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In 2023, let's prepare for the worst of climate, environmental shocks

In 2023, India will become the world's most populous country, and has to prepare for the worst of climate, environmental, and economic shocks by focusing on disaster risk reduction, Climate Change adaption, and building climate resilience

December 21, 2022 / 10:24 AM IST
Representative image (Source: AFP)

Representative image (Source: AFP)

As the world heads into 2023, one thing we can be certain about is that it is going to be warmer than 2022, most likely the hottest year on record. As it is the past eight years are on track to be the warmest on record, fuelled by ever-rising greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations and accumulated heat. Extreme heatwaves, drought, and devastating flooding have affected millions, and cost billions according to the World Meteorological Organization’s provisional State of the Global Climate in 2022 report.

The greater the warming, the worse the impacts — glaciers will continue to melt, seas will continue to rise, and so will the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events; and the most vulnerable, those who are least responsible for the climate and environmental crisis will continue to bear the brunt. According to the Emergency Watchlist 2023, a study by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), over 339.2 million people globally will need humanitarian assistance in 2023 — a figure that has grown fourfold in the past decade, while the gap between humanitarian needs and its financing has grown to a global deficit of $27 billion as of November.

Biodiversity is being lost at a rate not seen since the last mass extinction. Around a million animal and plant species are facing extinction according to the UN. It says human activity has altered almost two-thirds of the earth’s surface area. This is putting enormous pressure on nature and increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, as humans come into greater contact with wildlife.

The key environmental issue on top of everybody’s mind in India, or rather deep in their lungs — is air pollution, which is set to get worse. The bleakest warning yet comes from a recent study, 'A deep insight into state-level aerosol pollution in India', that projects aerosol pollution will rise dramatically in 2023. Maharashtra, for example, is likely to move to 'highly vulnerable' red zone from the current 'vulnerable' orange zone in 2023, and Punjab will see 20 percent rise in air pollution and continue to be highly vulnerable zone in 2023. Coal-fired thermal power plant (TPP), vehicular, solid fuel/waste, and biomass burning are the major sources of aerosols for the vulnerable states at present, and in the future.

By the end of the decade, the global economy needs to emit 25 percent less GHGs than in 2022 to have a fighting chance to reach the goals set in Paris in 2015, and avert catastrophic climate disruptions. However, decades of procrastination have delayed what could have been a smooth transition to a more carbon-neutral society, and instead has committed the world to live with the consequences of Climate Change, biodiversity collapse, and overconsumption of the few.

This extraordinary climate, health, and humanitarian crises is unfolding alongside the global cost-of -living crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that have disrupted global supply chains, international trade, and food and fuel prices. The IMF has projected slowdown in global growth from 6 percent in 2021 to 3.2 percent in 2022, and 2.7 percent in 2023, which in turn sets the stage for driving more people into poverty and forcing many more to migrate under the pressures of the cascading crises.

In 2023, India is projected to surpass China to become the world's most populous country, and has to prepare for the worst of climate, environmental, and economic shocks by focusing on disaster risk reduction, Climate Change adaption, and building climate resilience, especially food security, for its poorest and the least equipped, that is almost 70 percent of its population in addition to bearing the cost of the clean energy transition.

No one is going to be spared from the impending climate disasters, and companies and investors will face pressure to climate-proof their supply chains and operations. Cash-strapped-governments will have to lean on corporations, philanthropists, international financial aid, and carbon taxes to cover the cost of surviving the climate crisis.

The good news, a sweeping global treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity was agreed upon in Montreal in December setting the stage in 2023 “for effective conservation and management of at least 30% of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans, with emphasis on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and services”.

The International Energy Agency has already seen a future where fossil fuels are not the dominant source of electricity and renewable energy will overtake coal and gas to top the list in installed capacity by 2030. What looks like a promising development to reduce air pollution, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan have come up with a roadmap for improving air quality in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and Himalayan Foothills.

If that does not comfort you enough, scientists have predicted that the hole in the ozone layer will close in the next 50 years.

Shailendra Yashwant is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). Twitter: @shaibaba. Views are personal.
first published: Dec 21, 2022 10:24 am