Global warming: De-carbonising global economy to avert climate change

By Syed Ali

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and the Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid ended with an inconclusive deadlock on Climate Change. In the last 2 months, two of the most venerated multilateral forums floundered, adding to the growing list of malfunctioning multilateral meetings to solve Climate Change. The rise in CO2 emissions is causing an irreversible change in our environment. Considering this, the WEF 2020 was focused on sustainability rather than conventional economic growth. Co-incidentally, the backdrop of the WEF was the Australian bushfires, causing gargantuan damage and killing 1.25 billion animals. Unfortunately, even the fires were unable to stoke the compassion for the ongoing Climate Crisis. The level of insincerity towards Climate Change is beyond any measure of rationality overlooking the threat to our future. We are at an epochal moment, where we can reboot our future by weaning off carbon-based fuels and progress towards a Decarbonised economy.

Unfortunately, despite the threats, the CO2 emissions are increasing, China alone accounted for 29% of the Global CO2 emissions a year after the Paris agreement in 2016, followed by the USA and India with 16% and 7 %, respectively. The rise in emissions by the world's biggest countries jeopardizes the efforts to a safe and sustainable carbon-neutral future. In this regard, Costa Rica, a small Central American country has embarked on an altruistic mission to a zero- emission economy by 2050 through its Decarbonisation Plan. The European Union has also passed the Euro Green Deal committing to zero emissions and by further modernizing its economy. The road to Carbon- neutrality begins with the shunning off archaic practices from the industrial revolution and embracing fossil-fuel-free technologies which are plenty as of now. Burning fossil fuels releases Carbon Dioxide; a Greenhouse gas (GHG), thereby heating the atmosphere and causing Global Warming.

The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide(CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3), out of these the CO2 is the most harmful because of its propensity to hold heat for a longer duration. Thus, excess CO2 emissions cause global warming by increasing global temperature. The most recent impact of the increase in global temperatures are the heat waves in Europe, bush fires in Australia, California, Amazon forest, Cyclones in south Asia, melting of glaciers in the Arctic, and erosion of coastal lands around the world. Natural calamities in environment engender more harms, for instance, loss of habitat, (threat) extinction of species, infrastructure damage, and increase in the ocean acidity damaging corals.

The scientific community unanimously agrees to the effects of Climate Change and has also formulated indicators defining 'damage levels' to be caused by the rise in temperature. The first damage to be caused with a 1°C rise in temperature will be the coral reefs, food systems, and the disappearance of small glaciers. Furthermore, with a rise in 2°C, agriculture yields will be sporadic, forest fires, droughts, flooding, heat waves will increase causing a significant decrease in water levels in the Mediterranean and Southern Africa. The rapid increase in temperature in the last five decades gives us little room for further warming, therefore a rise in 1.5°C is the threshold. However, the Paris agreement sets a precarious limit of 2° C making us vulnerable to rising sea levels affecting half of the world's population settled on Coasts. As of now, as per the Climate Action Tracker, India, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Bhutan, and the Philippines, and are the only countries complying with the 'under 2°C' target. This means that 190 countries out of 195 are not complying with the Paris agreement consequently, not reducing their emissions. The success of the Paris agreement is essential to save us from the scourge of climate disaster. Unfortunately, the Paris agreement has been mired in petty politics, with no insistence on Decarbonisation of economies.

The advantage of Economic Decarbonisation is that it intertwines with the modernization of all industries. Excessive dependence on fossil fuels does more damage than good, it may guarantee temporary energy security but the side-effects are way too disastrous to continue using this as 'energy- steroids'. Modern technologies allow us to maintain our energy security while maintaining the health of the population and the environment. The need for economic development while using fossil fuels is an argument used by several developing countries. However, this myopic vision overlooks the fact that instead of using a 'short cut' fuel and damaging the environment permanently, more focus needs to be given on renewable energy sources during a nation's development stage. This will help developing countries evolve as more sustainable economies with a healthier population. Therefore, priority should be given to increasing forest covers, promotion of efficient agro-food systems, developing integrated waste management systems, and a transformation of mobility with a significant focus on public transportation systems. All these measures are no more theories; they are economically viable alternatives which need to be mainstreamed to combat global warming. Most importantly, trust in multilateralism needs to be re-invigorated and global checks and balances should be implemented for the reduction of carbon emissions. The only way forward is by making structural changes that will cause temporary suffering nonetheless will guarantee permanent survival.

(The author is an independent analyst on Latin American Affairs. Views expressed are personal.)