The West and the Rest PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 July 2019 00:00
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Last week, France recorded its highest temperature ever—just shy of 46oC. In Spain, 10,000 acres of forests have been lost to wildfire and two have died because of heat effects. Europe, which faced a particularly nasty heat-wave last year—Greece burned then as Spain is burning now—is seeing a repeat this year. Scientists, while talking about proximate causes, have said that there is an undeniable link to climate change. In a defining characteristic of the Anthropocene, G20 leaders reiterated a “resolve” to fight climate change for the umpteenth time, even as the US, the worst historical polluter and a major one today, kept its distance.

Meanwhile, a Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analysis shows world leaders dithering on action even as teenagers like Greta Thurnberg urge immediate steps. Against a goal of restricting global increase in temperature from pre-industrial levels to under 2oC and an ideal of 1.5oC, the planet will be warmer by 4.5oC without any action, and by 3.3oC with current action. With signatory-countries’ “ambitious” plans, the warming will still reach 2.9oC by 2100—the roadmap for meeting the commitments outlined in the Paris agreement, from which the US has since withdrawn, was negotiated at Katowice, but fossil-fuel economies are not scaling back dependence fast enough.

The world is indisputably getting hotter, and room for developing countries to catch up to their developed peers while overall emissions are within the “safe” zone is shrinking. The time to act has possibly even run out, as the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has warned. China and India are routinely blamed for their growth-induced emission-shares. But, as CAT shows, Morocco, the Gambia, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Costa Rica and Bhutan are the only nations whose climate pledges, if all countries were at similar levels, could prevent a >2oC rise in global temperature. The rest—the US and Russia rank among the worst— seem happy to watch the world fry.

The Trump administration in the US continues to dismantle Obama-era policies designed to reduce national emissions. If it successfully implements all that it is proposing, CAT estimates, emissions in 2030 could exceed 2017 projections by up to 400 MtCO2 equivalent. While one American lawmaker is aggressively pitching the “Green New Deal”, a radical climate action path, Republicans, and sections within the Democrats, have shot it down. The European Union is taking steps in the right direction, but needs to radically increase emission reduction goals. While Canada, a major fossil fuel economy, too, is on a climate-friendlier path, unless it takes more stringent action, its emissions in 2030 will still be higher than its 1990-levels and, thus, nowhere close to 1.5oC-compatible. Developed nations’ reluctance to act and fund climate action by developing and least developed nations has been a fault-line in climate negotiations in the past. Now, with the EU burning, the UK and North America freezing—these regions witnessed unprecedented cold waves the past couple of years—and India getting battered by an unusually strong summer cyclone and record floods, the Earth is indeed proving flat when it comes to climate change. It is no longer the West versus the rest; it is the West and the rest.




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