There has been some grim reporting on the climate change front in recent weeks. Last week, we covered the "code red" from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who came out with the sixth edition of their flagship assessment report, after a long gap of eight years. The first such report under the leadership of Korean economist Hoesung Lee, it was clearly intended to set out the UN's stall ahead of what is anticipated to be the most important climate change conference since Paris 2015, when world leaders meet in Glasgow next November.
The IPCC's report does stand out for some of the starkest warnings we have heard till now, of "major inevitable and irreversible" changes to the climate brought about by human activity. According to the report, it is only possible to avoid warming of 1.5 °C or 2 °C (in average temperature beyond pre-industrial levels) if massive and immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are made. No doubt the horse trading and negotiations behind the scenes are bound to be intense in the coming months leading up to the conference. The politicking around these summits can be quite harrowing, as the real currency around them tends to be the pledges that can be wrung out of the heads of state or government, on everything from emissions cuts, to shifting away from non-renewable sources of energy, to afforestation, among other things. It is an interesting experiment in trying to deal with what is by-and-large a scientific issue through a political process. What makes the approach imperative is the buy-in that is absolutely necessary on the part of the people, and that is why the politicians are essential cogs in the wheel. An annual conference of scientists could never have brought the issue to the forefront of global discourse, which is where it sits today.
Still the politics can be quite frustrating to those who recognise global warming as the harbinger of a shared catastrophe - certainly to the young, who will inherit the Earth. That is why the emergence of the young constituency led by Greta Thunberg, now old enough to vote, who succeeded in forging a worldwide alliance of young climate activists. This week on the third anniversary of Greta Thunberg's first school strike, Unicef introduced the Children's Climate Risk Index, which uses data to generate new global evidence on how many children are currently exposed to climate and environmental hazards, shocks and stresses. It finds 1 billion children live in 33 countries facing three or four of the impacts of climate change simultaneously, or at 'extreme risk'. These countries include India, Nigeria and the Philippines, and much of sub-Saharan Africa, apart from Bangladesh.
After a pause in public demonstrations during the coronavirus pandemic, a global 'climate strike' is planned for September 24. Appearing at the launch of the Unicef report, Thunberg rallied her friends, and as usual, didn't shy away from admonishing duplicitous adults. "We are not just victims, we are also leading the fight. But [the world] is still not treating the climate crisis like an emergency. We are still just talking and greenwashing things instead of taking real action." If the world is to truly deal with the issue of anthropogenic climate change, hers is the voice we need.
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