The cover page of TIME Magazine’s June issue pictured UN Secretary-General António Guterres in knee-high water, an attempt to convey the urgency for addressing the climate change issue. Rising seas, fleeing residents, disappearing villages, our sinking planet. The edition listed all the impacts that we are facing worldwide due to climate change.
We have experienced two of the impacts listed in the issue over the past few weeks. Europe has been unusually hot and India has had more intense rainfall days than ever before. These weather events have made life uncomfortable, even perilous. Despite everything being done or talked about, things are getting worse. Global energy-related carbon emissions rose to a record high of 33.1 billion tonnes in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the rate of 1.7 percent growth in one year is the highest ever. Simultaneously, the tree cover is depleting. Around 12 million hectares of forest in the world’s tropical regions were lost in 2018, according to the Global Forest Watch report. The impact of fast-increasing emissions and reducing sequestration capability is building a catastrophe for certain.
The impact of a sustained period of planet-threatening activity is becoming clearly visible. In August 2019, mourners gathered in Iceland to commemorate the loss of Okjokull, the first of Iceland’s glaciers to be completely consumed by climate change. It has died at the age of 700 years. Its spot is marked by a plaque that bears the inscription, “A letter to the future”. A future in which 400 other Icelandic glaciers are expected to meet the same fate.
However, we can’t deny that we have come a long way in the past few decades. We have experienced success in the form of the Montreal Protocol and its impact on solving the ozone layer problem. We’ve even seen that agreements like the Kyoto Protocol can get hundreds of clean development mechanism projects going and most importantly we have experienced the euphoria of nations coming together, making commitments and signing the Paris Accord. In September 2018, many corporations made ambitious commitments at the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in California. UltraTech Cement, Mahindra Vehicle Manufacturers Ltd, Mahindra Heavy Engines Ltd, and Godrej Industries Limited and its associate companies (GILAC) — and the South African chemical giant Sasol — pledged to put energy efficiency at the heart of their business growth strategies by joining EP100. Anand Mahindra, chairman, Mahindra Group committed that the entire Mahindra Group will be carbon neutral by 2040.
This September, at the UN Climate Action Summit (UNCAS), the spotlight was on the governments to step up and signal greater ambition. Our experience shows that climate action follows a cycle of desire and discovery — the desire to drive positive change leads to the discovery that more can be done once we get started. This cycle is often accelerated by developments in technology and the advent of newer solutions.
The climate problem is very large. We can’t expect individual entities, even if they are large nations, to solve it on their own. Collaboration on a global scale and multilateralism are a must. The possibilities are immense.
Thankfully, we have the Paris Agreement — a visionary, viable, forward-looking policy framework that sets out exactly what needs to be done to stop climate disruption and reverse its impact. But the agreement itself is meaningless without ambitious action. Action that can trigger a TIME Magazine cover that turns the clock back and says that all is well with the world once again.
Anirban Ghosh is Chief Sustainability Officer at the Mahindra Group. Read his columns here.