In the Battle against Climate Change, Ignorance is not Bliss; it's the Storm before the Storm
The explainer examines the major world events and their specific anthropogenic causes, shedding light on the dreadful problem of climate change.
By Jayendra Singh and Sakshi Shree
The Earth has turned into a witch's pot of extreme weather events, fueled by a fire called climate change. This phenomenon is driven by increasing or decreasing temperatures owing to excessive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Consequently, floods, heat waves, tsunamis, and typhoons have become commonplace. This existential threat to humanity has been on the global agenda for the past three decades. Despite warnings from experts like Vandana Shiva and even politicians like Al Gore, progress remains minimal compared to the destruction of our environment. Let us examine major world events and their specific anthropogenic causes, shedding light on the dreadful problem of climate change.
The storm before the storm
In times, our planet has witnessed a surge in climate-related calamities, including heatwaves, floods, and tsunamis causing devastation in various parts of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and beyond. These extreme weather occurrences serve as reminders of the escalating climate crisis and its profound impact on a scale. From Paris to Delhi, soaring temperatures wreak havoc on communities and ecosystems, igniting urgent calls for climate action.
In July 2023, a heatwave struck in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia leading to record-breaking temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The intense heat poses significant risks to public health, agriculture, and natural ecosystems, raising concerns about the impacts of climate change on the region. The European continent has been grappling with severe heat waves directly attributed to climate change. In `2019, an unprecedented heat wave swept across Europe shattering temperature records in countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands. This scorching heat wave resulted in a number of heat-related fatalities and posed severe threats to public health, agriculture, and infrastructure.
Asia has also experienced erratic precipitation during the monsoon season, causing frequent floods. In 2020, South Asia was severely affected by floods that affected millions of individuals in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. These floods led to the displacement and destruction of homes as well as critical infrastructure, causing extensive crop damage, further aggravating poverty and humanitarian challenges.
Tsunamis remain a danger to communities worldwide. The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 stand as one of the most natural disasters ever recorded, claiming the lives of over 230,000 people, across multiple countries.
Hurricanes and tropical storms have become more intense in America. Puerto Rico experienced the impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017, resulting in the loss of over 3,000 lives and widespread damage to the infrastructure and environment. The need for greater resilience measures was reinforced by this hurricane, which exposed the area's susceptibility to climate-related calamities.
Climate-related disasters have severe consequences, not just limited to regions. The rising sea levels pose a threat to low-lying island nations like Tuvalu and the Maldives putting populations at risk of displacement. We are witnessing commonplace climate change-induced migration, as communities are forced to leave their homes due to worsening conditions. To tackle the escalating climate crisis, immediate and collaborative global action is necessary, a problem that international organizations such as the UN play a vital role in solving.
Role of United Nations and Collective Action
The United Nations (UN) has been at the forefront of addressing the climate crisis since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the Earth Summit. The UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) serves as the parent treaty for the Paris Agreement and other environmental resolutions. Through global agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, and events, such as the Conference of Parties (COP), the UNFCCC has facilitated action and discourse on climate change-related issues at all levels. Currently, approximately 198 nations are signatories to the treaty. Each year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a comprehensive report highlighting the progress, challenges, and potential solutions.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the Working Group's report as "a code red for humanity," emphasizing its irrefutable evidence and urgent call to action. Despite seeming like a fight between David and Goliath, collective action has positive impacts by mobilizing youth and civil society to reduce emissions and hold polluters accountable. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 13 (Climate Action), focus on global cooperation for emissions reduction and integrating climate-sensitive policies into domestic governance to keep the 1.5-degree Celsius goal a reality. In addition, the UN acknowledges the disproportionate impact of climate change on vulnerable groups and includes special provisions for them in the SDGs and other missions.
The 2015 Paris Agreement provided a blueprint for successfully tackling various aspects of climate change, with nations setting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the 2030 goal. As a transboundary and transgenerational issue, climate change requires substantial efforts from all sectors. The UN operationalizes climate change mitigation through partnerships with local governments and NGOs, facilitating immediate relief and long-term solutions to climate change-induced disasters. COP28 will convene in Dubai in November 2023, further assessing the collective progress toward the agenda for 2030.
Bleak future, where is the silver lining?
The battle against climate change must transcend political boundaries and short-term interests. Governments, businesses, communities, and individuals collectively hold the responsibility of addressing the climate crisis and securing a sustainable future for the planet. The aforementioned examples can be directly attributed to rising temperatures worldwide. This disturbance in climatic conditions is only going to worsen with time, as underlined by the IPCC report. Climate change is a gradual process and not a one-off apocalyptic event portrayed in popular culture. It manifests through extreme weather events, as mentioned earlier, with rising global temperatures, leading to the complete submersion of many island nations, loss of biodiversity, and the acidification of oceans. In a hundred years, Earth will become significantly hotter, politically and socially more chaotic, and a less hospitable planet, particularly for the most vulnerable segments of society. To mitigate these impacts and protect vulnerable communities and ecosystems, concerted efforts are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote resilience, and foster international cooperation. Prioritizing sustainable practices and policies is essential to ensuring a sustainable and secure future. This dark future demands acknowledgment, as it jeopardizes the very essence of our planet Earth. It is not merely a problem for people in a globalized world; it imperils the entire planet. Therefore, the global community must act with the utmost severity, treating commitments to international treaties and our duty as citizens of Earth as sacred oaths etched in stone.
“"प्रकृति रक्षति रक्षिता:।"
(Transliteration: Prakriti Rakshati Rakshita)
Translation: "Nature protects those who protect it."
Disclaimer: This paper is the author's individual scholastic contribution and does not necessarily reflect the organization's viewpoint.
Jayendra Singh is a Final year student at the Jindal School of International Affairs pursuing MA in Diplomacy, Law and Business. His research interests lie in the field of Global Environmental Governance, Green (IR), and caste studies.
Sakshi Shree is a distinguished geopolitical researcher, pursuing her final year of post-graduation in Political Science at the University of Delhi. With a focus on security studies, global environment, international relations, and geopolitics, she has garnered acclaim as a Policy Officer at YOUNGO and a Research Intern at Usanas Foundation. Reach her on Twitter @shree_sakshI for insightful updates on her ongoing contributions to the field.