09 December 2015 11:59:42 IST


Today, we have a 0.8 degree rise in temperature, and Chennai is a sample consequence. Three degrees will mean serious problems, and four degrees will start ringing in the end of humanity.

Natural disasters are going to recur. Nature has left a note saying "I’ll be back". But the message is lost on humans

When you have saved some money, what would want to buy first? A car? A motorcycle? An iPad?

Well, maybe it’s time you thought of something more practical — like a row boat. Or at least some life jackets; or, what the heck, get a few old tyres. If you have derived any lesson from the Chennai rains, it should be this.

Vengeance of nature

At last, the rains have stopped in Chennai. Most parts of the city had been under 10 feet of water for several days; some even for weeks. Residents were ferried to safety by boats; others, marooned on their terraces, are now slowly climbing down the stairs.

As water recedes, and it reveals a trail of destruction — broken homes and hearts, upturned television sets and refrigerators, junked cars, wardrobes of terribly soiled dresses, floating LPG cylinders, snakes and scorpions in (what was) the living room, mutilated bodies and skeletons exhumed from burial grounds — the reality hits home: it is the vengeance of Nature. Nature has struck, and it has struck hard.

That such terrifying catastrophes are going to recur is as clear as it would be if Nature had left a note saying, “I’ll be back soon”. Yet that clear message is lost on humanity.

If you want to know why, just look at Paris.

Negotiations to nowhere

Negotiators from 196 countries are arguing with each other — about who should do what to limit the inevitable rise in temperature to two degrees Celsius above the levels that were obtained in the second half of the 1800s, before this century is out.

As described in the column earlier, scientists have determined that if the average earth temperature rises by not more than two degrees, there is half a chance that we can live through Nature’s wrath. That is, if we do enough to defend ourselves.

But there’s a problem. The baby these negotiators are trying to deliver is, well, already dead.

The bad news

Before the Paris conference began on November 30, about 180 countries had submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) what they could commit towards reducing the pace of climate change and coping with its disastrous effects. These commitments (as mentioned in earlier articles in this column) are called ‘intended nationally determined contributions’, or INDC.

UNFCCC added up all the INDCs and translated them into impact on temperature rise. The result? 2.7 degrees.

That is, if all the INDCs are implemented fully, the world’s average temperature would rise, by the end of this century, by 2.7 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels. Since many INDCs are conditional upon things — such as rich countries doling out chunks of money to the poor countries — it is impossible that all the INDCs would be fully implemented. The result is a three-degree rise in temperature, perhaps even four, as against the least acceptable two degrees.

Now, this one degree difference is huge, in the context of climate change. Today, we have a 0.8 degree rise, and Chennai is a sample consequence. Three degrees will mean serious problems, and four degrees will start ringing in the end of humanity on this planet.

You will now see the difficulty in Paris. They have to agree to do things aimed at two degrees. The ambition is to get to 1.5 degrees. But the best offers add up to three degrees — under conditions that may never be met. Even if the negotiations succeed in the conditions, we are still at 2.7 degrees.

The four themes

Right today, negotiators are grappling with four main themes

Whose responsibility is it to pay (called ‘differentiation’)?

How much to pay (finance)?

How the funds should be divvied up among efforts:

(a) To slow down climate change (mitigation)

(b) To cope with climatic effects that are inevitable (adaptation)

(c) To repair lives and property after a hit (loss and damage)

What more ought to be done to accelerate all the above (basically systems for review, called ‘global stocktake’)?

Things are pretty stuck-up on ‘differentiation’ and ‘finance’ and it looks like the best hope could only be for a loosely woven last-minute agreement, a repeat of the Copenhagen talks, six years ago. And that is not good news.

The developed countries want a complete decarbonisation of the global economy after 2050, which, in simpler terms, means no use of coal, petrol, diesel, natural gas, LPG, or firewood. But they don’t want to pay for it — which is not fair because they were the ones responsible for global warming in the first place. The developing countries are sore at them.

That is the scenario you are presented with. Do you know what you should do?

Buy yourself a row boat.