Paris is host as from this week to the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was probably in the Jihadists’ scheme of work that the conference hosting world leaders from about 200 countries should have been disrupted in the wake of the mass killing of innocents they inflicted on the city on Friday 13th October. Paris has taken up the challenge to host the conference nevertheless under extensive security arrangements.
The hope is that the flop which previous meetings on climate have proved to be will incentivize global leaders to reach a deal this time. That it will not be yet another stressful series of eventually fruitless official discussions, for persistent differences to be left to be sorted out at the next meeting or after, as to which country will sacrifice how much?
If Paris produces a positive way forward to tackling the disastrous climate situation facing the world, albeit in a not-as-much-as-expected forward-moving positive direction, this could become a turning point. This is the hope. Short of such progress, the Paris summit would have been yet one more of a series of wishful speeches like the collapsed summit of 2009 in Copenhagen.
Briefly, what is at issue? Individual countries like the US, China, India, etc., going after higher rates of economic production, use massive amounts of polluting fossil fuels. This throws up in our commonly shared atmosphere unsustainably large amounts of carbon emissions and what are called greenhouse gases destroying our living space. The rapid pace at which industrial production has been going on for decades – and, one might say, even centuries — has taken a severe toll on the environment of planet earth.
This is showing up in extreme weather conditions manifesting themselves more severely in recent years in different parts of the world. Instead of the typical cyclones we witnessed in the past, there are now more frequent super storms like Haiyan which devastated the Philippines and southeast Asia in 2013.
An increased recurrence of flash floods and severe droughts in different parts of the world as well as melting of polar ice caps are viewed as the consequences of the damage wrought by humans to the natural environment. Steady supply of potable water is under threat in different parts of the world. Temperatures are on the increase. Sea levels have already gone up and are predicted to rise further due to the climatic change factor to the point low-lying islands would be submerged within coming decades.
If human action is responsible for the observed catastrophic consequences of climate change all over the world, the question arises as to why action was not — and is still not being — taken to arrest the global race to self-destruction.
The answer is disconcerting: nations which are economically advanced want to push up their economic production even further – and use up even more polluting fossil fuel than before — so as not to be overtaken by rivals as global economic leaders. Others – notably the majority of them, being developing counties of the world – are constantly engaged in a process of catching up, in terms of economic production, with the global leaders from the bottom in which they find themselves. Many of the latter have little choice than to burn up the most polluting fossil fuel – coal – for their energy needs because they can’t afford to buy themselves into the less polluting forms of energy.
An increasing level of global material comfort due to constant improvement in standards of living, especially since after World War II, has led to a huge invasion of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emitting vehicles on roads, in rail transport systems and in aviation. Countries like Mauritius have paid little heed to effectively improving acceptable modern mass transport systems for persons and goods over several decades. From the first vehicle we imported in 1901, we’ve “graduated” to a population of half a million vehicles – and still growing – on our roads today, producing daily traffic jams and the consequent pollution. Everyone should have his way on his own as the public transport system becomes increasingly disjointed in the face of demand.
This is an example of how mindless material progression and competitive rivalries have contributed to the environmental degradation confronting the planet today. As of now, there’s a mixed bunch of mostly rich countries of the world with the highest amount of carbon dioxide emissions – China, the US, the EU, India, Russia, Japan, Germany — aggravating climate conditions the world over. Corporations operating in such countries want their governments not to yield to demands from the international community to reduce their carbon emissions.
It is also foreseeable that, even as world population is forecast to go on increasing to 9 billion by 2050 from above 7 billion today, the pressure on resources should, on current trends, worsen the environment problem and the consequent climatic catastrophes. As parameters like this one keep getting out of hand, the risk of aggravation of climate disruption grows.
Will we stop the damage before it is too late? World leaders have for long spurned scientific evidence that human activity is behind the melting of age-old ice caps, global warming, rising ocean levels and increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere. Countries have continued clearing large swathes of natural forests for commercial, industrial and residential implantation, disrupting the equilibrium of the global ecosystem. Even a small place like Mauritius has not refrained from such thoughtless destruction of healthy living space in the race after quick profits.
It is said that there’s a reaction to every action and that the reaction is equal and proportionate to the initial action. Nature has her own ways of reacting. Humans are but a tiny part of the cosmic harmony involving the sun, the moon, galaxies, stars and immeasurable space. If they carry on accelerating the destruction of their tiny living space in this vast universe, as they’ve been doing in the more recent past, they’ll no doubt pay the price by facing some form or other of extinction by large-scale disease, death, natural catastrophes and so forth. Should reason guide them, on the other hand, they’ll be able to stop the disaster-in-the-making before it is too late. This is the hope that Paris stands for at present.
But the universe, on its part, will reconfigure itself by the same cataclysmic system by which it has encased uncountable life and non-life forms, no matter what humans do to their own so-far hospitable habitat. With or without humans. One would sincerely wish that it should be a universe with humans rather than not. If so, Paris should see common sense prevail. All the usual haggling among nations for going on producing more carbon and greenhouse gases should then take the backseat so that leaders come out with a concrete and enduring deal beyond destructive private interests. Something more tangible and with follow-on measurement of actions being taken, beyond all the useless chatter of the past 20 meetings of the Global Climate Summit.
* Published in print edition on 4 December 2015