Saving our Planet from Ourselves
Despite the scientific evidence, potent lobbying under successive governments has managed to protect the lucrative energy production business from highly polluting coal in cogeneration plants, which are safeguarded by well-crafted leonine contracts secured by IPPs
Monster storms, swathes of melting glaciers crashing into the Arctic ocean and coral reefs including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef bleaching as a result of global warming are growing evidence that climate change triggered by the adverse fallouts of unchecked carbon emissions are wreaking havoc across the world. Climate change related extreme weather conditions in 2018 have multiplied natural disasters such as flooding and landslides in Japan and California in the US as well as torrential rainfall and devastating storms in various countries across the world.
Since last week end, Mangkhut, the most powerful storm on Earth in 2018 having a span of some 550 miles, unleashed high winds of 170 miles per hour and caused tremendous damage, high rainfall, extensive flooding, landslides and some 100 deaths in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Southern China. In Guangdong in China, more than 2.4 million people have been evacuated. On the other side of the globe, Florence, the first major storm of the Atlantic season, battered through the Carolinas in the United States causing widespread flooding, deaths and severe devastation, leaving some 700,000 people without power. The damage caused is estimated at some $18 billion.
Studies have shown that during the past 30 years there have been on average more potent hurricanes with winds of more than 110 mph which have lasted longer than during the previous 30 years. Storms also move slower causing more damage and bringing significantly higher rainfall.
According to NASA’s GRACE satellite, glaciers across the globe are melting and shrinking, with 279 billion tons of ice lost since 2002. Mountain glaciers around the world, from the Himalayas to the Andes, are shrinking in the face of climate change. Glaciers in Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctica are losing ice at alarming rates. Scientists increasingly agree that warm ocean water is seeping beneath the ice and melting it from the bottom up.
A July 2018 report from the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program highlights that the Arctic is melting much faster than expected, and could even be ice-free in summer by the late 2030s. Previous studies had forecast an ice-free North Pole by mid-century. The Canadian Arctic is experiencing some of the fastest climate warming anywhere on Earth. The annual average temperature on Ellesmere Island situated in the Canadian Arctic has increased by 3.6 degrees.
According to a study published in the journal Nature in June 2018, ice melting rates in Antarctica tripled between 2012 and 2017. Between 1992 and 2017, Antarctica lost more than 3.3 trillion tons of ice, i.e. about 84 billion tons of ice a year causing sea levels around the globe to rise. The alarming finding of the study is that between 2012 and 2017, the melting rate has jumped to more than 240 billion tons of ice per year. Experts forecast that if climate change is not brought under control quickly by potent measures to curb carbon emissions, ice sheets in West Antarctica could collapse, leading to rapid sea level rise around the globe. There is enough ice in Antarctica if melted to raise seas around the globe by almost 200 feet.
Rising sea level and temperatures
Owing to global warming, melting glaciers in the polar ice caps and from Greenland have caused the mean global sea level to rise by 4-8 inches over the past century with the annual rate doubling in the past 20 years. In general, island countries with a low elevation like the Maldives and large areas of low lying coastal regions in countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Netherlands or Japan could be submerged by rising sea levels. Tens of millions of people could as a result have to be evacuated to safer higher regions. In Mauritius, the rising sea level is already eroding our coasts and washing away our beaches.
Warmer seas are repeatedly causing mass global bleaching of Earth’s fragile coral reefs. The world emits 48% more carbon dioxide from the consumption of energy now than it did in 1992 when the first Rio summit took place. China now emits 48% more CO2 than the USA – and is responsible for a quarter of the world’s emissions.
The writing that wanton and irresponsible belching of carbon emissions into the atmosphere will take a heavy toll on our planet has been on the wall for decades. The disastrous fallouts of climate change are looming larger and becoming devastatingly real even for those who bury their heads in the sand. Planet Earth, our homeland, is under serious threat. There is therefore an imperative need to urgently take potent measures to drastically cut down carbon emissions and air pollution level across the globe to reverse the adverse impact of climate change on the world.
Translating COP21 commitments into reality
After many failures, the December 2015 COP 21 Paris Agreement approved by 196 countries obtained ambitious commitments from all nations to cut down CO2 emissions to combat climate change and raised substantial funds to help developing countries to do so. There is a common commitment by nations to keep global temperature rise in this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, what is of vital importance is to urgently translate these ambitious commitments into reality. Time is running out. The priority is for the main polluting countries to urgently cut down their carbon emissions in order to curb the adverse impact of climate change. Instead, in March 2017, the Trump administration lifted the ban on new coal leasing on federal land which had been decreed by the Obama administration in the wake of COP21. In line with an electoral campaign pledge, US President Donald Trump also announced on June 1, 2017 that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation as the Agreement undermines the US economy and puts the country at a permanent disadvantage. Narrow parochial and big business interests have yet again supplanted the interests of our planet. Florence will certainly not be a wakeup call for all those who privilege the insatiable greed for more and more profits over bequeathing a safe, healthy, environmentally sustainable and well preserved planet to our children and future generations.
Greed and lobbies
The recent resignation of Nicolas Hulot, the French Minister of Environment and well-known activist for the conservation of the world environment epitomizes the uphill battle of those promoting policies aimed at eliminating the root causes of climate change. Despite being a government minister of the country which hosted the COP21 Agreement, he denounced the power of lobbies and admitted that he was quitting owing to ‘a series of disappointments in attempts to address climate change and other environmental threats.’ He added that he felt ‘all alone’ and frustrated during more than a year in government by the “small steps” being taken to deal with climate change which was relegated to the bottom of the government list of priorities.
Hulot revealed that no steps had as yet been taken to start reducing the country’s CO2 emissions. In an indictment of the government commitment to address climate change he said: ’I don’t want my presence in the government to give the illusion that we’re tackling climate change and environmental challenges.’ This verdict by a prominent environmental campaigner is damning and so revealing of the powerful lobbies at play to thwart the COP21 commitments. He wanted his resignation to be seen as a wake-up call for all those committed to eliminate the root causes of climate change. It is high time to put an end to such ambivalence by governments in the face of such crying evidence that climate change related havoc wreaked on our planet would be disastrous for mankind.
The risks to planet Earth are so potent and real that the world needs to do what it takes to reverse the trend and save our planet. All the countries who are the principal culprits in respect of carbon emissions and global warming have to urgently honour their COP21 commitments. They also have inter alia to opt to produce their energy requirements from cleaner energy sources and above all reduce their dependence on coal and other fossil fuels.
In Mauritius our dependence on coal and other fossil fuels for electricity production is high and stood at 79 % in 2017. 41.6 % or the lion’s share of electricity was produced from highly polluting coal whereas 37.4% of electricity was produced from fuel oil & diesel. Owing to annual falling sugar cane output, a dwindling 14.7% of electricity was produced from bagasse in coal-bagasse cogeneration plants.
No to coal
Coal plants are a major source of carbon dioxide emissions and the primary source of global warming. Burning coal is also a leading cause of toxic air pollution and acid rain. If we are to attain the objective of producing 35% of our electricity from green or renewable sources by 2025, we imperatively need in priority to significantly cut down the country’s dependence on energy production from coal as the burning of coal produces significantly more carbon dioxide (about 1.45 times more) in the atmosphere than other fossil fuels. In short, coal is the worst and most polluting feedstock to use to produce energy.
The green sources of energy include solar energy and wind energy farms, hydrogen fuel cells, wave energy, geothermal power, etc., whereas renewable energy can be obtained from plant biomass. Despite the scientific evidence, potent lobbying under successive governments has managed to protect the lucrative energy production business from highly polluting coal in cogeneration plants, which are safeguarded by well-crafted leonine contracts secured by Independent Power Producers. Multiple cogeneration plants principally using highly polluting coal as feedstock cannot therefore be justified, the more so as only some 14% of the energy produced is obtained from seasonal bagasse and substantially less from sugar cane trash. Instead, we urgently need to continue to enhance our production of energy from various green or renewable sources, the more so as Adaptation funds are available under COP21 to enable countries to opt for energy production policies which significantly reduce carbon emissions and produce clean energy.
For the benefit of mankind
Climate change and global warming as well as their growing adverse impact on the world are all man-made. For too long irresponsible pollution of the atmosphere with carbon emissions and the depredation of the environment have continued unabated by economic actors in the relentless pursuit of Mammon. We therefore have a collective responsibility to protect and preserve Planet Earth, our common homeland, for ourselves and for future generations. It is a race against time. It is therefore imperative for people from across the world to wrest the initiative away from vested interests and feudalized governments and drive the process of taking all urgent actions necessary to significantly reduce carbon emissions and reverse the adverse fallouts of climate change to safeguard a sustainable planet for the benefit of mankind.
* Published in print edition on 21 September 2018