“As human beings, we are vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable. In our everyday experience, if something has never happened before, we are generally safe in assuming it is not going to happen in the future, but the exceptions can kill you and climate change is one of those exceptions.”Al Gore
Climate change is no longer a concept for moviemakers and conspiracists. It is a reality. Movies like 2012, The Day after Tomorrow, An Inconvenient Truth etc. seem prophetic now that we have started to feel the impact of climate change. With an increasing population the issue is only set to get worse in the coming years. In the last year, 2045 people in India have died due to extreme weather events. What are we doing to counter climate change and to prepare our children for a climate compliant future?
Climate Education in India
The Constitution of India in article 51-A(g), lays down as one of the fundamental duties for its citizens: the duty to “protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures”. It is mandatory for all university students, regardless of the course they are enrolled in, to complete a module on climate change education. Additionally, environmental security is a devolved matter on which states must legislate. The right to a healthy environment has been recognised and upheld by the Supreme Court of India on several occasions. Yet, environmental issues and rights are often disregarded or sidetracked in the race for ‘development’ and the younger generation remains oblivious to the issue and its effect on human lives.
The state of Maharashtra had proposed a metro depot for parking metro coaches, right within the Aarey Forest, referred to as the lungs of Mumbai. They had proposed the clearing out of 81 acre plot area within the Aarey Colony, which would have lead to the felling of more than 5000 trees. A Save Aarey movement rallied by local environmental activists has so far managed to get a stay on the construction work, however, it seems unlikely that they would be able to prevent the felling of trees and the destruction of the Aarey forest. Not to mention, that numerous trees were fell to make way for the four lane highway from Vadodara to Sindhu Bet, the site of the Statue of Unity. The cost and damage to the environment for the promise of ‘development’ is not proportionate.
We have clearly forgotten the essence of our duty to protect the environment. Without a structured curriculum on climate change in schools and colleges, it falls upon us as individuals, citizens, parents, and community members to educate ourselves and others.
The Climate Education Gap
As part of our climate awareness campaign, we have been conducting seminars on the climate crisis in Vadodara. When interacting with the students, one thing became apparent: they all knew about climate change. The problem, however, lies here: their syllabus had not been updated. The children seemed to be under the impression that Climate Change was a future problem and a remote occurrence. They were not aware of the fact that it is the most debated contemporary issue in international politics. The students were not told about the country commitments under the Paris Agreement and what it meant for their lifestyle. How does climate change impact India, now and in the future? What would a reduced carbon lifestyle mandated by law look like? If we wait until the climate issue becomes a climate emergency, it might be too late to fix things then.
India and Climate Change: Global Commitments and Ground Reality
The UN Climate Summit 2019, to be held on, 23rd September 2019, convenes on the theme of ‘A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win’. With the impending UN Climate Summit, and the recent emissions gap report, it is necessary to take a look at India’s national policy and global commitment to counter the climate change issue. India is a signatory of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol. India has committed to the reduction of greenhouse gas intensity by 33-35% of its Gross Domestic Product by 2030 (compared to the base year of 2005). While India is on track to surpass its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, on closer look, it may still not be enough to ensure that carbon emissions in India peak by 2020 (as required by the Paris Agreement).
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in India have been reluctant to make comments on India’s carbon emissions and reduction commitment, arguing the ‘developing nation’ archetype. Additionally, the MoEFCC in India has been criticised for not being stern with polluters and those who breach the ‘environmental laws’ in India. Domestic initiatives under National Action Plan on Climate Change encompass a range of measures focussed on: solar energy, energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water security, green cover, sustainable agriculture and climate research. However, their implementation and translation into State Action Plan on Climate Change etc, have been delayed or otherwise impeded. Putting economic development ahead of emission reduction targets, may cost India in the long run. With the world’s largest population, it is estimated that climate change will affect 600 Million people in India.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report of October 2018
“Each degree matters, each year matters, and each decision matters; not acting today is adding to the burden of the next generations… limiting global warming to 1.5ºC is not impossible but requires strong and immediate policies”.Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (8th October 2018 Report)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the world body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly, to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC Report of October 2018 explains the repercussions of 1.5ºC vs 2ºC warming of the planet.
At the current rate of emissions and commitments made by the signatory countries of the Paris Agreement, we are headed towards a 3-4ºC temperature rise by 2100.
Climate Solution: Taking Positive Climate Action
It is undeniable that human activity and intervention has lead to the dramatic increase in the greenhouse gases in the environment, especially since the industrial revolution in 1930’s. The rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has ensured a rapid rise in the global temperature and accelerated an otherwise natural process. We know humans are part of the problem, but we can be part of the solution too. Climate education and action is the call of the hour, and we must answer.
We need to start making the inconvenient choices and opt for greener practices to save our planet for our future generations (literally)! We need to be more mindful of our emissions and individual carbon footprint. Think about the source of energy being used, and how to minimise our reliance on fossil fuels. Cut out that plastic, separate your waste, conserve energy and water; all the things we know can help the environment, but simply gloss over because they may take a few minutes longer. We need to stop being lazy about the climate problem and start taking positive actions to be role models to the younger generation and save the planet for the future generations.