Colonial perspectives cannot solve climate problems now

Singling out coal will not serve the purpose. India’s argument that other fossil fuels used by rich countries are also responsible for emissions makes sense

Recently, the United Nations Conference on the Environment “COP 26” ended in Glasgow, UK. India was praised at this conference for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Panchamrit” commitment to a secure environment. Today’s environmental crisis is actually linked to the existence of humanity. The devastation caused by climate change is now affecting the common man all over the world.

Downpours in the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand, excessively low rainfall in some areas and excessive rainfall in others, and resulting droughts and floods, causing disease and leading to climate change inducing natural calamities, all have an impact on life in the country today. Globally, life on small islands is under threat due to rising sea levels. Environmental hazards are also becoming the cause of large-scale displacements. If we are not up to it, this earth will not remain a habitable place for decades to come.

Faced with this concern, environmental conferences have been organized every year under the auspices of the United Nations since 1994. These conferences are also known as the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”. At the Conference on the Environment held in Kyoto, Japan, a treaty was signed, known as the “Kyoto Protocol”, (with amendments at the Conference on the Environment in Doha in 2012), according to which countries have announced reduction targets for their greenhouse gas emissions. The “Kyoto Protocol” was the last such agreement in which developed countries accepted their responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and less developed and developing countries have been exempted from the responsibility to reduce emissions of these gases for a period of time.

After the 2015 Paris Environment Conference, India, with a liberal shift in its previous stance, unilaterally committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and made it clear that India not only would live up to its ambitions, but also increase them. But India has also made it clear that developed countries should refrain from blaming India for environmental degradation or global warming. The reality is that if viewed from a historical perspective, the world today is suffering from the consequences of what has happened over the past 100 years. While the United States is responsible for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, the contribution of Europe and China is 10% and 28% respectively, India is only responsible for 3% of these shows.

India has said that while rich countries are responsible for a large part of the emissions, they have failed to deliver on their promise, made in Copenhagen, to provide $100 billion to developing and least developed countries to deal with the environmental crisis. Moreover, given the scale of the problem and the efforts needed to tackle it, even $1 trillion might not be enough. Unfortunately, there is no reference to the $100 billion commitment in the COP26 outcome document. On the contrary, every effort is being made to blame India for the environmental crisis caused by the overuse of coal. In the draft outcome document of the Conference on the Environment in Glasgow (UK), rich countries included the condition of phasing out coal in the draft declaration, and when India refused to accept, a campaign was launched in the Western media. defame India that it is becoming an obstacle on the way to a solution to the environmental crisis.

While the Western media tries to paint India as the villain of the environmental crisis for not accepting the coal phase-out condition in the final document, countries like the United States, the Europe and China, which are the main culprits, are nowhere near being held responsible. We have to understand that targeting coal will not help. India’s argument that other fossil fuels like oil and gas are also responsible for emissions makes sense. However, the United States and Europe having an advantage in using them (oil and gas), there is no mention of the reduction of emissions of these fossil fuels in the final document, which is downright unfair.

Today, when developed countries brand India as an obstacle to the environmental treaty, they must look inward and realize that the reason for the current environmental crisis is the uncontrolled consumption of these countries, which is reflected in the fact that only the United States and Europe — home to only 14% of the world’s total population — account for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions over the past 100 years.

Moreover, even today, India’s per capita greenhouse gas emission is only 1.77 metric tons, while in America it is 14.24 metric tons and in England 14.24 metric tons. 4.85 metric tons, and in China also, the per capita greenhouse gas emission is 7.41 metric tons. The main reason for excessive greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries is irresponsible and irresponsible consumption, due to their way of life. Developed countries today are not ready to admit that the current environmental crisis is due to their stubbornness in not changing their way of life. The inhabitants of these countries and their leaders will have to realize that they must control their consumption to overcome the current environmental crisis. Whether it is the objective of not letting the global temperature rise by more than 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial level, or the reduction of smoke, the only solution is to control consumption, for which the developed countries have the main responsibility.

Apart from this, efforts by developing countries and underdeveloped countries like India to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming will require the use of technology. This technology is available mainly with developed countries, which they only want to share at high cost. On the other hand, developing and underdeveloped countries will have to increase the use of renewable energies such as solar energy, wind energy, etc., for which they will need more investments and technologies. The need of the hour is that if the earth is to remain habitable, the developed countries must make their resources and their technology available, the rich countries will have to get out of their colonial mentality, that they are the masters of the world and can do anything what they want. We must not forget that the heat emanating from global warming will not even spare these rich countries.

(The author is a professor at PGDAV College, University of Delhi. Opinions expressed are personal.)

Teresa H. Sadler