COP26: Courting disaster

 

The battle is not over yet. The onus is on the world leaders to urgently get their act together

By Mrinal Roy

As the climate summit COP26 comes to an end today, the overriding question in the minds of people across the world is whether the world leaders and governments have lived up to the expectations of humanity and in particular the young in taking the determinant actions necessary to limit global warming within the threshold of 1.5 degree Celsius to save our planet from a climate change catastrophe.

There have been some positive initiatives but commitments from key polluting countries have fallen short. Much more needs to be done. The caucus of world leaders therefore stand guilty in the eyes of the young. The COP26 draft agreement remains an unfinished business. Despite the havoc wreaked by the adverse impact of climate change and a growing number of extreme weather events across the world in recent years, the world does not seem to have woken up to the crying reality that climate change and Covid-19 are serious existential threats to humanity that we can only overcome through unequivocal solidarity and by working together with a common resolve and strategy.

Business Live

Too many countries which are the worst polluters and prime users of highly polluting coal and fossil fuels or highly dependent on industries and activities which belch large quantities of carbon emissions in the atmosphere are yet to cut their carbon emissions to the extent required. There is also an urgent need to mobilise the scale of funds required and assure the transfer of technology necessary to enable developing and emerging countries to adapt and shift to clean and green energy production.

Pledges

COP26 first major deal was the pledge by more than 100 world leaders (representing countries having more than 85% of the world’s forests) to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Brazil, where stretches of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down, was among the signatories on this agreement. Tropical rainforests are often called the ‘lungs of the planet’ because they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. The Amazon produces 20% of the oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere. Deforestation contributes to climate change.

Secondly,105 countries have joined the United States and the European Union to cut down emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels. Cutting methane emissions which is the main greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide can have a rapid impact in reining in global warming. These countries represent nearly half of global methane emissions and 70% of global GDP.

A total of 190 countries including at least 23 countries who joined the group during the COP26 summit, pledged to phase out and not build or invest in new coal power plants over the next decades.

The United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, unveiled a deal to enhance cooperation tackling climate change through inter alia the reduction of methane emissions, protecting forests and phasing out coal. China uses 50.5 % or the lion’s share of the coal used in coal-fired plants in the world. The US, UK, France, Germany and EU said they would dedicate $8.5 billion to help South Africa decarbonize its coal-heavy energy system. What is the detailed plan of the Mauritian pledge to eliminate coal by 2030?

25 countries including the US, UK, Denmark, Canada, Italy and the European Investment Bank have agreed to end public financing of overseas oil, gas and coal projects by the end of 2022. Is Mauritius still bent on drilling for fossil fuels in our pristine maritime zone?

Pledges made by governments before and during COP26 must now be urgently translated into detailed and concrete action plans.

Adaptation fund and technology transfer

This week, the European Commission committed an additional 100 million euros to the Adaptation Fund to support climate adaptation objectives of developing countries. This is the biggest funding pledge for the Adaptation Fund made by donors at COP26. This funding will be available in priority to Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. Vulnerable nations must get more help to cope with the dire impacts of global warming.

There is also the imperative need for a transfer of technology to produce competitive and affordable renewable and green energy to enable developing countries to bypass fossil fuels and move directly to renewables and clean energy such as solar, wind, hydrogen, biomass, wave, geothermic, etc. According to the International Energy Agency, the world will need to invest around $4 trillion a year by 2030 in clean energy to hit net zero by mid century. This is four times the current level of investment.

Higher targets

It is therefore not surprising that in the draft agreement published at the COP26 climate summit this week, countries are being urged to significantly increase their carbon-cutting targets by the end of 2022 and submit long-term strategies for reaching net-zero by the end of next year. The Agreement also recognises that more finance is needed for developing countries beyond the long-promised $100 bn a year by 2020, which will not be delivered until at least 2022. The Agreement calls on countries to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.

The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has therefore been asked to convene world leaders in 2023 to monitor and assess whether efforts to reach targets for 2030 are on course. Critics have said the draft agreement does not go far enough. The draft agreement will have to be negotiated and agreed by countries attending the summit.

Under par

Despite pledges made at COP26, the world is still nowhere near its goals on limiting global temperature rise, according to the Climate Action Tracker. It calculates that the world is heading for 2.4C of warming which is far more than the 1.5C limit nations committed to.

The UK’s Met Office warns that a billion people could be affected by fatal heat and humidity if the global average temperature rises by 2C above pre-industrial levels.

The world still has a lot more to do. The battle is not over yet. The onus is on the world leaders to urgently get their act together.

* * *

The Country Under Siege

The present situation is untenable. Everyone feels at risk of being infected as the virus seems to be everywhere

Government’s daily spin doctoring and propaganda on national TV extolling, with the complicity of fawning sycophants, everything it does aims at creating the illusion that all is well in the country. Has it been caught up in its own contrived narratives and delusions that it is culpably blind to the crying ground realities of Covid-19 in the country?

Driven by the mantras that the country ‘must learn to live with the virus’and adapt to this ‘new normal’ government seems to be blind to the fact that Covid-19 infection is rampant in the country. This is attested by the fact that new cases of coronavirus infection are being detected everyday at the place of work, in hospitals, at school among students and teaching staff and in the community in random locations across the country amidst a rising death toll.

This alarming situation begs so many burning questions.
Does the new normal mean a quantum jump in the number of new Covid-19 cases from some 4,400 to more than 19,000 in the last three months as compared to 341 cases of coronavirus infection in 2020?
Does the new normal mean a rising Covid-19 related death toll of more than 400 compared to 10 in 2020?
Has government rashly underestimated the extent and dynamics of Covid-19 infection in the country fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant and proximity at the place of work and at schools?
Can economic expediency callously mean treating increasing cases of Covid-19 infection and a rising death toll in the country as expendable collateral casualties?
Beyond the rhetoric and self congratulatory kudos disconcertingly echoed by some diplomats, is the Covid-19 pandemic being judiciously and competently managed?

Lives matter

All lives matter. Every life lost to Covid-19 is a death too many. A Covid-19 death is not a mere statistic divulged in government press briefings. Sanitary protocol makes it an even more painful and traumatic moment for the bereaved family and close ones. Is it ethical to explain deaths of Covid infected patients by divulging their general health conditions ? The plain truth is that all these deaths would not have occurred had they not been infected by Covid-19. It is the Covid-19 infection which sadly shortened their lives.

The present situation is untenable. Everyone feels at risk of being infected as the virus seems to be everywhere. The country seems under siege. Unless absolutely necessary no one, especially the elderly, wants to take the risk of going out. Is this the new normal? Mauritius is a small island. Its situation cannot be compared to countries in Europe where there is a current surge of cases of Covid-19 infection which tends to peak with the advent of winter.

Putting people’s safety first

Schools have judiciously been closed .The government must therefore review its Covid-19 strategy and take all corrective actions necessary to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country and break its chain of transmission to assure first and foremost the safety of the people.


* Published in print edition on 12 November 2021

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