April 2016, Beed, Maharashtra.
Eleven-year-old Yogita went to fetch water from a hand pump 500 meters from her home. This was her fourth trip. On her fifth, she collapsed. When family members took her to the hospital, doctors declared her dead. She had died of dehydration caused by intense heat. The summer of 2016 has seen India record its highest temperature ever. The heat was unrelenting.
It was not a rude shock – 2015 had earlier been the hottest year on record. In Rajasthan, temperatures soared up to 51 degrees Celsius. Almost all of India was under the curse of the sun. Roads melted, crops were decimated and livestock died. Rivers dried, as more than 330 million people in India were left without water. Over 2500 people died in the summer of 2015, due to an unprecedented rise in temperatures.
Climate change is killing people – quietly but consistently. Its impact can be felt every day. This is not an isolated incident, peculiar to India. In 2003, extreme heat waves in Europe decimated more than 70,000 people. An independent report commissioned by twenty governments estimated that five million lives are lost each year.
In the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85 degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gas emissions are wreaking havoc on our lives.
Almost all the industrialised countries have pursued their development on the back of fossil fuels. But the biggest effect is felt by the poor. The discourse at the sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is divided, pitted as a dichotomy between developed and developing nations.
The World Resources Institute points out that the energy sector is the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to more than 75 percent of global emissions. The largest emitters contribute the most. The top three emitters in the world – China, United States and the European Union, account for nearly half of all emissions, at 25.3%, 14.4%, and 10.1% respectively.
They are followed by India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada, and Mexico. Six of the world’s top emitters are developing countries.
A closer look, however, at the emissions per capita presents a dramatically different picture. Canada emits the highest greenhouse gases per person, followed by the Unites States and Russian Federation. Together, these three countries emit more than double the global average per capita. Remarkably, India stands on the other end of the spectrum, with only one-third of the global average.
India, the fastest growing major economy in the world, was long expected to add to the world’s greenhouse burdens. However, India is banking heavily on exponentially increasing her renewable energy generation by 2022 – from 33.8 gW to 100gW. This accompanies a twofold increase in solar capacity, that is growing every year as the cost of technology and production drops dramatically. In India, solar is already cheaper than coal.
One would think that simple economics would pave the way for a renewable future. But international trade laws and arbitration add to the complexity. India lost a WTO ruling in September 2016, preventing her from enforcing domestic content requirements for solar panels.
India’s argument at climate change conferences includes multiple nuances. On one hand, her aim is to speak for the Global South. Refusing to take on the burden put by developed nations on developing nations such as India, she believes in the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, enshrined in the UNFCC. On the other hand, India also recognises that the Paris agreement / COP21 goals only deal with progress to be made post-2022, while ignoring immediate concerns. India wields a double-edged sword.
Climate change is expected to kill six million people by 2030. However, fractured discussions and unkept promises on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions continue to be an instrument of negotiations to advance trade and foreign policy interests. Fashionably dressed diplomats from across the world argue in air-conditioned halls, all trying to wrest more from each other. Pundits pontificate and argue that barriers to greenhouse gas emissions are not merely financial or technical – rather, they are political. The debate is never-ending. It fuels the engine of cynicism and makes one believe that we’re driving a dying planet towards its own doom.
Those who lost their lives remain a mere statistic, with their voices shut out from the world.
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