Tag Archives: climate justice

Climate Change Confronted with Wealth Inequality around the World

As a resident of planet Earth it feels wonderful to acknowledge the fact that never before in our known history have we been technologically more advanced, powerful and, for the most part, able to lead more comfortable lives, so to speak. However, it seems that the advanced, powerful and comfortable lives that we acquired over the last two hundred years came with a huge cost.

Too much CO2 in the atmosphere leads to increased global warming and irreversible climate change. This intensifies specific weather conditions and climate events, such as extreme heat waves, heavy rainfalls, floods, landslides, wildfires, warmer winters and severe summers. Earth’s dry regions become drier and wet places even wetter.

Over the time climate-related disasters will become a common phenomenon. Soon entire biosphere will be impacted and ecosystems will start dying. Biodiversity will decline significantly while the rising sea levels will start swallowing coastal cities around the globe. Although the explanation sounds simple on the surface, the complications created by the rapid climate change are certainly not that simple, to say the least.

Climate change is, without doubt, the most serious and challenging issue of our time; a crisis hovering over our heads, right now. Like the COVID-19, it knows no boundaries and respects no nationality. It is, in fact, threatening our entire existence (both rich and poor) in this planet we call home.

We are forced to sincerely question whether we are on the right track, or we shall have to make extensive corrections in our life-style. The reason being that, if we look closely, everything we do to make our lives easier is causing destruction to our environment; whether it be the clothing we put on, air-conditioned houses we live in, the way we travel, the foods we consume, the roads we drive on or the electronic gadgets we use, etc. Somehow or other, they all have impacted air, water, soil, wild life, marine life and the environment as a whole.

In the battle against rapid climate change, fixing one part of the system leads to yet another problem which might have its own offshoots of problems and so on. Situations get even more complicated when we are confronted with the reality of wealth inequality around the world.  

We live in a world which is deeply divided between rich and poor. This is no hidden fact that there is a clear and positive correlation between the prosperity of nations and their carbon emissions.

So, what if we simply ask the rich countries to cut back on their energy consumption and luxurious lifestyles? This may sound rational to some but not a workable solution for obvious reasons; you cannot expect billions of people giving up their business as usual overnight.

Moreover, over 60 percent of global emissions come from low and middle income countries. This includes countries like ours where most people are struggling to earn basic necessities, trying to escape poverty or striving for a reasonably comfortable lifestyle.

So, it will be unfair to ask developing economies to cut emissions to stop rapid climate change; especially when the rich countries making such demands have already caused (and are still causing) severe damages in the first place.

Both rich and poor depend on agricultural products. Methane from rice contributes same as all the air traffic emissions in the world, and could grow substantially in coming days. Overall, agriculture contributes nearly 30% of global GHG emissions and nearly 60% of food emissions come from animal-based foods, such as meat, cheese and eggs.

As per UN projections our global population will reach 10 billion by 2050. It is highly unlikely that we could feed them without emitting even more GHGs.

The demand for animal-based food is growing in both rich and poor countries around the world. About 40% of world agricultural land (equivalent to North and South America combined) is being used for meat production, one way or another. Although many argue it to be the worst source of GHG emissions, cutting back on meat consumption can easily make both rich and poor unhappy.

This puts us in a unique situation where eating less meat alone won’t stop climate change, but climate change cannot be stopped by continuing meat production at the same pace. The same holds true for many other consumer products we may consider essential to run our day-to-day life.

Some critiques end up blaming capitalism and ever-increasing demand for economic growth for the climate change crisis. They suggest economic “degrowth” to be the solution. The proponents push for ecologically sustainable society with socio-environmental wellbeing as the indicator of prosperity. All that sounds good, but it seems a bit far-fetched argument, if not unrealistic.

It all comes down to this: we cannot stop rapid climate change without changing our life-style. If we are really serious about this change, both rich and poor will have to chip in. Rich may need to sacrifice some of their luxuries while poor will have to give up some of their ambitious dreams, unless we come up with some technological interventions rather sooner than later.

I have very little doubt that climate change, in the next couple of decades, will dramatically transform our modern way of living on this planet as we know it. Even after taking drastic preventive measures now, it is highly likely that we will be living in a completely different world within the next couple of decades.

My only hope is that the residents of this new world will have a brand new way of looking at life; a new thinking, a new politics, a new socioeconomics and a renewed relationship with both technology and nature. Although it will feel like living in a different planet then, I seriously hope and pray it will be relatively healthier and safer to live in.

Global efforts to stop rapid climate change might share the fate of inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine

Climate change is, without doubt, the most challenging issue of our time; a crisis hovering over our heads, right now. It is, in fact, threatening our entire existence in this planet we call home.

Rapid climate change, like the COVID-19, knows no boundaries and respects no nationality. Its dire consequences are evident everywhere; from glacial lakes of the Himalayas down to the sea levels.

Since the problem is a global one, it clearly can’t be solved by a group of activists, organizations, leaders, politicians or even countries, for that matter.

Some critiques end up blaming capitalism and ever-increasing demand for economic growth for the climate change crisis. They suggest economic “degrowth” to be the solution. The proponents push for ecologically sustainable society with socio-environmental wellbeing as the indicator of prosperity. All that sounds good, but it seems a bit far-fetched argument, if not unrealistic.

The truth is every group of people and politicians on the left-right political spectrum has some idealistic view to stop rapid climate change; however, no political system has been able to demonstrate a sustainable model in true sense.

We spent over three decades in pep talks and we know that it didn’t work. Had it worked, the GHG emissions would have significantly decreased by now.

Moving forward, we will face more and more extreme environmental and ecological challenges which will be unavoidable as well as irreversible to a large extent.

And we are already running out of time! We don’t have time for more experiments, more political promises, more empty rhetoric, and more sustainability blah, blah, blah.

In a recent Youth4Climate summit (28-30 Sep 2021, Milan, Italy), Greta Thunberg rightfully said: “Build Back Better – blah, blah, blah. Green Economy – blah, blah, blah. Net Zero by 2050 – blah, blah, blah”.

Of course we need to be hopeful, but one thing we desperately need more than hope is real action on the ground. I have to agree with Greta when she says “Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.” We must actively correct our past mistakes by immediately coming up with strictest actions to reduce GHG emissions in all fronts.

Politicians, global leaders, and governments play a pivotal role in bringing about the change that is necessary. And they can do this only if they coordinate and collaborate before it is too late. However, this seems very unlikely as long as their thinking is limited by national interests and geographical separations.

It is even worse when their motivations are influenced by ideals, personal gain, corruption and sheer indulgence of big tax payers, mighty corporates, campaign contributors, etc.

The ongoing inequitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution serves a pertinent scenario here.

These days, affluent countries are being blamed for holding supplies or even stockpiling more vaccines than they need for their entire population. They are planning for the third-jab or a booster dose for their population at a time when an entire continent of Africa is still struggling to vaccinate even 5 percent of its population.

Such restricted thought is allowing even more deadly variants of COVID-19 to emerge and spread across the globe, because an infectious disease like COVID-19 will remain a threat globally, as long as it exists anywhere in the world.

If things don’t change soon enough and so-called global leaders fail to see the bigger picture, it will be impossible to meet the global target set by the WHO; vaccinating 70 percent of the population of all countries by mid-2022.

I just wish that this would not be the case with the efforts to prevent rapid climate change, as more or less the same countries and politicians are involved to change our collective fate in this planet.

Paris Agreement and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): Pivotal for systemic change to prevent rapid climate change    

Human activities, over the past couple of centuries, are responsible for causing excessive Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, thereby influencing climate system of the planet.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in its 6th assessment report-2021 confirmed “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”.  The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed it “Code red for humanity”.

Stopping rapid climate change is a systemic problem which demands all-encompassing systemic change, including technology, economics, politics, culture of consumerism, and the very fabric of our modern industrial societies.

It is not only about how we devise policies and operate ourselves but essentially about a radically different way of thinking.

Currently around 80 percent of our global energy demand is met by coal, oil and natural gas; China and India being the two largest coal consuming countries. And the numbers are not likely to change for another 10-15 years, unless politicians choose to do something totally different about it.

Every single day we use 100 million barrels of oil and so far no politics or economics whatsoever have been able to reduce that figure. Evidently there are no stringent rules to stop extracting that oil out of the ground. Even if there are some, they need to be reassessed and changed in a rather fundamental way.

Nevertheless, people can make politicians think, understand and feel differently by making them realize that the voters really care and that their career or political success depends on honestly tackling GHG emissions; starting with energy, transportation, agriculture, food, forestry and waste management sectors. 

At the global level, the Paris Agreement (12 Dec 2015) at COP21 was a job well done. Hopefully the COP26 summit (31 Oct – 12 Nov 2021) in Glasgow will successfully finalize the rules and procedures for implementing the Paris Agreement which aims at limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial era. This is easier said than done; however, the agreement is also our best bet for humanity at present.

The Paris Agreement requests each country to outline and communicate their post-2020 climate actions, known as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). It also requires each country to prepare, implement, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that the country intends to achieve.

To comply with the Paris Agreement, all countries should pursue domestic climate change mitigation as well as adaptation measures to meet the objectives set by their NDCs. These climate actions (performed by individual countries) will then collectively determine whether the world will achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement or not.

Politicians must also act in the direction of changing laws, incentivizing green technologies, enforcing strict regulations, punishing non-compliers for real, investing in green innovations and reducing investment in fossil fuel productions.

Doing all that may help reduce GHG emissions, but the demand for energy will certainly exceed the supply. This may result in staggeringly high oil and gas prices followed by energy crunch; like the one currently faced by the UK and Europe.

This is because solar, wind, and other alternative sources of energy aren’t yet enough or ready to replace the fossil fuels overnight. Therefore, unless our politicians are also prepared with a robust energy transition (fossil to green) strategy, it is likely that they will again be forced to get back to the same old ways of doing things.

Both people and politicians must work together (locally as well as globally) towards climate change mitigation and adaptation activities committed by their NDCs. If we are to bring about systemic change, every world citizen must feel personally responsible to make their politicians accountable (at local, regional and global levels).

Are your politicians effectively planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating your country’s NDCs to pursue climate change mitigation and adaptation activities?

Believe me, following through on this matter is more important than you switching the lights off, turning off the tap when you brush your teeth or avoiding plastic bags when you go shopping.