“Please Do Something”

This is a plea from the islanders of the Sundarban delta to the world leaders discussing climate change at the 26th Conference of Parties in Glasgow, Scotland.

A storm approaches an island in the Sundarban. Photo courtesy Ambarish Nag Biswas

The day will come when countries around the world will stop digging up the earth, depleting it of all its treasures. Oceans will not be dredged to extract the last drop of oil. Mountains will not be mined to extract the last chunk of coal. And fossil fuel, namely coal, natural gas and petroleum, which have formed for millions of years from decomposed plants and animals, will not be burned for energy. Toxic chemicals will not pollute the air. Greenhouse gases emitted from burning fossil fuels will no longer heat up the earth. Gradually, the layer of ozone that protects the earth from harmful rays of the sun, will mend. Humans will curb their addiction to energy consumption to sustainable levels and source as much of it as possible from clean and renewable sources like the sun, wind, and water.

This utopian scenario could be a distant dream as far as reversing the environmental damage caused by humans to the planet earth is concerned, but if some of the promises made by world leaders at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) being held in Glasgow, Scotland can be counted upon, there is hope yet at the end of a long, dark, nightmarish tunnel.

In his inaugural address on November 1, at the start of the two-week-long world leaders’ summit on climate change, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that 2070 was India’s target year for reaching “net-zero”. The phrase indicates a country’s commitment to offsetting the greenhouse gases its industries emit by those which it absorbs.

“India is the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gas after China, USA and the European Union,” points out Joydeep Gupta, South Asia director of The Third Pole, an international environmental news portal which is a participant at COP26.  Furthermore, as Gupta writes in his opinion piece for UK’s The Guardian, “It (India) depends on coal for two-thirds of its energy generation and is projected to increase its emissions in the next couple of decades as millions move out of poverty and increase their electricity use.”

Therefore, while hailing India’s pledge of “net zero” as a promise that brings hope, experts nevertheless call it one that is “ambitious.”

Other than the “net-zero by 2070” pledge, India has further declared that fifty percent of its “installed energy capacity” will be generated from non-fossil fuel sources. Modi is understood to have also stated that India would reduce emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030.

How these ambitious plans would be implemented is the question that immediately comes to mind. Experts who address this question refer to India’s solarising plans. In her analytical article, The Third Pole’s Lou Del Bellow writes, “A one MW solar power station in Delhi, ‘India Solar’, will be an essential part of India’s plans to implement the net zero by 2070 pledge.”

Modi has also called on developed countries to deliver on their pledges of significantly reducing their carbon emission and demanded that they keep their promise on financing developing countries in their transition to green energy.

In India, Modi’s demands from developed countries (and announcements about its own goals) on the issue of climate change has created a buzz amongst not just environmentalists but a cross section of people including the youth. “It is heartening to see that our Prime Minister is so vocal on the issue and it gives us hope for a greener country and a greener world,” says Sushan Muhuri, a physics student in Kolkata, who has installed “do-it-yourself” solar panels in his house to light lamps and heat water. “The younger generation is extremely wary of where the world is headed in terms of environmental degradation and we want to see world leaders do something to reverse the trend.” He says that if there was one message that he could send the world leaders at COP26 it is this.

In India’s Sundarban, the Bay of Bengal delta, which has been battered repeatedly by cyclones, untimely rain and floods, people too want to send a message to the world leaders at COP26. “Please do something,” pleads Priyotosh Debnath, an eighteen-year-old rikshaw puller from the island of Goshaba. “How can they stop the cyclones, you silly boy?” his father chides him.

“They can,” the boy says.

Categories: Environment

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