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Climate Change Is Showing Up In Our Lives Now. It’s An Existential Threat: Environmentalist Sunita Narain

The answer to climate change really is to get rid of our addiction to fossil fuel, believes environmentalist Sunita Narain

हिन्दी में पढ़े
Climate Change Is Showing Up In Our Lives Now. It’s An Existential Threat: Environmentalist Sunita Narain
Dengue and vector borne diseases will increase with climate change, said Sunita Narain
  • ‘Electricity consumption in India will double between now and 2030’
  • With climate change, migration is going to get worse, said Ms Narain
  • ‘Due to extreme weather events, we are seeing farmers lose their crops’

New Delhi: For nearly three decades (since 1995) the United Nations has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. Over the years, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority. The 26th edition of the COP in Glasgow culminated on November 12 where world leaders alongside tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens came together to reach an agreement on how to tackle climate change.

Climate change is showing up in our lives now. It’s an existential threat. From wildfires to droughts to the intensification of cyclones to high cold, high hot season, to dust storms, it is the revenge of mother nature already, said Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment.

Also Read: 1 Billion People Could Face Deadly Levels Of Heat Stress With Global Warming At 2 Degree Celsius: Report

November 12 was the last day of the twelve days talk as part of COP26. To mark the same, the NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team spoke to Ms Narain where we discussed the major takeaways of COP26 and India’s plan to tackle the climate crisis. Here are some excerpts from the interaction.

Understanding Climate Change: 1.5 Degree VS 2 Degree Rise

Explaining the term climate change, Ms Narain said,

There are emissions that come out of the use of fossil fuel which is oil, gas, coal and that these emissions are about carbon dioxide (CO2). Once emitted, CO2 lives in the atmosphere for about 200 years. As per scientists, these gases accumulate in the atmosphere and have created a blanket around the planet. What heat comes in needs to be radiated back and this blanket is actually stopping the heat from going back. Now, scientists had said that this will lead to changes in our weather pattern and this is why the crisis is so big.

Also Read: COP26: How The World’s Militaries Hide Their Huge Carbon Emissions

Ms Narain said that ‘climate crisis’ is not something scientists have been saying or believing. It is happening for real and the latest evidence is the current floods in Chennai. The Chennai city used to face severe floods once in 10 years but over the years, it has become a once in 5 year episode and slowly turning into 3 and 2 year episode.

We are beginning to see that every monsoon is about extreme rain events. Extreme rain means you get more floods and then you get prolonged periods of drought. Today, the people of Chennai are in a state where they cry for water for 12 months and then when it rains, they cry. Why can’t we get this water to flow into the sea?, says Ms Narain.

To limit global warming to a safe level which is 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level, the world has to reduce global net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels of emissions. It is also recommended to turn net zero by 2050. Net zero CO2 emissions will be achieved when CO2 emissions generated by human beings are balanced globally by CO2 removals over a specified period.

On average, from 1870 to 2020, the global temperature has increased by 1.1°C. We are already seeing such dramatic events in the world. 1.5°C is what scientists say is a guard rail. At 1.5°C the impact will be something we can handle; at 2°C it will be catastrophic. You don’t want to live in a 2°C temperature rise world, said Ms Narain.

Also Read: Climate Change Is For Real, Here’s Why We Need To Limit Global Warming And Act Now

The Impact Of Climate Change On Nutrition And Health

Ms Narain highlighted the impact of climate change on the poorest people in the world, who live on the frontlines. They are exposed to all kinds of weather events – rain, hailstorm, cyclone and others. As a result of which they migrate.

As they migrate, you have a larger number of people coming into your cities and a larger number of unemployed on your hands. You are basically making the world both poorer and insecure. This is something that should worry us because it’s not just about India, it’s about the world. Look at immigration and with climate change, it is going to get worse, said Ms Narain.

When asked about the link between climate change and nutrition and the health of the people, Ms Narain informed that agriculture contributes anywhere between 10 to 15 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions because globally, agriculture has become chemcialised and intensive. As a result of which huge amount of emissions are released from cattle as well as field.

Increasing weather temperature will change crop patterns which will lead to some crops more, some crops less so it is very difficult right now. Due to extreme weather events, we are seeing farmers lose their crops. As far as health is concerned, there is a clear link with dengue; it is going up right now. Dengue and vector borne diseases will definitely increase with climate change, said Ms Narain.

India’s Commitment At COP26 To Tackle Climate Change

At COP26, PM Modi announced India’s plan and said that by 2070, the country will achieve the target of ‘net zero’. PM Modi further added that more passengers than the entire population of the world travel by Indian Railways every year. This huge railway system has set itself a target of making itself ‘Net Zero’ by 2030. India will bring its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030 and fulfill 50 per cent of its energy requirement through renewable energy.

Also Read: COP26: What Is Climate Change Adaptation, And Why Is It Important For Human Survival?

Ms Narain lauded India for putting a robust plan despite the fact that the country has not contributed to the problem. Calling India’s plan ambitious and robust, Ms Narain said,

Currently, 10 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable sources. So, we are upping the game from 10 to 50. But, remember, it is not just upping the game from 10 to 50, it is also the time when electricity consumption in India is going to double between now and 2030. So, you are actually talking about doubling electricity and within, a four times increase in renewables. Obviously, it will be very difficult and costly to implement. We also have the challenge of providing affordable energy to a very large number of people. No question it’s going to be tough but that’s why it is important for us to layout that it’s going to be tough in the world. There is no easy answer. Everyone is going to COP thinking some miracle-easy answer will come out. It’s not going to be easy. You are dealing with an existential threat.

Though India has set an ambitious target of switching to renewables, the question is, how much renewable energy do we actually need to save the environment? Explaining the same, Ms Narain said,

In the case of renewable energy, unlike coal based power, you only get 20 per cent plant load factor which means you may install 100 gigawatts (GW) but you get from it only 20 GW of power. Coal gives you about 60 per cent of power. India has 100 GW of renewable right now and we meet 10 per cent of our demand. Our calculation shows that if you want to meet 50 per cent of the enhanced demand in 2030, you will need to increase 100 GW to 700 GW. Now, that means instead of building new coal, you are investing only in new renewable. That’s the big transformation of the energy system that is needed right now. India needs to implement the plan with the same boldness that it has put out the plan.

Key Ways To Control Climate Change And Its Fallouts

Ms Narain believes that the world was made aware of the possible climate crisis 40 years ago but we didn’t act on it at the scale and pace that is needed. The reason being, fossil fuels, which are required for the growth are the ones that are responsible for the emissions.

The answer to climate change really is to get rid of our addiction to fossil fuel. It is coal which may not be used today in the rich parts of the world but they have moved to gas and natural gas is also a fossil fuel. Coal gives you the power, energy that you use in your homes. Then there is oil which is in used transport sector. Everything that we know today is because of the use of power, electricity which is from the use of fossil fuels, said Ms Narain.

Also Read: COP26: What Is Climate Finance And Why Is It Important For Reducing Emissions

To get out of this addiction, Ms Narain suggests two key ways – move the energy system out of fossil fuels. Options are renewable energy, hydroelectricity, biomass, and even to some extent nuclear, if it can become safer. Secondly, to become much more efficient so we don’t use that much energy.

But we are still doing too little, too late. For me, the whole challenge of climate change is not about the global problem but it’s also about how it relates to local pollution and how we can build a co-benefit approach. For example, the big problem with pollution in Delhi is also the use of coal. The pollutants are different; the pollution which you and I are seeing in Delhi is particulate matter/nitrogen dioxide/Sulphur dioxide whereas the pollution which is creating climate change is carbon dioxide. But the source is the same – the use of coal. If we can find a way in which we can reduce the use of coal, it can address both the issues, said Ms Narain.

Elaborating more on the issue of air pollution in Delhi, Ms Narain said, the use of coal has been banned in Delhi and it has resulted in the downfall of pollution levels. Now, the same measures need to be implemented in areas like Sahibabad, Faridabad, Ghaziabad because the airshed is common.

The more we can find such co-benefits; we can move out of driving individual cars to metro to bus to carpooling. You are reducing the kilometers travelled per car which reduces carbon dioxide emissions, you also improve local air. I think that’s the agenda going forward. An agenda which is good for us, good for India, improves our environment and is good for the world as well, said Ms Narain.

Also Read: World Heading For 2.4C Of Warming After Latest Climate Pledges – Analysts

You can listen to the full Banega Swasth India podcast discussion by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.

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NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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