The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is being held from October 31 to November 12, 2021, in Glasgow. It is being keenly watched by policymakers the world over. It may or may not produce immediate results but it is essential to drive home the point that coal, the most polluting of the fossil fuels that drives global warming, needs to be phased out everywhere at the earliest. A recent study showed that the carbon dioxide released by coal into the environment has rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels. That does not bode well for the future of climate change and its socioeconomic implications on humankind.
Many developing countries including India, China and Indonesia rely on cheap, accessible coal and other fossil fuels to grow, despite their disadvantages to the economy and public health. They are sure to demand – and rightly so – some financial assistance from developed countries as the price for ending their reliance on coal. After all, when the Western World was developing its economic might over the past two centuries, all kinds of fuels were freely used without any consideration of their impact on the environment.
One of the unintended consequences of Covid was that pollution fell sharply all over the world – as large cities locked down and economic activity plummeted due to social distancing and other pandemic-induced norms. In 2020, carbon dioxide emissions fell by a record 1.9 billion tonnes, amounting to a 5.4% drop. However, unless deliberate policy action is subsequently taken, we cannot expect to achieve such massive reductions. COP26 is a well-intentioned step in that direction.
According to the UN, developing countries need up to 10 times more funding to protect themselves from the increasingly dangerous socioeconomic effects of climate change. A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report found that developing countries need to spend up to $ 300 billion a year, while, in 2019, developed countries provided $ 79.6 billion in climate assistance. There is a glaring imbalance here which cannot be ignored.
Closer home, Union Minister Mr. Nitin Gadkari has clarified that India is shifting its public transportation fleet to green fuels such as bio-CNG, ethanol, methanol, electricity and green hydrogen. That is becoming increasingly visible now. It will help provide citizens some respite from surging petrol prices. Solar and wind energy also have huge potential here, and India is committed to achieving a clean-energy based economy. India is one of the fastest growing major economies leading through sustainable and climate-neutral development technologies. Official policy is contributing its bit to decarbonizing our economy.
Humanity is racing against time. The world needs to urgently redirect the funding flowing through the global economy towards combating climate change – to secure billions of dollars required to protect the livelihoods of millions of the most vulnerable through strategic adaptation. Finance remains a keystone of the climate action toolkit, around which almost everything else revolves. The survival of many societies depends on driving down emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. The world needs to think hard about what it is prepared to do to avert this risk.