World Environment Day: Climate change is a race against time

Climate activism can mount pressure on governments and political parties and force them to treat climate change as an urgent political issue. With time the cost of tackling climate crisis will rise

Representational image
Representational image

Ajit Singh

In despair, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said: “Act as if our house is on fire.” Climate Activism is somewhat missing in countries of South Asia, Africa and South America. In poorer and developing countries, it is thought to be an “elitist concern”, but as per data from The Economist, countries of these regions will be severely affected by the impact of climate change. From rise in frequent heat waves to rise in mean sea levels due to the melting of Polar ice caps, people living in coastal areas and near the Equator will be severely affected by the climate catastrophe.

There are five key issues that we need to work on so that the impact of climate change is minimised. Some lessons can be drawn from young people in the West where protests, strikes and demonstrations under the banners of ‘Fridays for Future’ and ‘Save the Earth Initiative’ have gained momentum. Due to the increased climate consciousness among young voters, governments are at least pretending to act.

In Australia, the federal court evoked duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis. This means that the government is obligated to not act in a way which would be detrimental to young people’s health, well-being and safety. This is hugely encouraging. This historic judgement is also proof that climate activism works and mounting pressure can force governments and political parties to treat it as an urgent political issue.

Excess fertiliser and cattle urine leaching into waterways has led to eutrophication of major rivers in the country. This has not just made two-thirds of rivers and lakes un-swimmable, but uninhabitable for local fish and animals.

Developed nations over time used fossil fuels like petroleum and coal to sustain industries and factories. They were responsible for a large percentage of greenhouse gases and the least that could be expected from them was to take responsibility. They must reduce their per capita carbon emissions, which are the highest in the world.

Sadly, that’s not happening. Some relaxation could also be provided vis-à-vis Intellectual Property Rights related to safer and cleaner technologies so that disadvantaged countries may readily use them without spending millions on R&D.

Three-fourths of transport-related emissions are from road traffic alone. Most of this comes from passenger vehicles like cars and buses, which account for 45.1 percent of total CO2 emissions.

In cities and metros, the government can invest in public transit systems that should be highly subsidised for students, older people and the target population so that people stop using personal vehicles. Cheap and good public transport will help to reduce road accidents, as well as carbon footprints of cities. It will also lead to more pedestrian-friendly cities.

It also needs to invest in building road infrastructure and should install public charging stations to facilitate inter-city and long distance travel. As far as the cost of EVs is concerned, which is pretty high and unaffordable for most people in developing countries, we may use the economies of scale to bring down their prices.

Similarly, nudge economics can also play a critical role in influencing consumer behaviour by making them more aware about the advantages of EVs and the impact of their contribution to the fight against climate change.

Hard laws are needed to limit industries and activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. A story by The Guardian revealed that just 20 companies have been the source of more than one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.

Out of these 20 companies, six are based in OECD countries and four in the US. These exploiters of oil, natural gas and coal have been accused of tax abatement, tax fraud and siphoning of funds to Bermuda, Bahamas, Virgin Islands and other tax havens.

All these companies have managed to maintain an influential presence in the US Congress through powerful lobbies which ensure favourable laws and help them increase their profit margin every year. Tough laws and proper implementation strategies to tax and penalise these giant corporations are in each nation’s interest. On a brighter note, some countries have already started, which could have a knock-on effect in other countries as well.

Climate change is a race against time, the sooner we realise this, the better it will be. With cautious optimism, we all can agree that it is possible to mitigate the pressing crisis by focusing on collective actions that include making sustainable lifestyle choices, discouraging fossil fuel industries, building pressure on governments and fixing accountability at each level of governance.

As per 2018 studies by the University of Minnesota in the US, the longer we wait to take action, the more expensive it will be to tackle the climate crisis.

For instance, failing to mitigate climate change for five years will cost a mammoth $23 trillion. Compare that with the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008-09 which wiped off more than $2 trillion from the global economy.

That is how big the climate crisis is.

(IPA Service)

Views are personal

Courtesy: The Leaflet

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