New Delhi: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that Climate change is the single biggest threat facing humanity. Scientists have highlighted that urgent actions are needed to tackle climate change. What do we need to do to limit global warming and why do we need to act now to deal with the climate emergency? Dia Mirza, Actor, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, UN Secretary General’s Advocate for SDGs talks to Team Banega Swasth India to discuss the urgent need to act against the climate crisis.
How critical is it that we deal with this immediately?
The awful truth is that the climate crisis is an existential crisis. The human species is threatened by the climate crisis. We are responsible for creating the climate crisis, human activities have created the rise in the temperature and are now creating the changes that we are seeing – intensity and frequency of forest fires, floods, drought, cyclones, storms, dust storms. How air pollution exasperates the problems. In India itself, we are becoming so aware and confronted by the calamities that we are experiencing collectively. COVID-19 again is an outcome of our ill-treatment of nature if the fact that because of deforestation, we trade in wildlife, we are bringing organisms that should be living in the wild and habitats and this is what has created the global tragedy that we are experiencing. The climate crisis, as the IPCC report which is the most accurate intergovernmental and scientific report, says that it is code red for humanity.
We have not just let the climate see an increase in temperature by 1.5 degrees but we are continuing the way we run ourselves and our economy, we are expected to see a rise of almost 2 degrees. Thankfully, the UN has also finally realised the fact that the climate crisis is a human rights crisis it is something that jeopardises everyone, everywhere.
There is no region on the planet that is not affected by the climate crisis. I think for us, who grew up in the 80s, the conversation of climate crisis had emerged to take place, and it felt like something that would happen in the distant future. I don’t think we recognised how urgent the problem was and how urgently we needed to deal with it, but now this generation that is being born into a climate crisis is going to face the consequences of our inaction and it really is up to us now to change the way we produce, the way we live, the way we work and function as human beings on this planet.
After Glasgow, how much progress have we really made in having a plan to tackle the climate crisis and sticking to the plan?
Dia – I am going to quote the secretary-general here, who including the remarks of the COP26 said, that the outcome of COP26 is a compromise and it reflects the interest, the contradiction, and the state of political will in the world today, it is an important step but it is not enough. There were many expectations that many people had but I think what we must draw some relief from is the fact that almost 200 countries adopted the Glasgow climate pact, and not only did they adopt this pact but it can radically alter the global landscape on climate change because for the first time it recognises the global climate emergency and has also cited the recent IPCC findings.
It also expresses the alarm and the utmost concern that human activities have caused this change and shift in the global temperature and have caused global warming. And that impact is being felt in every region. That is a big step because until now, countries were not acknowledging and said there is a thing called climate emergency. At least now this pact acknowledges that. The big takeaway for me from COP26 is that there is an agreement on key provisions of the Paris Agreement rulebook, that has been the source of contentious negotiations over the last 6 years. It is something that the countries were just not agreeing upon. Thankfully, this agreement covers the issues around market mechanisms and transparency and it was a very important step. I feel for many of us, who work for the earth, were hoping that the outcomes will be a lot more reflective of the fact that we are in a climate emergency. It is life and death situation. There are entire countries that are going to be submerged underwater, if we don’t act collectively as humanity. So the outcomes may not be indicative of that absolute resolve that we are going to fix this but yes it is a step in the right direction. it is the children and parents that congregated at Glasgow and the world over asked the right questions, demanded the right answers, and called it out for what it really was. We need to hold our governments, our policymakers, our parliamentarians accountable for the inaction. If climate action doesn’t feature anywhere in the mainstream media, and it is not part of a public debate and dinner table conversations, we’re not going to see the change. I am glad we are having this conversation.
Schools in the capital have been shut down due to air pollution. They were finally opening up after the pandemic, kids and parents were excited, do you think when it comes to something like air pollution, the govt is doing enough?
Absolutely not. There is enough evidence of it. Until 5 years ago, govt refused to acknowledge that air pollution was an issue. We have just about managed to implement the systems that deal with air pollution. We have a long way to go but we don’t have the time. We have lost millions of lives. The exact number of lives we have lost from air pollution is 9.8 lakh deaths – only because of particulate matter. Air pollution is ranging from healthy to hazardous in many parts of the country. And we have done too little to combat the issue. It is also something that makes the situation of climate crisis even worse. So we are not only getting sick because of the pandemic, but also air pollution. This also makes the climate crisis worse. The good thing is that we have incredible young people like Vidyut Mohan from India, who has a company and has come up with this innovation that can trap the agriculture waste and create a circular economy within, help reduce the pollution and many other such young people who come up with solutions. I remember many years ago, we had a young man who traps the smoke – carbon from burning – and creates it ink. There are solutions. I think what the govt really needs to do is to put very stringent measures in place – help mitigate the problem by adopting these fantastic innovations and making them large scale. The other thing is now we have absolutely clear industries who are responsible for pollution – how long are we going to overlook it?
Climate change caused by industries, what can ordinary people do?
Call it out. Name the industries, find out who the industries are, call them out, write to them. Question parliamentarians, authorities, write letters, seek change. There is a fantastic group of women in Delhi called warrior moms, who are asking all the right questions, demanding answers, and suggesting changes in policy. They are demanding the laws. There are many parents who have and who run industries. They need to start thinking about how their industry is impacting their children and the elderly in their own families. I hate to use the word ordinary citizen because everyone is extraordinary who has the power to influence and their voice.
What steps should we take to improve the climate crisis?
At an individual level, what we can start doing is measuring our own carbon footprints and understanding how we respond to the resources that we receive from earth and how we respect those resources. There are the simple measures that we can take – eat a plant-based diet, eat less meat, eat locally grown vegetables and fruits, to ensure we are eating seasonal vegetables and fruits, that we use energy-efficient appliances, refuse unnecessary things that we don’t need, maintain a 26-degree temperature in air conditioners, Avoid using AC as much as possible especially in the months that are not very warm. Ensure there is no water wastage – take shorter baths. Refusing single-use plastics. Buying and using cleaning agents and home products that are earth-friendly and don’t have fossil fuels extracts in them, chemicals in them that are harmful to the earth. What is harmful to the earth is harmful to our own health. Managing our waste better – something as simple as segregating our waste at home, hospitals, schools, hotels, would help so much more. Another thing that can make a very big difference is switching from normal CFL bulbs to LED bulbs. So there are many actions that we can take as individuals to reduce our own carbon footprints. We can also support organisations that work for forests and wildlife, call out wrong policies. Every time you hear about a new road or highway being built, the govt making plans to bulldoze existing covers, please stand up and demand that this not be done. While it is wonderful to plant new trees, which I hope all of us continue to do that, it is even more necessary to protect existing forests and ecosystems because we can’t do the work that these forests do and have been doing for the last 100 years. A healthy planet is healthy people.
How to stop the pollution that is there in some parts of India?
We all know what is contributing to air pollution. We need to start making the shift to renewables, ensuring that our transportation systems, our industries, and everything switches to renewables. This will require a great amount of public and private support. We will all have to work together to see this through. Hopefully, one of the outcomes of cop26, if it actually happens, and makes the countries that can afford it, pay the countries like ours for adaptation and mitigation, it can help us with the transformations that are requisites. Most importantly, we have a very robust and strong environment law, if only every industry honours that law and followed the law, didn’t completely ignore the law, we would see a big change. We can also educate each other, never assume that people in govt know. Let’s assume they don’t know, let’s assume absolute ignorance and educate them. Help them understand what their apathy, ignorance, arrogance are doing to the health of the planet and people.
Is India doing enough to tackle the climate crisis?
The solar alliance is a very powerful alliance, if they actually live up to the promises that the PM has made about transforming into solar energy, we can see a big change. But, we were also responsible for watering down the climate pact by saying we will phase out coal, all those who understand how dependant we are on coal, how much money it will cost to make that shift, we need everyone, everywhere to see if it is happening. The fact of the matter is we are 17% of the global population and occupy 2% of the geographic landmass and it is our lives at stake here. We are dependant on our natural resources for everything that we have. If we don’t act on climate and don’t use the power of youth in our country. If we wait till 2070 to do that, we are not contributing positively to climate action. It will take our collective will and the political system to make the transformation that is required. We seem to continually forget that we have a very small window of opportunity here to ensure that we don’t cross the 1.5-degree mark. The power and the voice of the youth in solving the problems. The govt needs to very quickly adapt these innovations and scale them because the true scale is only possible because privately it can’t be done. How did the fossil fuel industry become a part of every household? Because government adopted these and created subsidies and measures that the industry was able to do so.
What steps should the government take?
Govt needs to enforce certain guidelines and ensure that the polluters are taxed,, checked, stopped. Weened to implement much better waste management in the country. We need t find ways to build on a circular economy. So much of the waste that goes unchecked ad is polluting our waterways, air, and soil. Only 37% of India’s urban municipal solid waste is treated. We are the 12th highest contributor to mismanaged plastic waste and are projected to become fifth by 2025. There is a lot to be done in waste management space, especially with plastic management. Ganga, our precious beautiful river, is among the ten most polluted rivers in the world. 89-90% of plastic from the Ganga enters the oceans. Whether it is ensuring that no more deforestation happens, whether it is to afforest the regions possibly, ensuring that all new infrastructure is built on ecology and the Principles of ecology. If we ant blasted the Himalayas as we have in the recent past, would we be experiencing the landslides that we are seeing? There is a lot of work to be done. A very big gap is that there is not enough communication between govt and agencies. Govt & agencies need to start working together. Ecology and environmental protection have to become the heart of every policy and decision. That is the only way we can move forward.
We know how the climate crisis is affecting everything – food security. At COP26 people also talked about the gender gap, women are more impacted than men.
I asked the deputy secretary-general from Nigeria. I asked her to site an example on how climate change impacts women and children most – she gave me such a powerful example of book haram, the natural crisis, the devastation of the lake, and how it led to the financial crisis, terrorism, and its impact on women and children. When we see images of flooding, landslide, cloud bursts, we see images of women and children.
A statistic that was refuted in parliament but many NGOs argue it is a fact – because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant rise in sexual harassment and perpetrators were at people’s homes – physical abuse, sexual harassment. There are all kinds of inequalities that as increased by the climate crisis. When we talk about social justice, we have to include climate justice.
Human beings somehow believe they are separate from nature, just because we built walls and don’t live in forests doesn’t mesa we are not part of nature. India is one of the oldest civilisations in the world that has understood how to live in the harmony with nature. All we have to do is go back to that lifestyle. It is not regressing, it is about understanding that urbanisation, westernisation and globalisation are what caused this.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the 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 population, indigenous 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 (Water, Sanitation 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, which 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 pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual 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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