies over many years has become legend. When switching to electromobility, politicians are in the process of repeating the same mistake.’ These comments stand true for other world governments too.
In addition to transformational policies, countries need to seriously tap into renewable energy sources. Reducing unsustainable and polluting power sources is no longer enough, we need to do away with them altogether given the dire state of affairs. Governments should develop these policies in close dialogue with corporate climate leaders working to reduce emissions because they can bring immense insight and innovation to the net-zero transition idea. As weforum.org says, ‘Governments can gear the market towards low-carbon activities in the pandemic recovery by stopping fossil fuel subsidies, putting a price on carbon, and making climate-related financial disclosure mandatory’.
Humans might be the reason for environmental degradation but, ironically, human-centric measures can also be the solution. Tapping into indigenous knowledge and technology and investing in them is perhaps a good place to start. Over the last few years, advancements in organic farming, reforestation, water conservation, urban design, energy, and more have shown exceptional results. Taking them seriously would not just help create a tremendous talent pool, but also pave the way for much-needed environmental change. Every change starts off small and revisiting this philosophy rather than bogging the public down with unfathomable statistics and scientific jargon is what we need.
A fortnightly column on environmental sustainability and urban issues