The mayhem unleashed by the outbreak of the Pandemic causing a global scourge has revealed one thing – COVID-19 might be different to climate change, however the two are quite interconnected! In fact the overall impact of the Pandemic has made us aware of the perils of climate change in the impending future, if no action were to be taken. The epidemiologists refer the current scenario to be a dress rehearsal for something bigger to occur.
During the lockdown, with the slowing down of the economy, it caused a record breaking reduction in emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an intergovernmental body, the global gas emissions were 8% lower when compared to 2019. Further, the use of fossil fuel, particularly coal which is the largest source of greenhouse gases, has been on a decline since 2009. It drastically fell down by 34% and the IEA even predicted that it would not surpass the pre-COVID-19 era. However, a question that looms upon us is if the downturn of the economy be enough to achieve the ambitious target set by the Paris Agreement? Would we be able to limit global warming to 1.5°Celsius with activities coming to a screeching halt temporarily?
The world did experience a decrease in emissions during the 90s, at the time of collapse of the economies of the Soviet Union and countries in Eastern Europe. The key explanation to the decline was possibly their reliance on coal. This dip was short lived. We have contributed more than half emissions in the last 30 years alone, since the 90s, when compared to the data available from 1751 . Then how is it different now?
It’s a revelation to note that the temporary decrease in emissions during COVID-19 isn’t sufficient! There is a further need for about 90% of decarbonisation to be on track for keeping the goal of climate change to 1.5°C warmer. Further, with the current trends, the world is still heading for temperature increase in excess of 3°C to 4°Cthis century. The situation will exacerbate further given the burgeoning population explosion and causing a compounding effect on energy consumption. This itself, accentuates the importance of a transformation in bringing about the necessitated change rather than bringing the economy to a halt!
It’s been nearly five years since the charting of the Paris Agreement to combat Climate Change, where countries drew out their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) outlining their aspirations to address emissions. At the point of ratification these INDCs turned into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), with over 150 countries participating in it. The largest polluter, China, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s emissions, recently made a commitment to reduce emissions by over 65% by 2030 by focusing on a growth in renewable energy and forest cover The Paris Agreement galvanised other significant polluters to come up with reduction in emission plans as the G20 countries account for roughly 80% of the global emissions.
India, the third largest contributor to emissions, has announced its NDCs of reducing emissions intensity by 33-35% by 2030. European Union (EU) further toughening its own 2030 targets given it is the fourth largest polluter. The setting up of the European Green Deal by the EU with the aim to make Europe climate neutral by 2050 is a testimony of its commitments. Whilst the NDCs were set up to limit global warming, it is worth noting that there combined mitigation impact would still fall short of keeping the temperature below the set target of Paris Agreement.
The switch from fossil fuel to renewable one is tedious. Let’s look at Coal, which is considered to be the key contributor in GHG emissions, with its usage ebbing away in both America and Europe. However, it still contributes about 39% of annual emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels. So whilst the West is moving away from Coal and on the path to close the coal fired, the consumption in Asia is on a surge due to ambitious development plans, with China alone burning two thirds of that, followed by India. Decarbonising is certainly not an easy task, but failing to act on it would cause harsher climate risks. According to Swiss Re, a reinsurer, there has been a sharp increase in weather-related risks in 2017-19, nearly twice as high as ten years previously, further reiterating the need for us to look beyond the targets.
As the impact of climate change is amplified, it is in the interest of Businesses to address it, and look at it through the lens of a more solution centric approach. It even comes into play with regulators, institutional investors exerting pressure for businesses to disclose and be more transparent and responsible. One of the prime cases is the most recent one of New York State Pension Funds to divest from companies that pollute. It plans to sell all companies which are high on fossil fuel usage in order to have a portfolio of companies with net zero gas emissions by 2040.
Can businesses play a tactical role in the fight towards combating climate change? Because it’s not just the investors, but the awareness to keep the emissions low is matched unequivocally by other stakeholders too, even the consumers or other supply chain partners. The fall in demand of Scandinavian Airlines even before COVID-19,due to flight shaming is a testimony of the customers being extremely conscientious about their contribution to the carbon footprints. The action by businesses towards decarbonisation no longer qualifies as a ‘nice to have’ feature in their overall plans. Their appetite to embark upon this journey is also driven by a cultural change where the visionary senior management sets the momentum to attain the targets. Businesses understand that climate change would disrupt their operations, and hence they must adapt to the changing environment.
However, it’s still an unsettling situation to be in, as even if the goal of the Paris Agreement were to be met, we are still looking for adverse weather conditions with sea levels rising further and more hotter days. There is a need for radical, drastic measures with a more concrete plan for the world to achieve a net zero emission target. The trajectory to chart out a decarbonisation path is a slow process, but one that requires an action NOW.
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