Global leadership needs to take rapid steps to combat ongoing climate crisis: Opinion

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Written by Ranjit Barthakur, President, Balipara Foundation

The climate crisis is critical in 2022, worse than scientists and environmentalists could have envisioned. For anyone to grasp the extent of the emergency that we are in, and to comprehend the scale of the damage that we have incurred, the record-breaking natural disasters of 2022 should have provided a clear message.

If the melting of the ‘doomsday glacier’ in Antarctica did not suffice to send the global population into panic mode, record extreme heatwaves, wild fires, droughts and floods have mercilessly affected several countries.

Europe has had to deal with the disintegration of glaciers. Almost 1000 accounted major fires burned in the Amazon in 2022 during its fire season, running out of control. The US, Spain and China have faced their worst climate crisis over the summer combatting multiple heatwaves.

Earlier this year, nearly a third of Pakistan was submerged under floodwaters, and parts of India have reeled under the onslaught of devastating floods that have caused widespread damage and displaced thousands of lives over large geographic regions, as well as having to bear extreme heatwaves.

The continent of Africa has experienced its own severe and deadly floods in Nigeria to the drought in Somalia. All extreme weather events in 2022. However, the nature of trends indicate that this has been the coolest summer for the rest of the future – indeed a terrifying reality to grasp.

The sixth IPCC assessment report, released fully in 2022, revealed that the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise targeted under the Paris Agreement is now unavoidable according to the latest science. According to the latest synthesis of climate science, South Asia is one of the regions likely to be most affected by climate change – between unstable monsoons, floods, droughts and a temperature rise which will bring the region closer to the danger zone of a 35 degree Celsius wet bulb temperature.

Climate vulnerable regions like low-lying Bangladesh and the economically vulnerable North East region in India will likely bear the brunt of these impacts.

By 2050, the region is expected to lose over 20% of its GDP to climate change, unless urgent action is taken to change the trajectory – whether through natural climate resilience or through investment in climate vulnerable regions.

Ongoing efforts

In order to mitigate the scale of these disasters, among other things, the Loss and Damage Fund agreement was announced at the recently concluded COP27 for countries particularly vulnerable to climate change. That the details are yet to be negotiated is a matter of contention, as there is a recognised need for financial support for this Fund from a variety of sources, but there is no clear decision announced yet on where this will come from or which are the countries that will benefit from it.

Although countries are still to move decisively away from dependency on fossil fuels, the ‘phase-down’ period still puts the GHG emissions at a risk level. In 2020, the combined climate adaptation and mitigation finance to developing countries fell by at least US $17 million short of the US $ 100 million pledged. Therefore, it is important that the Loss and Damage Fund is able to to tackle the gaps of the current climate finance institutions.

The IPCC’s sixth assessment report identifies patterns of socio-economic patterns of development, inequity, marginalisation and governance as some of the reasons for impact on the vulnerable nations.

Several gaps in the current global adaptation plans as assessed by the IPCC make climate action plans inefficient to the workings of ecosystems. For vulnerable groups and regions, adaptation strategies such as the presence of enabling conditions through governance and institutional framework, including policies with clear goals and objectives are imperative to avoid maladaptation and actions that could lead to adverse climate outcomes.

For sustainable climate adaptation plans to come to fruition, there must be a strong and urgent coalition of stakeholders, and to participate, invest and innovate to prepare for the challenges ahead.

Closer home – India’s forests

The Forest Survey of India released its 2021 report on the state of the country’s forests this year, revealing that India had grown its forest cover on the whole – adding over 250,000 hectares annually between 2010 – 2020. However, this methodology was also criticized heavily this year, with the Open Forest category also showing parks in cities as forests.

Meanwhile, India’s Northeast, which accounts for 23.75 percent of the country’s forest cover, continued to lose forests and lost over 100,000 hectares of forest in the last couple of years, according to the Forest Survey of India.

The loss of forest cover in the northeast has been consistent, with the region losing nearly 25 million hectares of forest in the preceding decade. In total the region accounts for over 75% of deforestation that takes place within India.

For climate vulnerable regions like the North East, even a 1.5 C rise will transform its climate, impacting everything from its water sources, to the crops that can be grown, its biodiversity and the lives and livelihoods of the 46 million people living there.

But the region is natural capital rich and tapping into its natural wealth is an immense opportunity for the region: 2.3 million hectares of land that can be reforested, and a further 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land that can be transitioned to more sustainable means of production like agroforestry. Such a large-scale natural capital investment plan would create jobs for over 2 million households.

While nations and businesses look for solutions to meet climate targets, the restoration of forest landscapes, especially across the diverse geographic area of the Eastern Himalayas which is home to several developing nations, is essential.

Preserving forests and carbon sinks and restoring degraded forestland has the potential to reverse and avoid a third of global emissions. Investing in these forests are a necessity: not a luxury.

In the face of the ongoing climate crisis, it is imperative that the global effort to tackle climate change take steps with immediate urgency. With rapid and intensifying climate disasters that are putting a grave risk to populations, wildlife and ecosystems, it is up to the global leadership as well as individuals, businesses and stakeholders to take urgent measures and act rapidly to combat the ongoing crisis, especially for severely at-risk developing nations.

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