Apocalyptic Reality: World Breaches 2° Celsius Danger Mark, Mocking Climate Agreements' Hype

Post the Paris Agreement on climate change, the world remained hopeful for a sustainable future. However, the geopolitical road took a turbulent turn with the emergence of leaders who actively denied climate change
Climate Change
Climate Change

In 2015, the Paris Agreement ignited optimism around climate change by setting targets to curb global increase in temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, with a further goal to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius, fostering optimism for climate mitigation efforts. Fast forward to this November, Earth's surface has crossed the danger mark for the first time in recorded history. Data compiled by Climate Science Service showed that the world crossed the danger mark on November 17.

Quite evidently, the world failed to achieve the set goal. As a result this year witnessed some of the most extreme weather conditions. From heavy rain in a country like Dubai to extreme wildfires in Canada, different regions have faced the brunt of erratic climate. What made the scene even worse was the economic cost incurred by nations owing to the implications of climate change. According to a UN report, economic losses totaling $4.3 trillion have been incurred over the past years owing to extreme weather and climatic conditions. 

Meanwhile, India, claiming a leadership role in the Global South, presented a mixed script. Despite boasting lower emissions per capita, its non-fossil capacity goal falls critically short. The contrast amplifies when considering the ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) report, projecting climate change losses for India at a staggering 35 per cent of GDP, outpacing the 24 per cent level estimated for the rest of developing Asia by 2100. Beyond the theatrics, the real challenge lies in transforming rhetoric into impactful action on the climate stage.

How the world failed to keep its promise

Post the Paris Agreement on climate change, the world remained hopeful for a sustainable future. However, the geopolitical road took a turbulent turn with the emergence of leaders who actively denied climate change. For other nations, too, the ascent of new powers shifted the priority of a sustainable future towards a downward trajectory.

In the global political theater, leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro played their climate-change denial cards, casting shadows over international efforts. Trump's dramatic exit from the Paris Agreement and Brazil's climate skepticism became stumbling blocks in the path to environmental progress.

While countries agree on the science of climate change, disputes surface in implementation issues like accountability, emission-tracking methods, and compensation for affected nations spark disagreements, rooted in broader social, political, and economic contexts, said Ramanand Nand, Director at Centre of Policy Research and Governance. Historical inequalities, especially from imperialism, persist. Emerging nations, like India, advocate for fair treatment in historical responsibility and climate financing, emphasising differentiated approaches.

The ongoing argument about who is more responsible for carbon footprints, whether it's developed or emerging economies remains a persistent challenge. Meanwhile, those at the lower end of the socioeconomic pyramid are on the verge of experiencing the worst effects of these environmental changes. In least-developed countries, WMO found that several disasters in the past 50 years led to economic losses of up to 30 per cent of GDP.

Nand points out that the failure of international meetings and policies is attributed to ineffective monitoring and enforcement. Despite widespread net-zero pledges covering 90 per cent of global GDP and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, the grim reality is that many countries resist being held accountable, leading to a lack of compliance.

Avantika Goswami, Programme Manager at Centre for Science and Environment, believes that developed nations, having contributed significantly to emissions in the past, often resist acknowledging their role in climate change. Despite their capacity to shift to cleaner energy, some, like the US, persist in fossil fuel reliance. While everyone forgets that even developing and underdeveloped countries, with lower emissions, have developmental needs.

“This impasse in climate politics impedes global progress, as developed nations hesitate to address their historical contributions in emissions, leaving developing countries unwilling to compromise their developmental goals. So that's why we have a deadlock every year,” she adds.

A research highlighted that 3.6 billion individuals in vulnerable regions, predominantly emerging economies, face severe health impacts from climate change. While traditionally marginalized populations suffer most, the crisis threatens the overall well-being of the socioeconomic pyramid that consists of higher-income groups as well. This poses a substantial risk of reversing the progress made over the past five decades in development, global health, and poverty reduction.

It is also worth noting that least developed nations historically and presently contribute minimally to global emissions, while developed and top emerging economies exhibit higher per capita and aggregate emissions. India, with the world's largest population, can be regarded positively owing to its comparatively lower per capita emissions.

Where does India stand in the climate debate?

India has witnessed significant economic losses on the domestic front, with a notable decline in agricultural output and delays in infrastructure projects due to unseasonal rains. According to a report by the World Meteorological Organization, the country incurred lost $4.2 billion, primarily attributed to flood-related disasters, followed by droughts and heatwaves. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, the escalating heat poses a threat to 4.5 per cent of India's GDP by the year 2030.

However, amid geopolitical uncertainty in Western nations owing to conflicts in the Eastern Bloc and the Middle East, India is actively reinforcing its commitment to sustainability. The country has implemented subsidies for electric vehicles, and its installed non-fossil fuel capacity has surged by 396 per cent in the past 8.5 years, reaching over 176.49 GW (inclusive of large hydro and nuclear). This accounts for approximately 43 per cent of the nation's total capacity as of July 2023.

Despite India's proactive measures to combat climate change, these efforts can be overshadowed by the economic losses the country is grappling with. It is crucial to recognise that the repercussions of global climate change are most evident in the Global South, a region historically characterized by lower greenhouse gas emissions. Paradoxically, it finds itself disproportionately exposed to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized that "Climate change cannot be fought from conference tables alone. It has to be fought from the dinner tables in every home." This assertion rings true, as the widespread impacts of climate change are observable globally, with the collective expenses borne by the entire world. The decade-by-decade costs of climate change have witnessed a staggering increase over an extended period.

What The Future Holds

Considering the fact that the world has already breached the 2° C mark doesn’t seem to be an alarming image for the geopolitical sphere as countries have failed to prioritize environmental issues. At the midpoint towards the 2030 Agenda deadline, the special edition of the SDG Progress Report revealed that progress on over 50 per cent of the SDG targets was inadequate, while 30 per cent have either stagnated or regressed.

The SDGs came as a replacement for the Millennium Development Goals. The number of net-zero pledges continues to increase, but confidence in their implementation remains low, as per UNEP's latest report.

“Meeting and policy failures often arise from lack of consensus among global leaders, who are influenced by geopolitical factors and economic differences. Cooperation on climate change is hindered by these complexities, limiting the impact of international negotiations on domestic actions. For instance, in the U.S., political polarization and resistance led by special interests impede efforts to curb fossil fuel consumption,” Nand opines.

In 2021, the majority of countries, including China, India, Canada, Brazil, and Australia, fell significantly short of meeting Paris Agreement goals, according to the Climate Action Tracker. In contrast, a limited number of nations like Nepal, UK, Nigeria, Morocco, and Gambia demonstrated greater sufficiency in achieving these goals.

The cycle of creating and replacing goals, while environmental degradation continues its trajectory, is pushing economies to the brink. Amidst geopolitical wars and domestic political vendetta, the bigger picture of the future often gets overshadowed.

If the present trajectory of development persists, there is a risk of not only environmental ramifications but also adverse socioeconomic consequences, as the impact may extend beyond people residing at the lower end of the socioeconomic pyramid. Something that has already been proven true for developing and underdeveloped nations.

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