-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
The Climate Summit referred to as COP21 begins in Paris today with 150 world leaders participating and over 190 countries represented. The main focus of this United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to cap the rate of global warming at 2 degrees Celsius. (global warming today is pegged at 2.5 – 3.76 degrees Celsius). The delegations over the next eleven days are expected to put together a deal on climate change which could effectively cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 2015 to 2030 which would hopefully bring down the global temperatures to pre-industrial levels over a period of time.
The UNFCCC was created in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The agreement there desired that countries take measures to address climate change; however, it was not binding. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol in Japan set binding targets for carbon emission. COP15 in 2009 (Copenhagen, Denmark) decided that upto 100 billion dollars will have to be given as aid to help developing countries to reach their emission goals by 2020; despite various promises and pledges over the years, precious little has been done by the major players.
Global warming in the last few years has resulted in major catastrophes like the accelerating rise of sea levels, punishing droughts, killer heat waves, terrible floods and storms; it has also resulted in tsunamis and earthquakes. Those who are impacted by global warming are some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people; it disrupts food production and threatens vitally important species, habitats and eco systems. According to recent study, the Antarctic and Greenland have lost 5.5 trillion of ice. By any standards, 2015 was one of the hottest years, experienced the world over, besides several “natural” calamities took place all over!
Last year, global carbon emissions were the highest ever. China is today considered the biggest polluter followed by the US, the European Union, India, Russia and Japan. Unless these countries demonstrate a political resolve to cut down on the emissions, things may not change dramatically.
India has rightly talked about climate justice and the need and importance for China, US and West European nations to take the first steps. But India cannot absolve itself of its role in global warming even though its contribution is far below that of China or US. If the country is serious about addressing climate change and of ensuring climate justice for all, it must immediately act on several fronts, including:
i. putting an immediate cap on the use of fossil fuels; promote the use of alternative energies very particularly wind and solar energy. The Government must provide subsidies for these very particularly for the poor and the marginalised. Alternative energies should not be seen as mere cosmetics (add-ons) but need to replace conventional sources of energy
ii. implementing stringent environmental protection laws for multi-nationals and other big corporations who pollute the environment. Many of the industrial houses that are unable to do what they want in their own countries find in India an easy place to maximise their profits. The ‘Make in India’ slogan is for many an invitation to plunder and loot and to disregard basic environmental laws and the lives of the poor here.
iii. ensuring that global warming is a responsibility and concern of all; so the Government has no business in stifling an organisation like ‘Greenpeace’ that has rendered a yeomen service to the environment all over the world and in very tangible ways addressed climatic change. The Government must have the courage and honesty to take on board NGOs and others who have at heart only the good of the country and particularly the most vulnerable sections of society, who are affected by climatic change.
Pope Francis has been particularly strong on the topic; in his Encyclical ‘Laudato Si: On the care for our common home’ he writes, “climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in the coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.” (#25).....“many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climatic change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption.” (#26)
In the run-up to COP21, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has once again reminded developing nations to keep their pledge to provide 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to support concrete mitigation actions by developing countries for a durable universal deal to address rising greenhouse gas emissions. “I expect the world to conclude a universal climate agreement in Paris. The agreement must be durable – it should provide a comprehensive, long-term vision of the opportunities created by low-emission, climate resilient development and flexible. It must be rooted in solidarity”, he said.
On Sunday 29th November, there were massive rallies across the globe demanding substantial action from the world leaders to stop climate change; besides an estimated 200,000 were expected to descend on Paris but the French Government had banned all protests; instead thousands of pairs of shoes were left on the ‘Place de la Republique’ to remember those left frustrated in their plans to march. A symbolic but powerful reminder that the road ahead for climate justice is going to be a long and tough one!
30th November, 2015
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052