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Climate Change | It is time to sue historical polluters

Rich countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, that account for just 12 percent of the global population today are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years

May 12, 2022 / 04:08 PM IST
(Image: AFP)

(Image: AFP)

Heatwaves are common in India in April and May but this year’s dramatic rise in temperatures in March is making headlines around the world. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), March 2022 was India's warmest month on record in 122 years while northwestern India experienced its third hottest April since 1901. Banda, in Uttar Pradesh, reached 47.2°C on 29 April, setting a record for that month. Other such records were also set in Gurgaon, Chandigarh and Dharamshala on the last day of April. The scorching heat threw life out of gear in at least 15 states including summer getaways like the hill stations of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The signs have been obvious for too long, as every month, every year has been warmer than the last for quite some time. Science too has been unequivocal and repeatedly warning us that climate change is responsible for the extreme weather events that we are facing today. Study after study is advising world governments that it is only going to get worse if global emissions, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels and methane from agriculture and waste landfill are not reduced immediately and drastically.

Last year, a report by the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ (MoES) ‘Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region’ had observed that India’s average temperature has risen by around 0.7°C during 1901–2018 and projected that the frequency of summer (April–June) heat waves over India will be 3 to 4 times higher (approximately 4.4°C) by the end of the 21st century as compared to the 1976–2005 baseline period.

Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, according to most recent assessments from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC report also projected significant increases in heat waves globally even under more modest warming through 2100. The report said that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above the baseline.

India’s economy is highly exposed to the loss and damage caused by climate change. India lost $87 billion in 2020 due to disasters such as cyclones, floods and droughts according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in its State of the Climate in Asia report, citing estimates by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Another recent study predicts India will lose 101 billion work-hours a year to the effects of global warming, the highest of any country in the world. Meanwhile McKinsey estimates that work hours lost to heat waves could cause losses of as much as $250 billion, or 4.5 percent of gross domestic product, by the end of the decade. A report on climate action and economic future recently released by Deloitte pointed out that unmitigated global warming can cause monetary losses to the tune of a massive $6 trillion by 2050 to India.

Climate change is also expected to reduce the reliability of seasonal agricultural output, impacting revenue from the sector which accounts for about 16 percent of the country’s GDP. Already, following the March-April extreme temperatures, the Indian food ministry has slashed its estimate of India’s wheat output this season to 105 million tons. That’s down from a record 111 million tons forecast previously and 109.6 million tons produced a year earlier.

There is a direct, linear relationship between the total amount of CO2 released by human activity and the level of warming at the Earth’s surface. This means CO2 emissions from hundreds years ago continue to contribute to the heating of the planet – and current warming is determined by the cumulative total of CO2 emissions over time.

As the impacts of climate change increase and intensify, and in the absence of any real action to reduce emissions from big emitters, it is time to pin responsibility for the current climate crisis on fossil fuel corporations and rich countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, that account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years.

It is time that more and more individuals, civil society representatives and even countries impacted by climate change start climate litigation to compel governments and corporate actors to implement their climate commitments, as well as pursue more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation goals.

Shailendra Yashwant is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). Twitter: @shaibaba.

Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.

 
Shailendra Yashwant is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). Twitter: @shaibaba. Views are personal.
first published: May 12, 2022 04:06 pm