By Ameen Izzzadeen
In 1992, when the United Nations convened its first world environment summit, Third World cynics questioned whether it was a ruse by rich nations to maintain their economic dominance over the developing world. In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, many of today’s rich nations destroyed the forests of the nations they had colonised and plundered the poor nations’ resources – and there were no global calls to stop the harm they were causing to the environment.
With their unbridled rape of the environment, the colonial powers built their empires and emerged as industrialised nations. Coal was their chosen source of energy to drive their industrialisation frenzy. There were no global calls then to ditch coal, as coal power plants emitted tons of carbon dioxide, while thousands of trees, that could absorb the excess carbon dioxide, were felled by greedy colonial capitalists. Their misdeeds created a humongous threat to the very existence of life on earth. Today, we call it Global Warming and it is fast approaching a tipping point beyond which lies the irreversible disaster.
To this danger, the world awoke suddenly in the late 1980s and held its first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. That was the time when once colonised and environmentally raped nations were on an ambitious drive to become newly industrialised nations. So when they were told by their once colonial masters to be environment conscious, naturally, they thought that the call was part of their neo-colonialist agenda to keep the rich nations rich and the poor nations eternally poor and dependent.
We argued: Look, you developed showing scant regard to environmental concerns, but when we are on a drive to industrialisation, you put obstacles in the form of warnings of environmental damage. Isn’t it unfair?
Whatever the merits of this argument, the danger is right here. There is little time for blame game. As the ship that is carrying us – Mother Earth – has been scuttled in many places and we are facing certain death by drowning, it is time for collective action. We die together or we live together. We cannot let our future generation to be born into a burning hell on earth.
Yet, in this ship caught in a climate change storm, there are leaders who still think global warming is a hoax created by China. The United States president Donald Trump is one such leader. He has pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Thankfully, in the US, several states, universities, businesses and even young members of Trump’s Republican Party are committed to achieving the Paris Agreement’s target of holding global warming below 2°C — later revised to 1.5°C due to the inadequacy of the 2 degree target to overcome the threat.
Since the first climate Conference of the Parties (COP) in Berlin in 1995, the world has seen 24 COPs. At several of these COPs, nations tried to give meaning to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which seeks to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. At the 2016 Paris conference, every nation pledged to reduce its carbon footprint.
The COP25 is happening now in Madrid as Arctic and Antarctic ice and glaciers melt, adding seas of water into our oceans.
Yet, with their rhetoric, world leaders are covering their failure to take measures expected of them to keep global warming under 1.5°C, while small island nations such as neighbouring Maldives face the threat of being submerged, unprecedented forest fires devastate the Amazon region, Australia, Indonesia and other countries, floods and droughts ruin millions of lives, and our own Sri Lanka is being put on red notice as the second worst affected country after Puerto Rico by climate change induced extreme weather patterns.
The conference is also being held against the backdrop of shocking reports that 25,000 of species have disappeared in the past 50 years in what is described as the Sixth Great Extinction, with eight percent of this disappearances directly related to global warming.
At the conference, being held in the last year of the hottest decade on record, Global leaders simply nodded as, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate justice crusader who has been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, rebuked them for dragging their feet.
“I’m sure that if people heard what was going on and what was said … during these meetings, they would be outraged. It seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition,” she told the COP25, accusing politicians of “clever accounting” and “creative PR”.
Addressing her supporters who accorded her hero’s welcome as she arrived in Madrid on a sail boat – a move that emphasised her commitment to avoid greenhouse gas emitting aircraft — the 16-year-old said, “The current world leaders are betraying us and we will not let that happen anymore.”
Her anger is justifiable because the COP summits have produced largely empty words. World leaders have not stopped greedy capitalists from profiteering and destroying our eco-systems. Coal and fossil fuel continue to dominate as the main sources of energy, while green energy sources still remain expensive and underused.
Ahead of the conference, a Project Syndicate article authored by Greta and two young climate activists Angela Valenzuela and Luisa Neubauer, warned that the concentration of climate-heating greenhouse gases in our atmosphere had reached a record high, with no sign of a slowdown. “Even if countries fulfill their current emissions-reduction pledges, we are headed for a 3.2°C increase. Young people like us bear the brunt of our leaders’ failures,” the young authors said.
Amid protests, clashes and expulsion of activists, the COP25 wound up yesterday, once again producing more promises and little political will that could save the planet for our children and generations to come.
To make measures work, every one of us should be a Greta Thunberg. Every head of state or government should be a Greta. By avoiding the use of plastic as much as possible, we can start this transformation from our homes.