Nishan Kafle, My Republica, October 15, 2019
Kathmanduites collectively bemoan the declining luster of the mountains we are so proud of. There isn’t anywhere else to point for this scourge but climate change
A fond memory of my childhood in Kathmandu is precariously climbing to the rooftop to witness the majestic beauty of the snowcapped Mount Ganesh in clear, summer days. Although my memories have remained unaltered, the Ganesh, alas, has not—with Kathmandu’s endemic haze occluding the view and, even on rare clear days, its glistening coat of fresh snow giving way to a barren, rugged body. This redolence is not idiosyncratic of me: Kathmanduites collectively bemoan the declining luster of the mountains we are so proud of. There isn’t anywhere else to point for this scourge but climate change.
The worst crisis
Humanity, over the course of its existence, has overcome a slew of existential problems—pandemics, famines, far-flung humanitarian crises, autocratic regimes—but none match the exigency of the global climate crisis we face today. This is because all the progress we have made till date will be meaningless if our existence under threat.
The linear economy, born out the necessities of the times, is sometimes attributed as the principal contributor of climate change. Wrongly, because then the concept of climate change was not even a gleam in scientists’ mind. Since then, science has opened the floodgates of new knowledge and it would be derelict of us to be glib on the pressing issue of climate change in the face of such knowledge. The anachronistic linear economy should be timely supplanted by the circular economy, which emphasizes productivity, less waste and energy-efficiency.
It is a caustic truth that the world’s economy is inextricably linked to fossil fuels. Fossil fuel dependant industries are a lifeline for millions. Still, we must embrace a renewable energy-based economy. But any transition should be sustainable. Last year, a seemingly insignificant development (compared to needed radical reforms) such as rising fuel prices triggered a populist movement of disgruntled workers in France. Haphazard changes have the potential to wreck havoc to the economy and social cohesion, causing conflicts or a mass exodus, for example.
This symbolic movement highlights the importance of having alternatives, including social safety net, for people dependant on non-renewable resources. This is possible through massive investments in green power solutions. In 2018, the International Renewable Energy Agency reported a 5.3 percent growth in employment in the clean energy sector from previous year with a total of 10.3 million jobs in 2017. More encouraging is the fact that it is countries like China, India, and the United States—all heavy polluters—that have experienced the most spike in job numbers.
Need of collective will
Developing countries find it very rich when industrialized countries pontificate on development and climate issues since the latter polluted its way to prosperity. That said, the developing world also shouldn’t shirk its duties to maintain a livable world. Both sides should strive for a balance between development and sustainability. Pollutants do not respect human-made boundaries, so collective will from all parties is required to fight this global menace. Playing the victim game is an untenable policy.
Concepts like carbon pricing have helped to some extent to curb global carbon emissions through carbon taxing and the cap-and-trade system. Though this gives an incentive to both carbon-neutral and polluting countries, we should think beyond. What we need today is expanding the scope of carbon pricing mechanisms, and ensuring predictability and compliance. States and businesses could work together to check polluting habits, compete for incentives and emulate best practices. Allowing the rich to sell their polluting “quotas” to others in exchange of rewards is an unjust zero-sum game that should be discontinued. Pollution is pollution, regardless of its origin.
Climate action is not just an economic agenda that world economies can settle on through adjustments of trading terms. Also, mitigating climate change is beyond technical course correction. What we need today is a groundbreaking collective decision at the political level. Leaders meet every year over the Conference of Parties of UNFCCC, but with little accomplishments. The Paris Climate Agreement is an achievement, and its targets are said to be ‘ambitious’. While it is yet to be seen how this treaty will fare, the target of keeping temperatures within 1.5 and 2 degrees are still not up to the mark. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, in their 2019 report, asserts that even if global temperatures rise by “only” 1.5 degree Celsius, the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, also dubbed as the “third pole”, will experience an additional 0.3 degree Celsius increase in temperature, seriously impacting the livelihoods of the 240 million people living downstream. The target of capping temperature rise to 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius is too much of a low hanging fruit, and policymakers should aim higher.
For centuries the linear economy permitted industries free-reign over their emissions. But as the impacts of climate change became visible, it gave rise to an eco-conscious consumer base who took it upon themselves to fight climate change through sustainability. Governments, too, joined the fray, but haven’t matched the zeal of private citizens and civil society in fighting this crisis. Entrepreneurs should harness this budding zeitgeist of eco-friendly consumerism by incorporating sustainability in their products and supply chain. In any case, constructive participation of youth, women and indigenous people is a must.
Historic opportunities like the UN’s Climate Change Summit and COP25, all taking place this year, should be a forum to share concrete actions and commitments, not just another talk-shop. At a time when humanity needed exemplary leadership, the withdrawal of the largest economy, America, from the Paris Climate Accord, was discouraging, leaving the world without one of its leaders in climate action.
Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” The rest of the world shouldn’t temper its momentum toward climate action. There are no winners or losers in this global campaign: if we win we win together; if we lose we fall together. Someday, I hope my posterity will get to see Mount Ganesh as I once saw it from my Kathmandu home.