Editorial: Another talkathon on the environment

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Sunday, November 13, 2022, 09:44 PM IST
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Yet another environment conference is underway, this time in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Last year it was in Glasgow, the U.K. Whether or not something tangible is achieved at these conferences, they are held regularly. Even that is no small gain for humanity, given the rate at which the earth is heating and environmental disasters are occurring across the world. From unseasonal floods and droughts to cyclones, hurricanes and heat waves, catastrophic weather events are regular. From the U.S., one of the world’s richest countries, to Pakistan, one of the poorer, every nation pays a heavy price for the uninterrupted tinkering with Nature. Right now Florida, a prosperous U.S. state, is lashed by unseasonal heavy rains, causing disruption. Weeks ago, Pakistan was in the throes of a severe flood which claimed over a thousand human lives, besides several thousands of livestock; in terms of monetary loss the sum was upwards of $1 billion. Despite global-warming deniers such as Donald Trump, it is a proven fact. And unless something is done, without further foot-dragging, there is no stopping the average temperature of the earth rising by 1.5°Celsius. Already we are closer to the danger mark, having heated up 1.2°C. Research documents warn of several low-lying countries being submerged under rising sea waters as a result of the relentless rise in global temperatures. Bangladesh falls in the danger zone as do most island nations.

It is not that India has not suffered devastation due to global warming. Go to the famous pilgrimages at Kedarnath or Amarnath and see for yourself how the nearby hills have been denuded of foliage. Plunder of nature for human habitation and greed continues unabated. Hundreds of natural streams of water in the mountains in Himachal Pradesh have gone dry over the years. It is now common for rivers to virtually run dry for 10 months of the year. And all too often, following unusually strong rains, they inundate large swathes of human habitation. Why, the country’s capital right now is in the throes of severe air pollution with doctors warning of lung infections and respiratory diseases due to a thick blanket of dirty air full of killer particulate matter. Obviously, the poor, who can neither afford to flee to a less polluted place nor to lock themselves up in homes fitted with expensive air filters, the latest fad of the middle classes, are the greater victims, just as they are of extreme heat waves in summer.

But the question is: with everyone other than the likes of Donald Trump agreed that global warming is a disaster in the making, why is so little being done to at least stop further heating of the earth? The answer is simple: set on its disastrous way of growth sans environmental concerns, the global North is unwilling to pick up the tab to compensate the global South for the latter to switch over to clean energy and green energy such as solar and hydel power instead of fossil fuels. The West’s resolve to break the centuries-old dependence on coal and oil is fickle. It was once again underlined by the Ukraine war. Once the West’s sanctions stopped the import of Russian gas and oil, some European countries led by Germany were quick to go back to coal to fire their economic engines. In this regard, India has made a great leap towards solar energy, increasing several fold the installation of solar panels to exploit its tropical weather, though in the foreseeable future reliance on coal will be hard to give up. China, one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases after the U.S., too lags behind in making the switch away from coal and oil.

It was at the 2015 Paris conference that the decision was made to create a $100 billion fund to compensate the developing world for embracing cleaner fuels. Seven years later that commitment has remained mostly on paper. More words and commitments will flow from the Sharm el-Sheikh talkathon, but none can guarantee sincere follow-up by the signatory countries. We are not being cynical. We are being realistic, though we would be glad to be proved wrong.

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