A look at the fight against global warming - Hindustan Times
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A look at the fight against global warming

BySriparna Pathak
May 27, 2024 09:42 AM IST

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak.

Heatwaves pose a recurring challenge to lives across the globe, as the climate crisis intensifies and there are frequent and myriad disruptions to the global atmospheric circulation system. April 2024 was the hottest month on record so far, as the temperatures mark 11 consecutive months of unprecedented temperatures from May 2023 to April 2024, with global average temperatures of 1.61 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and 0.73 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average. Oceanic temperatures have also broken records daily over the past year, and the primary reasons for the increase in temperatures are increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and the El Niño event, which have worsened the warming. Besides heatwaves, the increases in oceanic temperatures are also worrying, since oceans comprise a significant buffer of climate change’s impacts and are key regulators of the Earth’s climate. Oceans absorb a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activities, and roughly 90% of the excess heat from solar radiation. In February and March this year, sea surface temperatures reached a global average of 21.09 degrees Celsius.

Global Warming(Representational photo / Creative Commons)
Global Warming(Representational photo / Creative Commons)

To combat these drastic changes, it is essential that greenhouse gases’ emissions is cut down drastically, fossil fuels are phased out and there is a move to renewable energy, along with curtailing deforestation. There is global consensus about the fact that the climate crisis is caused by human activity; and to address the challenge, countries across the globe adopted the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21 in 2015, to limit the increase in the global average temperature in relation to pre-industrial levels. However flawed the outcomes of COP21 meetings have been, the initiative is important to seek a solution to global warming. The major criticism of the COP 21 lies in the fact that the Agreement fails to provide actions which fulfil the two degrees Celsius pathway, let alone 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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The two degrees target is the international climate policy goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrialisation levels (1850-1900). The emissions gap between what countries in aggregate should do and that they have actually pledged in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), up to 2023 is very large. However, fact also remains that the COP21 is an agreement internationally to enhance individual and collective actions to face the climate catastrophe, and is one that does not majorly favour the developed countries of the world. An important and legitimate point of criticism however is the fact that there can be no penalty for the biggest emitters, while the rest of the globe suffers owing to certain countries’ humungous emissions. Examples in this context include the United States (US) and China. In 2006, China overtook the US to become the world’s largest annual emitter of greenhouse gases, and its citizens now have carbon footprints well above the global average.

As revealed by the Global Carbon Budget of 2022, China produces about 30% of the total emissions, which is more than the US, European Union and India combined! Beijing, to combat the challenge has been trying to emerge as a leader in renewable energy, trying to build more solar capacity than the rest of the world. Nevertheless, owing to China’s own economic problems, as of 2024, China has been increasing curbs in its renewable power plant outputs due to grid capacity issues. The curtailment rates, known as curbs are likely to increase this year, and will slow down China’s energy transition. This essentially means that China will continue to emit more greenhouse gases, contributing to more climate problems, including rise in oceanic temperatures and heat waves. Last year, in 2023, China experienced the worst heat waves and record high temperatures. Farm animals and crops suffered from extreme weather patterns, and concerns over food security loomed large. However, 2023 was not a lone year event. In 2022, China experienced terrible heat waves and droughts as well, which caused widespread power shortages and disrupted food and industrial supply chains. 2023’s heat waves ravaged several parts of China earlier than in 2022.

The question that remains is whether the fight against global warming is a lost cause. Countries across the world, including the two biggest polluters—the US and China have been trying to address the challenges domestically and through agreements, and collaborations internationally. If the situation after so many attempts at addressing the fallouts of the climate crisis is in the format of terrible heat waves, increases in sea temperatures, erratic weather patterns and so on, giving up the fight against global warming would definitely mean much worse. While it is a fact that certain countries are more to blame for the destruction caused by the climate crisis across the world, fact also remains that better and more focusses negotiations and continued efforts to tackle the challenges are the only ways forward.

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor, Chinese Studies and International Relations, Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.

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