A 16-year-old student stood up to speak in the august environs of United Nations Climate Change Summit 2019 that was attended by world leaders and policy-shapers and delivered a stinging rebuke on their collective abdication of responsibility towards the planet. “How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight?” said Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist.
Did it take the courage of a school student to remind the world of what is at stake? Perhaps yes but then again, we knew about the onset of climate change for more than century now.
The warnings began as early as 1930s. But not many paid attention. It was the precursor to the explosion of the industrial and technological marvels that would follow in a few decades. But the warnings on the rising carbon emissions and greenhouse gases due to human-induced activity became more strident.
In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up and endorsed by the UN General Assembly. Today, 31 years on, 80-85 per cent of the world’s energy needs are still being met by fossil fuels, according to reports. In fact, the world has doubled its energy needs since 1980s. And all around us, oceans and countries are heating up, glaciers are melting, birds and insects species are disappearing, crops are failing, wildfires, floods, storms and droughts are everywhere.
Across the world, grass root eco-warriors are on the rise and individuals are no longer in climate denial.
Farmers in Costa Rica who grew coffee are now growing oranges. Pistachio growers in US are facing a crisis: Warmer winters are ruining their crop. Herders in Kenya have ditched cattle for camels as the weather heats up. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds in the United States and Canada, a drop of 29 per cent since 1970 due to global warming and loss of habitat. The planet, and its inhabitants, and their everyday stories of disrupted livelihoods, damaged environments and death are the new reality.
Did the UN summit bring cheer? It depends on the angle of view. Seventy seven countries announced efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 but the big players said little.
Yet there is hope. Across the world, grass root eco-warriors are on the rise and individuals are no longer in climate denial. But is this enough?
The world had a 100 years and more to get its act together. It must not repeat that history.