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Net zero pledge? India's 'ambitious' climate action falls short on walking the talk

By Sandip Chowdhury* 

India stands vulnerable today, severely impacted by the effects of Covid and a fluctuating economic barometer on the one hand and an ecological crisis on the other. Scientists concur that biodiversity loss and climate change impacts could be more devastating than the current Covid crisis.
The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR6 report warns, in the loudest possible scientific voice possible, that humanity is staring at a turbulent future unless there is strong, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
India and the world need to engender systemic changes in the way we produce food, generate power, manage waste, transport and transact business if we are to stand the slightest chance of weathering this not so distant storm.
The IPCC report is not surprising in itself as the stark discoveries were on expected lines. After all, we are watching half the whole world burn and the other half inundated with floods in almost real time. Most of these extreme events are the result of human-caused and deliberately perpetuated global warming, coupled with inaction and inadequate climate action for more than thirty years now.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this report is that we can no more rely on natural carbon sinks - forests, oceans and soil that absorb more than 50% of our carbon emissions – to do this free-of-cost annual cleaning. This is because in our pursuit of insatiable growth and greed, we have wantonly destroyed, degraded and altered these vital systems that allow life to be possible on earth.
What this means is that the Net-Zero pledges (balancing emissions with carbon removals) that many countries and corporates have announced in recent months are not useful anymore for any meaningful climate action. The offsetting component of these pledges were a greenwashing attempt to begin with as they relied on nascent carbon capture technologies and on vast tracts of land that is simply not available for taking.
Of course, this is not the first attempt by the politico-industrial world to distract us from demanding substantial cuts in emissions. There are gimmicks like carbon offsets, biofuels, clean coal, carbon-neutral fossil fuels, natural gas, and many others, all of which are new ways to preserve the old status-quo and often reap economic rewards in the name of sustainability.
India proclaims ambitious climate action but falls short on walking the talk. How else could one explain the opening of more coal mines, pushing a gas based economy, planning to build more thermal power plants and systematically hollowing out environmental laws in the name of ease of business.
More importantly, can India or any other developing nation bring rapid, systemic transformation in power generation, industrial processes, farming and movement by following the same economic model that has brought the world to this climate precipice? The current economic system is rigged, unsustainable and breeds dangerous societal inequality.
Climate injustice is a reflection of this reality where the richest one percent of people in the world are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.
India itself is a victim of carbon inequity and its emissions are nowhere near US or China but is it climate leadership when you keep making the same point about historical emissions while watching your own house fall in the present? Yet, climate change is only a symptom of a deeper malady that no one wants to talk about.
The inconvenient truth is that a western style development model predicated on limitless production and consumption is at the root of many problems of this day and age including climate change. India, like many other developing countries, has adopted this false dream from the west where every citizen can have mansions and cruise ships someday. This aspirational but woefully wasteful and unnecessary consumption may be great for a predatory economic system but is fundamentally incompatible with earth’s planetary boundaries.
Economists and social scientists have already started talking about how developed countries need to stop further economic growth Instead of waiting for a similar dictum for developing countries, India can start early by replacing the inefficient metric of GDP with a more humane measurement of development that gives primacy to well-being.
We can do better than others by restoring our broken relationship with nature, by focusing on public goods instead of private profits
We can do better than others by restoring our broken relationship with nature, by focusing on public goods instead of private profits and by exemplifying a just, renewable transition toward a low carbon economy that works for all. We will be running in circles at our own peril if we keep looking for a make-believe market solution to a problem created by the market in the first place.
This is a make or break decade that will determine if a climate change led sixth mass extinction event can be averted. The world’s current ‘system’ needs to be completely rewired to limit warming to the relatively safe level of 1.5 degree C – a threshold that the IPCC report warns will be crossed in less than two decades from now.
The Indian growth story and in fact all economic-growth stories will therefore need a plot twist. Instead of a small minority of people accumulating a ridiculous amount of wealth at the expense of people and the planet, we need every human being to achieve a ‘decent’ level of mental, material and physical well-being which is in harmony with life-sustaining earth systems.
The expectation that this transformational change will occur automatically is naïve and the chances that the IPCC report will spur the powers that be into taking genuine rapid climate action is abysmally small.
But hope comes from a growing number of remarkable people who can see and imagine the world in a different way and question the very ‘system’ within which they have been brought up. Youth led climate justice movements and social mobilization offers hopes of change in the midst of a climate breakdown.
May be, just maybe these mass movements that transcend nationalities, race, color, age, sex can tip the scale towards ‘system change’. To quote George Monbiot, the British environmentalist and political activist: 
“When we demand it in great enough numbers, when we demand it in a spirit of rebellion, when we demand it without backing down, what is politically impossible today becomes politically inevitable tomorrow.”
The IPPC report is a clarion call for fundamental changes in all aspects of the society and it is time to rally around the climate slogan- ‘What do we need – System change! When do we need it – Now!’
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*Environment professional and works with an INGO based in India. Opinions expressed are solely that of the author and does not necessarily reflect employer’s stand on the issues

Comments

ArnabBlog said…
Nice info.. keep it up..

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