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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

2019 was a year of heightened awareness of climate change concerns

While the world looked in awe towards Greta Thunberg for her ability to mobilise thousands to demand climate justice, an 8-year-old Indian girl from north-east India also challenged world leaders to 'act now' at the COP 25 in Madrid, Spain. 

Written by Abhimanyu Chakravorty | New Delhi |
Updated: January 1, 2020 7:20:58 pm
FILE – In this file photo dated Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, a man looks up as police and fire personnel move in to remove climate activists and their banner, after they climbed the Europa building during a demonstration outside an EU summit meeting in Brussels. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, FILE)

The call to tackle climate change resonated with the Indian government more than ever in 2019 as they launched a range of measures to mitigate its impacts like launching a national clean air programme, envisaged national coastal mission to protect India’s shorelines and provide financial aid to states to save forests and Himalayan glaciers.

Most notably, India took a lead in crucial global climate conferences under the banner of the United Nations in 2019, especially the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and Desertification (UNNCD COP 14), where Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised India’s ambition of land restoration target from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares to be achieved by 2030.

At the UNCCD COP14, it was a coming together of over 190 countries which adopted a declaration that aims to consider land-based solutions for climate action and bio-diversity to achieving long-term goals of Paris Climate Agreement 2015.

Subsequently, at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, PM Modi gave a clarion call for a “global people’s movement” to usher in a behavioural change to deal with climate change. He also made a very ambitious pledge to more than double India’s non-fossil fuel target to 450 gigawatts.

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The year 2019 also saw schoolchildren, aside from environmentalists, protesting on streets urging authorities to take pro-active action to embed climate change concerns into policies. From circulating petitions to holding placards, children were at the forefront of change demanding climate action to fast track the process of reducing carbon emissions.

While the world looked in awe towards 16-year-old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg for her ability to mobilise thousands to demand climate justice from their respective governments across the globe, an 8-year-old Indian girl from north-east India Licypriya Kangujam also challenged world leaders to ‘act now’ at the COP 25 in Madrid, Spain.

The year ended with the most significant but less conclusive conference of parties on climate change – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change COP 25 – held in Madrid in December. India said it was “walking the talk” on climate goals under the Paris Agreement, but urged developed nations to fulfill their commitment of providing USD100 billion per year to developing countries for climate resilience.

COP 25 couldn’t lead to any significant decision on adapting to climate change given the massive gap between what scientists say the world’s nations need to do on climate change, and what the most countries are prepared to even discuss, let alone actually do.

Developing countries like India and China are treated differently from developed counterparts in the US, European Union or Australia in the Paris Agreement. As per the agreement, there’s no obligation on India to take on ambitious targets like the developed countries. At the same time, India is also the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) after China and the United States, if you don’t count the European Union as one entity. There have been demands from India, just like from China, Brazil and South Africa, to commit to long term goals.

When France encouraged India to make commitments in the joint statement, India had resisted because it said it was anyway doing a lot more than many developed countries. India, however, also knows that developed countries need to first uphold their commitment to providing money and technology to help developing countries to fight climate change and that developed countries are also far from achieving their own climate targets.

But on its own right, India was also ranked among the top 10 in this year’s Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), presented at the COP 25 summit. However, the report also said there’s a need for India to develop a roadmap to phase out fossil fuel subsidies that would consequently reduce the country’s high reliance on coal as a source of power.

Under the Paris Agreement, India had pledged to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 30-35 per cent by 2030 and create additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest cover by 2030. On the domestic front, the government released nearly Rs 50,000 crore to states for compensatory afforestation and other green activities, including prevention of forest fires, biodiversity management and soil conservation.

This year was particularly bad on the air pollution front with air quality index reaching emergency levels in the national capital region. An IPCC report on oceans also rang alarm bells as it predicted that Mumbai, India’s financial capital, may be at risk of being submerged by 2050 with disastrous implications on India’s coastline. The report raised the warning levels of islands such as Andaman and Nicobar islands that might become inhabitable in future due to an increase in climatic events like cyclones.

Climate variability, particularly in India, also wreaked havoc on food security, increased the spread of infectious diseases, floods, severe heatwaves and prevalence of drought conditions.

But the one remarkable characteristic of the climate emergency movement was its ability to galvanise grassroots communities across the world to pressurise their own governments to do more than just symbolic acceptance of climate change.

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