As activists around the world amp up pressure on global bodies and policymakers to ensure the issue of climate change takes centre stage, the United Nations announced Monday it would make a major push this year for real progress on that front.
A day after Ireland followed the UK in declaring a national climate emergency, and nearly three years after the historic Paris accord, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres floated the possibility of a climate action summit in Geneva this September; he added that it may be the last chance to arrest irreversible climate change.
Calling it the defining issue of our time, Guterres formally kicked off an Asia-Pacific tour with New Zealand.
Fiji to set the tone for climate summit
Over the next week, he will travel with a panel of experts to a number of Pacific islands that face an existential threat from rising sea levels. In small, poor and low-lying countries like Fiji, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, Guterres is expected to meet with families left devastated by severe cyclones, floods, and other climate disasters.
This comes at a time when Fiji is reportedly working to put together a coalition of more than 90 Caribbean, African, and Asian countries facing such a crisis, to turn up pressure on the UN “to go further, faster, and deeper with the climate summit”.
Indigenous people from the low-lying Torres Strait Islands off Australia’s northeast coast have also filed a landmark complaint with the UN, accusing the government of failing to tackle the risk posed to their homelands by rising seas and global warming. According to reports, it is the first such complaint linking alleged government inaction on climate change to the violation of human rights.
To reverse climate injustice, fossil fuels must go
The issue of climate justice, wherein poorer countries weather the worst effects of global warming, courtesy actions of advanced economies, is at the fore of the ongoing global agitation. Exports are in consensus that saving the planet cannot happen without transforming the priorities and operations of the global economic system.
US banks, for example, are way behind their Asian or European counterparts in financing companies seeking to meet the world’s energy demands with renewable alternatives to coal.
At a time when Extinction Rebellion (XR) is proving to be quite effective in driving dialogue towards concrete action, climate activism should not allow financiers of fossil fuel to escape with impunity, according to Financial Times.
XR, climate emergencies, and a damning CO2 report
XR, the environmental protest group that brought London to a standstill during 10 days of protests late March, recently succeeded in passing one of its three demands through UK parliament. On May 1, British lawmakers took the unprecedented step of declaring an environment and climate emergency with a proposal put forward by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Ireland became the second country in the world to declare it this week, followed by successive reports that Germany, Switzerland, and Australia may soon be following suit. Irish parliament passed it unanimously without a vote, following the release of a parliamentary report presenting a “cross-party consensus for action” on climate change.
Welcoming the news, 16-year-old Swedish climate warrior Greta Thunberg tweeted, “Great news from Ireland!! Who is next?”
Thunberg who has become a leading voice of the green movement around the world added, “#ClimateEmergency means leaving fossil fuels in the ground”. Britain, for example, considers a target of zero net emissions by 2050 that would make it a world leader amid XR’s calls for radical action.
Slowly but surely, the world is waking up to its biggest crisis. But doubt lingers whether it is happening rapidly enough. Just days before Ireland’s announcement, Earth’s atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) crossed 415 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence, marking another alarming milestone en route to complete environmental degradation.
Sensors in Hawaii recorded the CO2 concentration last Saturday, calling it the latest in a dire series of climatic thresholds that the human civilisation continues to add to, solely because it refuses to relinquish the conveniences afforded by fossil fuels.
Individual and corporate efforts have a huge role to play
On the other hand, a collective effort at afforestation is steadily gaining ground to compensate for the lack of administrative will to enforce strict laws against deforestation.
Vital rainforests previously regarded as lungs of the world are being depleted for their resources and economic potential as leaders like Brazillian president Jair Bolsonaro crack down on indigenous guardians of the forests who have lived and protected the Amazon for centuries.
A similar trend is noticeable in India, where mangroves and protected forest reserves are being sold off to corporations for industrial or development projects, and tribal forest dwelling communities are being evicted.
In Brazil’s Minas Gerais region, a couple’s effort to create a new rainforest has paid off after 20 years, as the 1,754-acre plot of land is once again a living, breathing forest. The ranch belongs to photographer Sebastiao Salgado who noted there was 0.5% tree cover in the area in 1998; he along with his wife set up Instituto Terra, an organisation ‘dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce’.
According to Metro UK, it is now a Private Natural Heritage Reserve and is home to 172 types of birds, 33 varieties of mammals and 15 kinds of reptiles and amphibians.
In February, Madhya Pradesh created a new Guinness World Record after 1.5 million volunteers planted more than 66 million tree saplings within half a day along the Narmada river.
But with the accelerated pace of environmental degradation and the warnings growing direr, the need for a cross-sector approach has never been more pronounced.
According to WIRED magazine, businesses can declare environment and biodiversity emergencies just as much as governments, once companies recognise the potential for growth after committing to being part of the solution.
Declaring an emergency, however, should not be reduced to tokenism and, instead, address the climate risk in board meetings, put it on the agenda because of the risks it poses both to economy and survival, and involve climate scientists in business decisions.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.