26 August 2015 09:02:39 IST

The ocean’s call

Picture for representational purpose only

If steps are not taken immediately to curb global warming, an island nation can be lost

From London, Paris is only seven km south, just across the Pacific Ocean. There are excellent ferry services that will transport you to Paris from London, in 20 minutes flat. After enjoying Paris, you could then maybe cycle down to Poland, which is about 15-20 km to the east. But the most beautiful stretch is the route between Poland and Banana, a route that cuts across hundreds of lakes…

You must think I’m nuts, right? Well, I’m not. Because I’m not talking about Europe. The London, Paris and Poland I refer to are all in a small island nation called Kiribati.

Where is it?

Kiribati sits almost on the equator, bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, some 2,000 km south of Hawaii. It’s an excellent vacation spot and a great honeymoon destination — emerald green seas, sugar-white beaches and atolls (An atoll, in case you didn’t know, is a ring-shaped reef or chain of islands). Since it is equatorial, it is nice and sunny all the time — you can be in water all day, swimming, scuba diving, fishing or simply lazing about on the beach.

Tempted enough to plan your next trip there, right? Well, if you do plan to go, do it as soon as possible. Because we can’t be sure if Kiribati will exist in a few years.

It won’t exist?

Yes. Because the fear is that it may drown — yes, the whole island nation.

Ask Anote Tong.

Tong is the President of Kiribati, which lies barely a metre above the sea level. As is now commonly known, global warming expands seas and makes water levels, rise. If that happens, the beautiful gem of the Pacific will disappear.

On August 13, the agitated President of Kiribati wrote a letter to leaders of all other countries, calling for a moratorium on coal production and use. “Action now is imperative, for we are facing major challenges never faced before,” he said. For the world to avoid catastrophic climate change, he said, we must leave the vast bulk of carbon reserves underground.

Horrified yet?

Now, let’s be honest. Who really cares about some unknown island — or, in this case, a few unknown islands — going underwater for good? What is their contribution to the global economy?

In the normal course of things, President Tong’s agitated cries would have been waved away with a light laugh. But this time around, Tong’s message has been making waves across the world. It resonates well with the current global thinking and much like the cries of a distressed child, has attracted attention.

I have mentioned earlier in these columns that ‘coal’ is in danger of losing its centuries-old pre-eminence as a global economic asset. There is a clarion call for moving away from coal altogether, no matter what the cost, because the consequences of burning the coal will be costlier. President Tong’s call from the middle of the mighty Pacific is reinstating this sentiment, and hence, being taken very seriously.

Global coal prices have halved in the last three years. Commodity prices keep moving up and down, but this time around, it is almost a matter of consensus that the downtrend is decisively long term; perhaps, even permanent. The world is moving towards renewable energy and that shift is eating into coal industry’s fortunes.

Don’t believe us? Here are some mega-trends for you:

Bankruptcy : Coal companies are losing money, and going bankrupt. A New Zealand-based coal company, Solid Energy, has gone bust. Scores of other coal producers such as Glencore, Peabody, Walter Energy and not to speak of many, many Chinese companies, are all in the red.

Investment : A recent research report of Citi group estimates that $11.6 trillion of possible investments into the coal sector would not happen over the next quarter century. It estimates the value of coal that could have been produced, but not produced, to be $100 trillion, out to 2050.

Company values : The same report estimates that the market value of listed coal companies has shrunk from $50 billion to 2012 to $18 billion today. Citi believes more coal companies would go red. The biggest hit will be taken by coal shipped across the seas, such as from Australia to India.

Look into it deeper and you realise that the point is quite beyond coal. What is happening to the coal industry is a harbinger of the epochal changes that world is witnessing today. The first, major, conscious shift from high carbon to low carbon economy is happening now. Coal, oil and gas are yielding space to wind, solar, hydro, hydrogen and nuclear. The face of energy is changing, and lifestyles will have to align themselves with the change. Career planning, therefore, will have to be done with these trends in mind.

Clean energy leads to a clean environment, which in turns gives us a platform for a better life. Which is why we must heed to the call of President Tong.

Kiribati was in news in India more recently for another reason, which also was connected to clean living. The island nation was among the 14 Pacific island countries that India hosted in Jaipur. Prime Minister Modi has promised to solar-power 2,800 homes in these 14 countries, or 200 in each — a promise consistent with the principal blessing in Kiribati: ‘Kam na bane ni Mauri’, which means ‘May we always be blessed with good health’.

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