Vision 2020 – The Time to Rectify is NOW

No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change – Barack Obama

2019 has been a year of extremes. India was hit by some extreme weather conditions. July 2019 was the hottest July ever, 7 cyclones ravaged the country, forest fires were 113% more than last year and there was at least 74% more extreme rainfall in the summer monsoon months. Millions of people were displaced and the number of deaths due to extreme weather conditions was so high that now India ranks fifth out of 181 countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Hundreds of lives were lost due to heatwaves, heavy rainfalls, droughts and floods ravaged different parts of the country, not to mention the environmental damage caused by forest fires.

The watershed Paris Agreement of 2016, of which India was also a part, was framed with the sole aim to mobilise global commitment to combat climate change. The dangers of climate change are so massive that it is not possible for any nation to restrain it individually, and collective action is critical. While 195 nations and the European Union committed to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees above the pre-industrial era, the Trump administration is all set to pull out of it, and the rest of the world is not close to the targets either.

The severe, worldwide repercussions of climate change are for everyone to see – rising sea levels, crop failures, sudden die-offs – these are all proof of how the planet is deteriorating and how poorly we are faring when it comes to saving the only planet we have. Currently the world is 1.1 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times, and this change has set off many drastic events already. Scientists have been repeatedly warning about the greenhouse emissions and their effect on the climate and now countries need to level up their strategies to curb emissions with immediate effect, because the current plans will still lead to a temperature rise of 3.2 degrees in this century.

The destructive effects of climate change can not be ignored anymore and we need to transform our lifestyle and behaviour to meet the Mission 2020 goals. Mission 2020 set 6 milestones for the world in the fields of energy, finance, transport, infrastructure, industry and land use that need to be achieved to stay on course for the goal of less than 2 degrees warming. However, progress is way below projections and there are numerous untapped opportunities that need to be quickly leveraged to avoid climate change induced water shortages, cyclones, heatwaves, forest fires and to help the coral reefs survive at least partially.

The World Resources Institute reports that current endeavours to curb warmer temperatures are significantly inadequate to achieve the goal set by the Paris Agreement. Burning of fossil fuels to produce energy is still rampant. There is a dearth of clean sources of energy and fossil fuel subsidies are not declining as they ideally should, leading the planet to its tipping point. There is a need for improved transparency about government policies and actions and more private collaborations and individual efforts to ensure more green action, decline in greenhouse emissions and reversal of the damage already done.

The economic costs of global warming are quite massive too. The Indian economy has been reduced by 31% than what it would have been without the impact caused by global warming. The Indian agricultural sector is particularly climate-dependent and changing weather patterns can cost Indian farmers dearly. India will also lose a whopping 34 million full-time jobs, especially in the agricultural and construction sectors, due to global warming. Farmers have been integral to the Indian economy and this double whammy of poor health and loss of livelihood brought about by climate change could spell doom for them.

Reversing the curve is imperative to create better livelihoods, robust health, a cleaner environment and enhance resource efficiency for the future generations. Along with governmental impetus, citizen activism is important to overhaul and regenerate the entire ecosystem so that nature and man exist in tandem, and are not pitted against each other. As far as India is concerned, reduction in coal dependency and agricultural reforms are the most pressing needs that must be fulfilled at the earliest. The present agricultural policies of India encourage crop burning, are ineffective in mitigating the effects of climate change and are among the leading causes for water shortage in the country.

The index of growth needs to be recalibrated and the cost of resources needs to be considered when calculating the growth in capital. For example, while agricultural products are exported and help India earn foreign exchange, water needs to be imported to grow crops like paddy that are extensively grown but are water intensive. Grain yield has also fallen due to higher temperatures in most parts of the country. A combination of alternative crops, better irrigation techniques, use of environment and earth friendly protocols and a huge shift in policies is much needed.

2020 is going to be a decisive year and if greenhouse emissions cannot be steadied now, the earth will go past the point of no return and it will be impossible to meet the goal of keeping the temperature rise within 2 degrees. Developed economies have grown at the cost of natural resources and are now migrating to environment friendly options that are more expensive, but developing economies still depend on fossil fuels and other conventional protocols for development, and are unable to make the switch completely due to the costs involved. Nevertheless, making the shift to cleaner and greener methods is not a choice anymore- it has to be the norm now.

It is time to move to sustainable solutions to combat climate change as well as promote a better quality of life. As a huge number of species is on the brink of extinction and warmer temperatures are steadily going higher, 2020 has to be the ‘make or break’ year when maximum individual and collective efforts are needed to maintain not just a healthy ecosystem, but also a stable one, since human survival depends entirely on it.

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