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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

At UN talks, world leaders must vow to form new policies, support innovations that can arrest climate crisis

cities Updated: Sep 18, 2019 19:37 IST
Kalpana Viswanath
Kalpana Viswanath
Hindustantimes
         

In recent months, there has been much news about Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Nobel peace prize nominee and Swedish student who has become well known for her protest against the lack of global political action to combat the effects of climate change and addressing environment concerns. Inspired by her, youth around the world have been protesting regularly to demand steps to ensure their future is safeguarded from catastrophes triggered by a changing climate. When young people get angry about the state of the world it is always a good sign, it is a sign of challenge and change.

The issue of sustainability has become a central concern for people across the world. A concern and question many of us struggle with is: what should we do. There are actions that we can take in our own lives—from shunning single-use plastic, to using grey water, using less water, using public transport, to separating waste, among others. But this lends itself to an even bigger question that plagues everyone: Is this enough and is it going to make enough of a difference? How much change can individual actions bring about?

The larger issue is that of consumption and lifestyle that people in the developed world have been following for years and is being replicated by the middle and upper classes in developing countries, such as India. Data shows us that the richest 10% in the world account for 49% of CO2 lifestyle consumption emissions, while the poorest 50% only account for 10% of lifestyle consumption emissions.

Therefore, the question we have to grapple with is that of the planet’s sustainability with continuation of high-consumption lifestyle choices alongside adoption of change-oriented changes mentioned above. Will these measures have an impact if consumption and aspirations continues to grow at the existing rate?

Electronic waste is another major issue as people replace laptops, cell phones and television sets every couple of years. The UN estimates that all of humanity produces 40 million tonnes of electronic waste every year. Once again, it is much higher in developed countries, but we, in developing countries, are also aspiring to have a similar lifestyle. Nearly 10 million tonnes of electronic waste is produced in the United States alone; 50%-70% of e-waste collected in the USA ends up in the informal recycling sectors of Asia and West Africa. China receives the largest e-recycling volume, followed by India, Nigeria and Ghana. For 25 years, China has been the place where USA and other developed countries have been sending their plastic waste to be recycled. But in 2017, China passed a law banning import of waste, which has had an impact on recycling globally.

The issue thus needs us to engage with how plastics, e-waste and water are used/processed/recycled outside our homes and individual lives.

Greta Thunberg and the millions joining the global climate campaign are talking that these concerns are larger than the individual and impress that their impact is direct on the plant, consequences of which will be borne by the adults of tomorrow in a tomorrow that’s not far from today.

The biggest need is for all of us to get more information and begin to not only make changes at a personal level, but get governments to make the big changes. For example, the UK recently starts using the heat from the underground rail to heat up homes in an effort to use the “wasted heat”.

We have to hold governments across nations responsible for recognising and dealing with consumption waste as a crisis—with new policies and regulations and support for innovations in this area.

On September 23, leaders of the world will be converging in New York to discuss these issues and find global and local solutions. Some activists have suggested that we should replace the term ‘climate change’ with ‘climate emergency’ and the UN Secretary General has asked countries to come to the summit with clear action plans and not just speeches.

First Published: Sep 18, 2019 19:37 IST

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