- Can the Biden-Harris team save the planet?
- Widening gulf
Editorial: Can the Biden-Harris team save the planet?
- After four years of egregious anti-environmental policies during the Trump years, climate change activists and the general public can breathe a sigh of relief now that the Biden-Harris team has taken office in the White House.
- GS Paper 3: Environmental conservation; Environmental pollution and degradation; Environmental Impact Assessment.
- ‘Climate Change’ is a global problem. How India will be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change?
- The Paris Agreement is deemed as the panacea for all environmental ills when the truth is that it is a repudiation of the principles of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and ‘the polluter must pay’. Explain. 15 marks
Dimensions of the Article:
- A Brief History
- Emergence of climate change as an intergovernmental political issue
- International Climate Agreements
- Ongoing debates and issues
- Way Forward
A Brief History:
- In 1957, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, chaired by MIT scientist Thomas F. Malone, launched its First General Report on Climatology addressed to the Chief of the Weather Bureau, stating: “In consuming our fossil fuels at a prodigious rate, our civilization is conducting a grandiose scientific experiment”.
- The next year, Charles Keeling, along with his mentors Harry Wexler and Roger Reveille, began the now famous measurements of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, producing reliable evidence of the relentless rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases over subsequent decades.
- In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee produced a report entitled “Restoring the Quality of our Environment”, which pointed to rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, attributed them principally to the burning of fossil fuels, and warned that these levels could increase further by 25% by 2000, leading to a 0.6oC to 4oC rise in average global temperature, depending on the role of other factors.
- Global average temperature was already about half a degree warmer than at the end of the 19th century and the evidence was clear that mining vast quantities of fossil fuels from the earth and burning them in engines was responsible.
- By the 1970s, human-induced climate change was a widespread area of concern among weather and climate scientists.
- In 1979, a report of the National Research Council, commissioned by President Jimmy Carter and chaired by Jule Charney from the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 over pre-industrial levels could lead to global warming of about 3oC.
- A year earlier, the U.S. Congress passed the National Climate Program Act “to enable the United States and other nations to understand and respond to natural and man-induced climate processes and their implications”. Funding for the programe was ambitious, amounting to over $120 million for the first two years.
Emergence of climate change as an intergovernmental political issue
- 1972: Environmental issues reach the global stage at the first international environmental summit that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, but not specifically climate change.
- Late 1970s: Concerns regarding Climate change raised globally by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
- 1972-1988: Climate change seen as a political issue at the First World Climate Conference in 1979, and the Toronto Conference on the Changing Climate in 1988.
- 1988: Establishment of IPCC to investigate and report on scientific evidence on climate change and possible international responses.
- 1992: First global agreement on climate change – UNFCCC, opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
International Climate Agreements:
- UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992: Ratified by 197 countries, the landmark accord was the first global treaty to explicitly address climate change. It established an annual forum, known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP, for international discussions aimed at stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These meetings produced the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.
- Kyoto Protocol (KP), 2005: The Kyoto Protocol adopted, was the first legally binding climate treaty. It required developed countries to reduce emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels, and established a system to monitor countries’ progress.
- Paris Climate Agreement (PCA), 2015: The agreement presently has 194 countries (USA withdrew from the agreement in 2017). Key aspects of the agreement include:
- Long-term temperature goal: Limiting global temperature increase to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to keep it below 1.5°C.
- Global peaking and ‘climate neutrality’: Reach global net-zero emissions (or carbon neutrality), where the amount of greenhouse gases emitted equals the amount removed from the atmosphere, in the second half of the century.
- Mitigation: Binding commitments by all Parties to prepare, communicate and maintain a nationally determined contribution (NDC) to achieve above goals, which will be updated every 5 years. Global Stock to take place in 2023 and every 5 years thereafter, to assess collective progress toward achieving the purpose of the Agreement.
- Voluntary cooperation/Market- and non-market-based approaches: PCA establishes a mechanism for any cooperation that involves internationally transferal of mitigation outcomes. Addressing Loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.
- Framework for Finance, technology and capacity-building support: This includes the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Transparency, implementation and compliance framework which will facilitate implementation and promote compliance in a non-adversarial and non-punitive manner.
- Kigali Amendment, 2016 (to the Montreal Protocol, 1987): The Montreal Protocol originally required signatory countries to stop producing substances that damage the ozone layer, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In 2016, parties agreed via the Kigali Amendment to also reduce their production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
Ongoing debates and issues:
- Fairness and equity: Dilution of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities may put higher burden on developing countries.
- Ambition: Present course of NDCs is projected to cause an increase in temperature of 2.8-3°C.
- Finances: As of July 2020, only $10.3 billion had been pledged to the GCF as against envisioned US$ 100 billion per year by 2020.
- Effective market and non-market mechanism: Contentious issues include avoiding double counting and ensuring an “overall mitigation in global emissions”.
- Compensation for loss and damage: Developed countries are opposed to commitments to accept liability and provide new finance to cover losses.
- Tracking progress: Issues due to varying technical and financial capabilities and lack of uniform timelines and common metrics in NDCs.
- Delays in negotiations: due to diverse and seemingly antithetical negotiation interests of various party groupings and alliances. Other issues- Growing Disconnect, Withdrawal of USA and Commitments made under Kyoto still incomplete.
- Emphasizing North-South cooperation through mechanisms like the Climate Action Summit of 2019.
- Scaling efforts from developing countries.
- Synchronization of rules by developing common time frames and harmonized metrics for NDCs.
- Encouraging ambitious targets by setting baseline targets or shorter terms in NDCs or clear timeline for updating NDCs.
- Climate negotiation outside of the Paris Agreement, e.g. – Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) scheme.
- Strong market mechanisms that avoid double counting and ensure permanent reductions.
- Developing additional funding mechanisms to compensate vulnerable countries for loss and damage.
- Embedding resilience to climate change in COVID-19 stimulus packages.
Editorial: Widening gulf
- Indian billionaires increased their wealth by 35% to ₹3 trillion during the lockdown, ranking them behind their counterparts in U.S., China, Germany, Russia and France, says the “Inequality Virus Report” brought out by Oxfam, a non-profit organization.
- GS Paper 3: Inclusive growth and associated Issues
- Covid has deepened inequalities. Government must use budget to address and mitigate the fallout. Discuss. 15 Marks
- The trickle down approach has failed in its desired effects in the socio-economic development of India. Redistributive policy is suggested to be a part of inclusive growth development programs. Comment. 15 marks
Dimensions of the Article:
- The Inequality Virus Report: Oxfam International
- Followings are the findings of the report:
- Other impacts of Covid19:
- Suggestions given by Oxfam:
- Way Forward:
The Inequality Virus Report: Oxfam International
Followings are the findings of the report:
- It took just nine months for the fortunes of the top 1,000 billionaires to return to their pre-pandemic highs, while for the world’s poorest, recovery could take more than a decade.
- The increase in the wealth of the 10 richest billionaires since the crisis began is more than enough to prevent anyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus and to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for all.
- In the US, CLOSE TO 22,000 Latinx and Black people would have still been alive as of December 2020 if these communities’ COVID-19 mortality rates were the same as White people’s.
- 112 million FEWER women would be at high risk of losing their incomes or jobs if women and men were equally represented in sectors negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
- The World Bank has calculated that if countries act now to reduce inequality then poverty could return to pre-crisis levels in just three years, rather than in over a decade.
Impact on Education:
- As education made a shift to online platforms, India witnessed the digital divide that worsened the inequalities. As per the report, 3 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent of Indian households had access to a computer while 9 per cent had access to the internet.
Impact on Education:
- The report finds that, India does not report case data desegregated by socio-economic or social categories. Thus, distribution of disease among the communities is difficult to find. But India has become the world’s second-largest country with respect to the number of COVID-19 positive cases.
Impact on Poor communities:
- Covid-19 disease also impacted the poor communities who were living in crammed areas. This is because of poor sanitation. As per the report, only 6 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent households had access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation as opposed to 93 per cent of the top 20 per cent households in India.
Impact on gender disparity:
- As per the report, unemployment rate among women have risen to 18 percent from 15 per cent before COVID-19. This could result in a loss to India’s GDP by 8 per cent or $218 billion.
Other impacts of Covid19:
- Disruption in global economic order: This is the first economic downturn of this magnitude due to a non-economic cause and has resulted in largest contraction of global output since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
- Rise of Nationalism: The national lockdowns; the prolonged interruptions to international travel; the desperate search in each country for testing kits, hospital beds, personal protective equipment and related health infrastructure tools; the reliance on the local or national, over the international, to sustain supply chains have all made borders the most salient feature of international politics again. Instead of focusing on interconnectedness and swimming and sinking together, the pandemic has forced countries to work on themselves in every possible arena.
- Retreat of globalization: With closed borders, grounded flights, a decline in immigration and a massive dip in global trade, the neoliberal model of economic globalisation has suffered a severe reversal. Trade wars had broken out before the pandemic itself but the pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, indirectly forcing nations to focus on self-sufficiency at the expense of global integration.
- Declined relevance of International Institutions: With the return of nationalism, and intensified conflicts, multilateral and intergovernmental organisations have become increasingly fragmented, politicised and are struggling to find relevance. Major international organisations like the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), WTO and the European Union have been criticised for failing to respond to the pandemic with the promptness and alacrity that the situation demands.
- Belligerent China: Even as the international community sought accountability from China for the pandemic, Beijing took advantage of its faster recovery and fragile global situation to turn internally more repressive and externally more assertive. It stepped up its offensive against Taiwan, eroded Hong Kong’s autonomous status, allegedly launched a cyber offensive against Australia, attacked a Vietnamese vessel in the South China Sea, and encroached on Indian territory.
- Amplified role of technological developments: Technology has become the new frontier of cooperation and competition. It is connecting the world as never before, and changing the way individuals lead their lives, companies conduct their businesses, and states interact. But, it has also become an additional tool in the diplomatic and military arsenal of the big powers, and control over key technological infrastructure from the cyber commons to 5G has become a site of global contestation.
- Threatened global social safety and security: Violence against women and human rights abuses have spiked – both of which are harbingers of other forms of violence. Without a social safety net, the lockdown has increased the misery of migrant labourers by leaps and bounds as they are facing joblessness and many are finding it extremely difficult to return to their native places.
- Renewed focus on protecting global environment and ecosystem: Lockdowns, quarantines and border closures have led to reductions in global air pollution through decreased travel and production. These positive environmental effects are most likely temporary, but may serve as an example that changes in our way of life can have prompt positive effects for the environment and demonstrate the usefulness of travel-reducing measures such as work from home, teleconferencing and virtual meetings. Further, enhanced research on zoonotic and infectious diseases has developed knowledge and awareness among people about the adverse implications of global interactions on disease spread.
Suggestions given by Oxfam:
A world that is profoundly more equal and measures what matters:
- A radical and sustained reduction in inequality is the indispensable foundation of our new world. Governments must set concrete, time-bound targets to reduce inequality, and not simply back to pre-crisis levels: they must go further to create a more equal world as a matter of urgency.
- They must move beyond a focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and start to value what really matters. Fighting inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts.
- This must include gender and racial equality. Countries like South Korea, Sierra Leone and New Zealand have committed to reducing inequality as a national priority, showing what can be done.
- The World Bank has calculated that if countries act now to reduce inequality global poverty levels will return to their pre-coronavirus levels in three years instead of over a decade from now.
A world where human economies care for people:
- Governments must reject the old recipe of brutal and unsustainable austerity and must ensure peoples’ wealth, gender or race does not dictate their health or education. Instead, they must invest in free universal healthcare, education, care and other public services.
- Universal public services are the foundation of free and fair societies and have unparalleled power to reduce inequality. They close the gap between rich and poor, but also help close the gap between women and men, especially in redistributing the responsibilities of unpaid care.
- They help to level the playing field for racialized and historically oppressed and marginalized groups. Countries like Costa Rica and Thailand achieved universal health coverage in a decade. Others can do the same.
- Governments must urgently deliver a ‘People’s Vaccine’ to tackle the pandemic. To do this they must face down pharmaceutical corporations, and insist on open access to all relevant patents and technology to enable safe and effective vaccines and treatments for all.
A world without exploitation and with income security
- Inequality should be prevented from happening in the first place. To do this, businesses should be redesigned to prioritize society, rather than ever greater payouts to rich shareholders.
- Incomes should be guaranteed and maximum wages could be introduced. Billionaires are a sign of economic failure, and extreme wealth should be ended.
- The virus has shown us that guaranteed income security is essential, and that a permanent exit from poverty is possible. For this to happen we need not just living wages, but also far greater job security, with labour rights, sick pay, paid parental leave and unemployment benefits if people lose their jobs.
- Governments must also recognize, reduce and redistribute the underpaid and unpaid care work that is done predominantly by women and racialized women in particular.
A world where the richest pay their fair share of tax
- The coronavirus crisis must mark a turning point in the taxation of the richest individuals and big corporations. We must look back on this crisis as the moment when we finally started to tax the rich fairly once more – the moment that the race to the bottom ended and the race to the top began.
- This can include increased wealth taxes, financial transaction taxes and an end to tax dodging. Progressive taxation of the richest members of society is the cornerstone of any equitable recovery from the crisis, as it will enable investment in a green, equitable future.
- Argentina showed the way by adopting a temporary solidarity wealth tax on the extremely wealthy that could generate over $3bn to pay for coronavirus measures, including medical supplies and relief for people living in poverty and small businesses.
A world of climate safety
- Climate breakdown is the biggest threat ever to human existence. It is already destroying the livelihoods and taking the lives of the poorest, economically excluded and historically oppressed communities.
- Women in these communities are among the most affected. To prevent this, we need to build a green economy that prevents further degradation of our planet and preserves it for our children.
- We need an end to all subsidies for fossil fuels, and an end to fossil fuel corporations and their rich shareholders making profits from government bailouts.
- The fight against inequality and the fight for climate justice are the same fight. The pandemic has shown us that massive action by governments is possible in the face of a crisis; we must see the same level of action to prevent climate breakdown.
We are at a pivotal point in human history, a moment that will be written about in history books. We cannot return to the brutal, unequal and unsustainable world that the virus found us in. Humanity has incredible talent, huge wealth and infinite imagination. We must put these assets to work to build a more equal human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few.