07 November 2019 13:19:46 IST

Why should climate action be so difficult?

It’s because of the money to be spent upfront, though such investments have paid off over time

Every year, the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, meet for a conference that is called ‘Conference of Parties’, or COP. 2019 is the year of this meeting’s silver jubilee. And the COP25 will take place in Madrid, Spain, between December 2 and 13.

But the events in the run-up to the COP25 portend something ominous. Since regions take turns to host the COP meetings, and this time it was the turn of Latin America, Brazil — the biggest Latin American country — had agreed to hold the COP25. Then a man called Jair Bolsonaro got elected as President of the country. This Bolsonaro believes that the human-caused climate change is a hoax, a conspiracy, a hoopla. When you throw evidence at him, he says, well, climate change has been happening ever since the earth began, so this is nothing new. In holding this belief, Bolsonaro is following the footsteps of another climate denier, Donald Trump.

With Bolsonaro as president of Brazil, the country could not hold a COP conference, so Brazil washed its hands of the whole thing. It was suggested that Costa Rica would pick up the thread. It was, after all, a Costa Rican diplomat — daughter of a former president of the country — a lady called Christiana Figueres, who was Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC during what is called the ‘historic’ Paris COP, the 21st conference.

Venue changes

Sadly, for some reason, Costa Rica could not play host. Chile said it would host the event and everybody began preparing for a Chilean conference. But nothing is certain in this world. Barely a month before the COP, Chile said, “We can’t”, because of some domestic violence, which was triggered by high transportation charges.

Ok, maybe the meeting would be held in Bonn, the headquarters of UNFCCC, many observers thought. But just then, Spain came forward. So the meeting is going to be held in Madrid.

Now, there are two strands of thought arising out of all this. One, it shows the complexities of climate action, which begins from something as basic as who should hold the next meeting. Second, while the COP meetings themselves have never delivered anything substantial in terms of climate action, they serve to highlight — and keep alive — the climate issue, which is very important. It is like keeping a spark alive in an island that has no source of fire.

But why should climate action be so hard? After all, there are business opportunities embedded in fighting climate change. And, everybody knows that not trying to reverse global warming is not an option, because the consequences will be not just be disastrous, but catastrophic.

Investment in renewables

The difficulty is the money that needs to be spent upfront. Over a period of time, investments in renewable energy have paid off, and today, a green unit of electricity is cheaper than that produced from fossil fuels.

Similarly, if enough effort is put into things like electric vehicles, the results would be better. But in today’s world — which is a theatre of trade wars and terrorism — few countries seem to have the foresight to spend first to reap benefits later.

This, again, is due to ignorance. By and large, everyone has been ignoring one major weapon of fighting climate change — buildings. The buildings of the future are yet to be built. For instance, in India, it is said that 70 per cent of the buildings that you would see standing in 2030, are yet to be built. Make those buildings green from Day One, and you deliver global warming a knock-out punch.

Buildings (and their construction) account for 28 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. However, buildings are the low-hanging fruit for climate action. Solutions are easy and inexpensive, and make sense. For instance, why can’t you put up a structure that receives more sunlight, or have glass that lets light in but blocks out heat? Hollow clay-bricks keep buildings cool, whereas poured concrete walls let heat in.

A clear emergency

India has started well in this respect, but a lot more needs to be done. In 2007, India introduced an ‘Energy Conservation Building Code’ applicable for commercial buildings, but its applicability still depends on whether States and municipalities want it or not. There are two agencies that can declare a building green — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). These two have certified 2,300 and 1,000 buildings respectively but have several thousands more registered for certification.

But considering the number of buildings in the whole country, these numbers are, well, not so respectable. However, all the future buildings can be made energy-efficient — which is a very big opportunity.

And there are a few things that people can do for climate combat. Population control, for instance, is one. Each day, 200,000 people are added to the world but far fewer die — so the global population is increasing. More people means more consumption and, therefore, more greenhouse gas emissions. Another help could come in the form of people opting more for a vegetarian diet as opposed to meat-eating.

Today’s youngsters, who have to safeguard their future, need to know that very recently (as reported by BBC), a group of 11,000 scientists and researchers have declared global warming to be a “clear and unequivocal emergency”. If we don’t act here and now, life in the future is going to be very, very difficult.