Act on climate change, despite the uncertainty
Given the wrangling between climate scientists—Richard Tol of the University of Sussex wanted his name off the latest IPCC report’s summary—it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion on the intensity of climate change. Nor is it just Tol, others have expressed scepticism over IPCC report since, as compared to the 0.2 degrees Celsius that the IPCC said the earth was warming by in each decade, it turns out the actual number is a much lower 0.12 degrees since 1951. In the event, while the IPCC’s earlier stance was that global warming was ‘likely’ to be over 2 degrees over the next 70 years, this figure is now down to 1.5 degrees.
The problem, however, is that we just don’t know; even the scientists at IPCC, divided as they are, don’t know. If, as the IPCC’s latest report projects, global growth will fall by between 0.2% and 2% by the time global warming reaches 2 degrees centigrade, the global economy will have grown so much, this may not matter that much. The problem, however, is that averages mean little. Low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, and parts of India, will be vulnerable to flooding—and disease—due to warming; it is of little relevance, then, as to whether, thanks to global warming, more areas of the Arctic will be open to exploration for hydrocarbons. Climate change, the latest IPCC report points out, will affect two of the world’s most important crops—wheat and maize—and will affect both their yields as well as prices; price hikes of up to 84% have been simulated due to changes in temperatures as well as yields.
There is little doubt that climate change is an inexact science and, to that extent, an alarmist report can frighten countries into going in for unaffordable climate-mitigation solutions. At the same time, it is apparent, the impact of climate change—typhoons and severe droughts—will be extreme in areas they occur in. Which is why countries like India, even if not wanting to be rushed into expensive climate-mitigation solutions, need to start preparing now. Indeed, many of the solutions recommended are ones that India needs to act on anyway. Using more GM seeds, for instance, to increase yields is something India needs to do. Ditto for using new technology that produces more drought- and heat-resistant seeds as well as those that use less water. Given the fact that India already imports close to 30% of its energy needs, and this is projected to grow to 50% by 2030, India needs to, in any case, find new ways to lower energy intensity—regardless of whether global temperatures are going to rise by 1.5 degrees or 2.5 degrees Celsius.