It is December and the famous Delhi smog has descended on the national capital, blurring visibility, delaying flights, causing accidents on roads and leaving innumerable children coughing. The smog, resulted from the burning of paddy in the agricultural belt around the national capital, has been known to be a major cause of environmental pollution in North India. Many reports have been published and many attempts have been made to stop the practice, but as is the case in every other cause of pollution and environmental degradation, the success has been pretty much nonexistent. The case of paddy burning and Delhi smog exemplifies the extreme weakness of our officialdom to fight climate change.
India is one of those countries standing to lose the most because of climate change. This is because India is at a sweet but vulnerable spot as far as ecology is concerned. Its rivers are mostly glacier driven, which are in danger of melting because of temperature rise. Its cities will be in danger with the rise in sea levels. Its vegetation would wilt with rise in temperature and harmful gasses because of climate change, and finally, a large percentage of the population is expected to suffer from multiple diseases emerging out of climate change effected weather changes. Already, freak weather is resulting in crop failures that end in massive price swings in food items ranging from vegetables to pulses.
Among the many causes of climate change and the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one factor which often misses out is the environmentally suicidal activities of rural and urban poor. Even today, the overwhelming majority of rural people uses wood to cook, which is not only bad for health, but also for the environment. In urban area, the wood is replaced by coal, kerosene and plastic. These are extremely polluting and create multiple diseases which again hurts poor most. So, to an extent, poverty and the inability of the rulers to address the basic needs of the poor is also a cause of climate change.
That being said, there is no alternative to severe and immediate action on curbing carbon emissions. Industry, transport, power generation all are heavy CO2 emitters, and have not been subjected to stringent action that is needed to reduce carbon footprint. Our power plants, which are coal dominated, are hopelessly inefficient, our vehicles are heavy polluters, and our urban planning is completely incapable to manage energy efficiently. The result is that on the one hand, our requirements are rising inordinately, and on the other, our means of serving those requirements are terribly environmentally unfriendly. Obviously this all has to change. In fact, the country needs to pursue environmental and climate cause on a mission mode, because failing is not an option.
We have high hopes from the Paris climate conference. Regardless of whether 2 degree temperature rise limit is achievable or not, a legal agreement has to come though that would hold countries accountable for their actions and force them to be responsible stakeholders in global fight to preserve our planet. Much time has been lost in bickering over intricate issues of emission budgets, carbon credits and financial assistance. We have reached s point where luxury of dithering is no longer available. Leaders need to show courage and spine to come to an agreement and sell the agreement to their respective countrymen.