Pathway to better living standards
Adopting adequate policies will contain the impact of climate change
United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a "special report" on actions that are essential to contain the rise in average global temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial era (the 1800s). The report highlights the differences in the impact of global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C on natural and human systems. In its periodic assessment report, the IPCC has warned the world of the irreversible and catastrophic impacts of climate change if the temperature rises above 2°C. A rise in global mean temperature has already crossed 1°C mark in comparison with the pre-industrial level. Given the gluttonous behaviour of mankind, exceeding 1.50°C benchmark is not a far-off possibility. To curb the rise in temperature from overshooting this benchmark would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society said IPCC. At the current pace, the global temperature is estimated to breach 1.50 °C mark between 2030 and 2052.
The report by the UN extensively talks about the diverse set of choices available to the countries to adapt to climate changes, for example, biodiversity management, ecosystem restoration, reduction in deforestation and degradation, coastal defence, green infrastructure, sustainable land-use, and water management. It emphasises the relevance of indigenous rights and the role of local governments as central to the planning and implementation of adaptation policies. A participatory approach towards adaptation, especially for the vulnerable population, has been highlighted in the report. The IPCC also identifies "educational adaptation" options which are to be built through awareness campaigns and mass sensitisation.
The target to check the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C is not impossible to accomplish, however, it requires international coordination and dedicated policy measures. IPCC in its special report lays down four pathways to achieve this objective. It sketches a roadmap for transiting to a low carbon economy and better living standards. These pathways incorporate strict timelines for a reduction in carbon dioxide emission to prevent overshooting of the 1.5°C goal. Carbon emission cuts or decarbonisation can be achieved through lesser reliability on coal and greater use of renewable sources of energy. Treading these pathways require carbon removing technologies which further varies with a country's energy demand, economic growth and technological development, and international cooperation. A country's choice of a model pathway would heavily rely on the abovementioned factors. Carbon dioxide removal is a cumbersome process which entails physical removal of CO2 stock from the atmosphere. Such sophisticated technologies are still nascent and untested in most countries. It requires enormous investment and therefore, small island countries and developing economies rely heavily on financial and technological assistance from the advanced nations to bolster their climate change adaptation plan.
The world is already facing negative externalities associated with climate change. Developing and small island countries are paying a higher cost of development. Dealing with health, food, water crisis, and frequent exposure to natural disasters, these nations are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The IPCC report makes some gloomy predictions about the consequences of overshooting 1.5°C temperature rise due to global warming. Millions are going to suffer from vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue; undernourishment; water crisis; sea-level rise; loss in agricultural productivity; heat waves and pollution. India is not immune to such changes. It is prone to frequent floods and droughts and is struggling to alleviate drinking-water crisis and health poverty. India must diligently follow no carbon pathway to attenuate the risk of climate change which would deteriorate the living standards of its widespread population. This requires realignment of mitigation and adaptation measures with the actionable points discussed in the report by IPCC.
The four pathways suggested by UN are the different ways and means to attain the end, which is a rise of not more than 1.5°C in global mean temperature. The severe consequences of breaching this objective are quantified, however, these are just estimations as actual figures could be multiple times higher. It is not the numbers which are important but the process that one undertakes to achieve these numbers. Choosing one of the pathways to contain global warming is not easy for it would require countries to make some tough choices and undertake not-so-popular decisions. Following one of the model pathways sure is not going to bring cent per cent safeguard against global warming but it is, nevertheless, going to assuage the severe consequences of it.
Amid the global race of production and consumption, we all must stop for a while and look at the damages caused to the earth by our choices and actions. Climate change has been crucial to the cycle of evolution and extinction in the history of Earth. For thousands of years, Homo sapiens have been altering the biodiversity to meet their insatiable desire for more. Their ability to manipulate the ecosystem has increased manifold in the past centuries due to rampant industrialisation and urbanisation. This impetuous behaviour, if continued, would soon lead to the extinction of our species. Our instinct to achieve more must be fulfilled but only through a sustainable pathway. Science and technology hold a crucial role to play in a country for choosing mitigation and adaptation measures for a long-term sustainable growth. This year's Nobel Prize for economics celebrates two economists William D. Nordhaus and Paul Romer who have literally spent their entire life studying the long-term growth prospects of our planet. Their work has bequeathed serious learnings for policy-makers who are constantly grappling with long-term sustainable policy-making. Nordhaus' work (out of many!) revolves around studying the cost of climate change. On the other hand, Romer focusses on the role of ideas and technologies in the growth of an economy. The work of two economists perfectly complements each other. There cannot be a more perfect time to reward them for their contribution to the field of economics and beyond. The IPCC special report followed by the announcement of the Nobel Prize to the two economists are not just coincidence but occurred to delineate the urgency to rethink our policies and growth models for a long-term sustainable development.
(The author is Young Professional, EAC-PM, NITI Aayog. The views expressed are strictly personal)