COP26: The last ditch battle to save the planet

Why is government so rashly pursuing the pipe dream of a petroleum industry?

The cardinal message of climate change scientists and the IPCC is that the world must stop using highly polluting coal, petroleum and fossil fuels

By Mrinal Roy

The scientific evidence is overwhelming. The unchecked burning of fossil fuels over decades boosted by diverse human activities have significantly increased carbon emissions and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus warming the planet.

The latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report approved by 195 member governments and released in August are damning. It shows that despite the 2015 Paris Agreement by governments to limit global warming within the threshold of 1.5 degree Celsius by 2030, the world will probably reach or exceed that limit within the next two decades.

Under a high-emissions scenario, the world may warm by 4.4°C by 2100 with catastrophic results for planet Earth. There is a more than 50% chance that the 1.5°C target is reached or crossed between 2021 and 2040. Under a high-emissions scenario, the 1.5°C threshold could be reached even more quickly within the 2018-2037 timeline. This is basically tomorrow.

These findings are an indictment of governments across the world and in particular those in the worst polluting countries for their lack of decisive actions to stem and reverse the dire impact of climate change. The 2021 COP26 climate summit in Glasgow cannot therefore be a forum for rhetoric, hollow commitments and empty promises but for concrete and determinant actions to stem and reverse the dire impact of climate change on our homeland, planet Earth.

Compelling evidence

The evidence for urgent action to reverse the dire impact of climate change is compelling. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen by 1.18°C since the late 19th century, owing largely to increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities. The seven most recent years are the warmest with the years 2016 and 2020 tied for the warmest years on record. The number of times record high temperatures have been registered in the world have been increasing. Ocean temperature is constantly rising. It has registered a temperature rise of more than 0.33°C since 1969.

Data from NASA show that Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019 while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world from the Alps to the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa. Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier. Both the extent and thickness of Arctic Sea ice has declined rapidly over the recent decades.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30%. The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) finds that global mean sea levels will most likely rise between 0.95 feet (0.29m) and 3.61 feet (1.1m) by the end of this century.

Frequent and intense drought, storms, torrential rains, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans affect life and biodiversity on the planet and wreak havoc on people’s livelihoods and habitat. Climate scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system.

This is evidenced by the array of extreme weather events which have caused extensive damage and deaths in almost every corner of the world in 2021.Thus, record high temperatures attaining 49.6°C were registered in western Canada and US states of Washington and Oregon. It caused several hundred deaths. In mid-July western Europe was devastated by torrential rains and destructive floods which ravaged entire villages and left at least 209 people dead in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In July, heavy rainfall dumped a year’s worth of rain in just three days on the central city of Zhengzhou, China causing the death of 33 persons and inundating drains, streets, road tunnels and the subway system.

In the United States, severe drought, dozens of wildfires and a deadly heat wave burned the Northwest in June. In August, back-to-back hurricanes Henri and Ida caused havoc in the Northeast and brought record rainfall. For the first time, a majority of Americans now believe that the US is facing the consequences of a warming world, according to a new poll from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Other extreme weather events include deadly landslides in India and Nepal, wildfires in Greece, Spain, Italy and Tunisia, unbearable heat waves in the Pacific, record snowfall in Spain, storms and hurricanes in Britain, Asia, Fiji and the US, torrential rainfalls in North Wales and North West England causing widespread flooding and the evacuation of residents from the affected areas. These extreme weather events are a jolting reminder that the world is already suffering the disastrous and deadly consequences of climate change.

No to coal and fossil fuels

According to IPCC report, many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years. Some of the changes such as continued sea level rise are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years. However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change. However, ‘it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize’. The report finds that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting global warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.

The message from the findings provided by climate scientists as well as the frequency and the damaging impact of extreme weather events on the planet is loud and clear. The world must drastically cut down carbon emissions by eliminating the use of highly polluting coal and rapidly phasing out the use of fossil fuels to keep global warming within a maximum of 1.5°C to avoid a climate change disaster. If all countries in the world and in particular the most polluting countries do not act now to stem and reverse the dire impact of climate change, it will be too late.

Bending the rules

A huge leak of documents consisting of more than 32,000 submissions made by governments, companies and other interested parties to the IPCC scientists shows how countries are trying to change the IPCC scientific report recommendations on how to tackle climate change. The leaked documents reveal how fossil fuel and meat producing countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia and OPEC have pressed the UN to play down the need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels and water down UN recommendations for action just days before they will be asked at the COP26 summit to make significant commitments to slow down climate change and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees C. Powerful vested lobbies are at work.

Does insatiable greed have no limit? What is at stake is not the future of the generation who have been responsible for belching and choking the planet with carbon emissions but that of our children and future generations.

The Offshore Petroleum Bill: Pipe dream & double standards

It is equally flabbergasting that days before the opening of the COP26 summit, the government is hastily tabling in a fast-track mode the Offshore Petroleum Bill to establish a new regulatory regime ‘for the conduct of petroleum activities in the seabed and subsoil areas of the maritime zones of Mauritius, such as the prospecting, exploration, retention and production of petroleum’.

Is the government so cut off from the crying world and local climate change reality not to know that coal, petroleum and fossil fuels are foul words and are anathema to the multitude and in particular the young. No one wants the seabed and subsoil of our maritime zones to be rummaged and extensively dug for petroleum nor want it to be an elusive new pillar of the economy. Why is government so rashly pursuing the pipe dream of a petroleum industry when the cardinal message of climate change scientists and the IPCC is that the world must stop using highly polluting coal, petroleum and fossil fuels to produce electricity and an energy source if we want to save planet earth and humanity from an impending climate change disaster?

As a small island developing state, Mauritius is particularly vulnerable to the dire fallouts of climate change. It is already being adversely affected by coastal erosion, the bleaching of corals, rising sea level and temperature and their adverse impact on biodiversity. Rising sea level could also affect low coastal areas. Is it rational and credible to press the most polluting countries of the world to drastically cut down their carbon emissions in the atmosphere to stem the adverse impact of climate change on SIDS and our planet while in the same breath expedite the process to facilitate the prospection, exploration and production of petroleum in the pristine waters of the maritime zones of Mauritius? Has the government not yet cottoned on to the fact that coal, petroleum and fossil fuels are out? We risk being faulted by such double standards. Such mixed signals and questionable choices and rigour are detrimental to the image of Mauritius at a time when we are canvassing the support of the caucus of nations in our battle to fully exercise our sovereignty over the Chagosarchipelago.

Lifeline

The government fixation with fossil fuels is not only limited to petroleum. It also applies to coal. Government has undertaken to increase the production of electricity from renewable sources of energy through wind farms, solar energy, biomass, wave and waste-to-energy projects to 60% by 2030 and to eliminate coal by 2030. This basically means extending the lifeline of lucrative power plants using highly polluting coal by another 9 years. The reality is that the share of renewable energy in 2020 is a paltry 13.3%, of which only 1% was obtained from solar energy. In contrast, 86.7% or the lion share of our energy requirements continue to be produced from fossil fuels, namely 30.7% from coal and 56% from petroleum products.

Battle for our children

COP26 is humanity’s last ditch battle to save our planet from a climate change catastrophe for our children and future generations. Failure is not an option. This existential battle cannot be left to politicians. The people of the world and in particular the young must mobilize and have their say. Thus, despite the Covid-19 constraints and travel visa restrictions, a mass mobilization of some two million people spread across at least 20 countries will demonstrate on 6 November to pressure world leaders to urgently apply the recommendations of the IPCC report. The young of the country must leave their comfort zone to add their voice to the clamour of the people demanding governments to do what it takes to protect humanity and save planet earth from an impending climate change disaster. Come what may, the battle to safeguard our homeland must necessarily be won.


* Published in print edition on 29 October 2021

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