If current indications are anything to go by we are witnessing the revival, even intensification of the ecologically-damaging production and consumption patterns which have landed us in this predicament. Carbon emissions are rising once again as economies begin to revive. Environmental safeguards are being relaxed on the plea that industries badly hit by the pandemic cannot bear the burden of such regulation at least for some time.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
If current indications are anything to go by we are witnessing the revival, even intensification of the ecologically-damaging production and consumption patterns which have landed us in this predicament. Carbon emissions are rising once again as economies begin to revive. Environmental safeguards are being relaxed on the plea that industries badly hit by the pandemic cannot bear the burden of such regulation at least for some time.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

The climate crisis needs a vaccine too

The pandemic has starkly exposed the perils of the rampant degradation of our planet’s fragile ecology
By Shyam Saran
UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 06:02 AM IST

It has been estimated that countries around the world may have spent a total of $6 trillion to deal with the economic consequences of Covid-19, not counting the billions spent in laboratories around the world to fast-track an effective vaccine. The existential nature of the threat from the pandemic justified this extraordinary response even though nations failed to pool their scientific and financial resources to enable a collective and collaborative response.

This is the second time during this millennium that we have witnessed an international response on this scale. There was a massive deployment of economic stimulus packages by G-20 countries to respond to the global financial and economic crisis (GFEC) of 2007-08. This was successful in averting a meltdown of the global trading and financial system. Both during GFEC and the current crisis we hear the same exhortation — that countries should engage in a green recovery from the crisis, that they should rebuild their economies in an ecologically-sustainable manner, that these crises are urgent intimations of the threat to planetary survival, which are ignored at our collective peril.

But if current indications are anything to go by we are witnessing the revival, even intensification of the ecologically-damaging production and consumption patterns, which have landed us in this predicament. Carbon emissions are rising once again as economies begin to revive. Environmental safeguards are being relaxed on the plea that industries badly hit by the pandemic cannot bear the burden of such regulation at least for some time.

The United Nations (UN) recently convened a virtual Climate Ambition Summit at which the secretary-general called for member-states to declare a Climate Emergency and take drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable climate adaptation. While several states committed themselves to achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century they gave little evidence of their willingness to come together to deal with what the incoming United States (US) President Joe Biden has described as an “existential threat of our time”.

Should not there be an urgent mobilisation of world’s top scientists to deliver climate-friendly technologies with the same urgency as they have created effective vaccines against Covid-19 within just a year? Should not countries deploy large economic recovery funds to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to non-fossil and cleaner sources of energy? The climate challenge will unleash a crisis of a scale and severity before which the current pandemic will pale into insignificance. Are the lessons of the pandemic going to be left unlearnt?

The chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hoesung Lee, had this to say in his brief remarks at the summit: “We are currently on a path risking serious, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” Do we need any more convincing?

The pandemic has generated a welcome debate on what constitutes true value and how may this be measured? Our accounting systems, on the basis of which we calculate business risks and profits and losses, are biased towards demonstrable, quantifiable and immediate effects. They undervalue effects which may manifest over longer periods or for which we have not yet developed measuring tools.

Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything which can be counted counts. There is an added problem of measuring feedback loops among inter-related domains. For example, food, water and energy security are closely inter-linked and intervention in one domain has knock-on effects in other domains. Our current accounting systems can only handle linear effects in single domains. It was loss of biodiversity that shrunk wildlife habitat, bringing unfamiliar viruses carried by wild species into contact with domesticated animals and human beings. What may have been justified by arguments of food security and expanding human settlements had no means of assessing the serious health risks this generated. This is related to the classic problem of dealing with external economies where it is not possible to relate individual cost incurred to individual benefit received as the latter is socialised. Challenges such as climate change and public health require such socialisation of costs and benefits and because they are global in dimension, they can only be dealt with through multilateral processes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly exposed the perils of the rampant degradation of our planet’s fragile ecology. Linked to this is the industrialisation of food production, based on mass-breeding of beef, cattle, sheep, pork and poultry in conditions that make the spread of infections and contamination of the food chain all but inevitable.

Plastics may be convenient to use but they are now clogging our rivers, lakes and the ocean. These are all cross-domain issues and need to be treated in a comprehensive frame and through global efforts. Could India take the intellectual lead in pioneering new methods of measuring value?

The Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is scheduled to be held in Glasgow at the end of 2021. This gives Indian diplomacy a year in which to mobilise the international community in favour of a path- breaking outcome based on science and the principle of equitable burden-sharing. On this, India’s interests are fully aligned with the world at large.

Shyam Saran is a former foreign secretary and senior fellow, CPR He was Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Climate Change 2007-2010

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The policy landscape around digital and physical micro-lending

By Amol Agrawal
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
In 1870s, a similar backlash emerged in Poona and Ahmednagar districts of the Bombay presidency. The agriculture boom in the early 1860s led farmers to take loans from moneylenders
Close
A tiny tax on stock market transactions can help fund India’s vaccination drive without burning a hole in the wallets of stock market investors and give the government headroom for other expenditure to help save lives (AFP)
A tiny tax on stock market transactions can help fund India’s vaccination drive without burning a hole in the wallets of stock market investors and give the government headroom for other expenditure to help save lives (AFP)

Vaccinating all Indians, for free

By Praveen Chakravarty
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
The markets are at an all-time high. Impose a Covid-19 surcharge on transactions and use it for vaccination
Close
Why is it that, despite the government displaying its willingness to take a step back, the matter was not resolved? (PTI)
Why is it that, despite the government displaying its willingness to take a step back, the matter was not resolved? (PTI)

Farm protests: The costs of a prolonged standoff

By Shashi Shekhar
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
The government has extended an olive branch. The farmers must respect this and reciprocate. The tone set on Saturday should pave the way for a permanent solution.
Close
Pushing against the climate crisis — in spite of the terrible fire and hurricane damage — was his way of putting the economy before all else. This is what Biden-Harris will have to overcome with smart policies and even smarter communication. (AFP)
Pushing against the climate crisis — in spite of the terrible fire and hurricane damage — was his way of putting the economy before all else. This is what Biden-Harris will have to overcome with smart policies and even smarter communication. (AFP)

On climate, what the US needs to do

By Sunita Narain
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 06:25 AM IST
Joe Biden has done well to rejoin the Paris accord. But his administration will have to overcome Trumpism, take responsibility for historic emissions, and change energy consumption patterns at home
Close
The JPC, hence, has a daunting task ahead, balancing the needs of State security against individual privacy. Giving entry to security agencies will compromise the encryption grid and data of millions. The State has to collaborate with tech giants in using the meta-data more meaningfully and for meeting other requirements without breaking the encryption. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The JPC, hence, has a daunting task ahead, balancing the needs of State security against individual privacy. Giving entry to security agencies will compromise the encryption grid and data of millions. The State has to collaborate with tech giants in using the meta-data more meaningfully and for meeting other requirements without breaking the encryption. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Data bill: The security vs privacy debate

By Yashovardhan Azad
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 06:26 AM IST
The Data Protection Bill also does not touch upon State surveillance methods. Who watches over the watchers? How can an officer of the same rank give permission to another for snooping? And how can another in the same system oversee its justification?
Close
The massive sacrifice of hundreds of Secret Service officers of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army remains a secret and an enigma. On the 125th anniversary of Netaji’s birth, I appeal to the nation to document and recognise these sacrifices (HT PHOTO)
The massive sacrifice of hundreds of Secret Service officers of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army remains a secret and an enigma. On the 125th anniversary of Netaji’s birth, I appeal to the nation to document and recognise these sacrifices (HT PHOTO)

The secrets of Netaji’s secret service

By Amit Mitra
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:49 PM IST
The Indian National Army’s Secret Service men remain unrecognised, despite their sacrifices during the freedom struggle. We must revere them
Close
Prime Minister Imran Khan has contended that Pakistan's economy has made a remarkable turnaround.(Facebook/ImranKhanOfficial)
Prime Minister Imran Khan has contended that Pakistan's economy has made a remarkable turnaround.(Facebook/ImranKhanOfficial)

Imran Khan jumped the gun. This time, over Pakistan’s economic turnaround

UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 03:51 PM IST
  • Pakistan's GDP growth had slowed down much before the coronavirus outbreak, growing by 1.9% in 2019 as compared to a decade-high of 5.8% the previous year when Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf came to power.
Close
While social media has the ability to democratise politics, it can also silence voices. This is troubling (AFP)
While social media has the ability to democratise politics, it can also silence voices. This is troubling (AFP)

The democratic dilemma posed by social media

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:20 AM IST
The banning of Trump and others from Twitter and Facebook, and the shutdown of Parler made clear that the power to silence voices, whether of the one or of millions, lies with just three men on the planet – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. No wonder defending democracy will be a huge and unenviable task for President Biden’s team.
Close
The Supreme Court, in 2019, acknowledged that internet access is integral to the right to freedom of speech and expression while adding that any restriction on internet access must pass the test of proportionality, and suggested the evolution of a rules-based mechanism to govern the internet. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Supreme Court, in 2019, acknowledged that internet access is integral to the right to freedom of speech and expression while adding that any restriction on internet access must pass the test of proportionality, and suggested the evolution of a rules-based mechanism to govern the internet. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Putting the consumer at the centre of Digital India

By Lloyd Mathias
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:21 AM IST
One way to empower consumers is by creating mechanisms to ensure inter-operability, by making it easier to switch services from one platform to another. In telecom, interoperability is implemented. However, in the internet space, and more prominently in the app space, consumers do not have this choice.
Close
Project finance economies have different imperatives from working capital economies. They need investment to fill the gaps in their infrastructure and lack the resources to do so (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
Project finance economies have different imperatives from working capital economies. They need investment to fill the gaps in their infrastructure and lack the resources to do so (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)

The working of a ‘project finance economy’

By Janmejaya Sinha
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:19 AM IST
It is time to question neo-classical economic precepts on deficit and inflation for an economy of India’s nature
Close
Their success highlights the depth and strength of talent in the country (PTI)
Their success highlights the depth and strength of talent in the country (PTI)

Courage, calibre, character: India’s greatest series win

By Ayaz Memon
PUBLISHED ON JAN 20, 2021 08:07 PM IST
The experienced pros and newcomers combined to prove a point to themselves, the opponents and the world. And created history
Close
The Centre ensured the supply of drugs with equitable and integrated access (REUTERS)
The Centre ensured the supply of drugs with equitable and integrated access (REUTERS)

Managing drug security effectively in times of a pandemic

By Sudhansh Pant
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 09:19 PM IST
The Centre’s strategy to ensure sufficient access, monitor stocks and distribution, issue approvals, maintain seamless supply chain of drugs, effectively communicate with stakeholders, and evolve a dynamic Clinical Management Protocol (CMP) has contributed significantly to India’s Covid-19 management success
Close
A new report by Chatham House describes India as UK’s ‘rival’ or ‘at best, an awkward counterpart’ on par with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It also weighs in against the idea of expanding G7 to include India (Getty Images)
A new report by Chatham House describes India as UK’s ‘rival’ or ‘at best, an awkward counterpart’ on par with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It also weighs in against the idea of expanding G7 to include India (Getty Images)

Is ‘Global Britain’ inimical to India?

By Syed Akbaruddin
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 09:10 PM IST
There are disturbing signals from both segments of British polity and civil society. India will need to assess the UK’s position carefully
Close
Pakistan's opposition parties had united last year under the aegis of Pakistan Democratic Movement to launch coordinated attacks on Prime Minister Imran Khan(AFP)
Pakistan's opposition parties had united last year under the aegis of Pakistan Democratic Movement to launch coordinated attacks on Prime Minister Imran Khan(AFP)

Imran Khan gets squeezed between shrinking economy and proactive opposition

UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 05:48 PM IST
  • Differences between China and Pakistan over funding of CPEC's biggest railway project spotlights the growing pressures on PM Imran Khan on the economy front
Close
There is evidence to indicate that the PLA's work and engineering force deployed to upgrade infrastructure in occupied Aksai Chin moved back after completion of work last month
There is evidence to indicate that the PLA's work and engineering force deployed to upgrade infrastructure in occupied Aksai Chin moved back after completion of work last month

India should be wary of Chinese mind games

UPDATED ON JAN 13, 2021 12:31 PM IST
  • Withdrawal from the vast Tibetan and Xinjiang military region means little in an era of stand-off weapons and long-range missiles. The Chinese PLA has capacity to deploy troop divisions within a week with metalled roads and optical fibre cables up to the last military post and advanced landing grounds (ALGs) all along the LAC.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP