Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Human Development Vs Climate Change


Shirish B. Pradhan / Sunil Kumar Manandhar

Nowadays climate change has become a hot and appealing topic for discussion. Everyone talks about it, its impacts and ways to get rid of it. However, climate change is not just a new theory or a catchy slogan, or an interesting topic for debate and discussion.
Climate change is now a reality and we are actually facing tangible impacts of it. "The climate is in crisis. The effects are already unspooling in the form of melting ice sheets and, is likely record heat-waves and super-storms," points out the recently published Human Development Report (HDR) 2019. The HDR, has for the first time alarmed the humans for the possible devastating effects of climate change through publishing a separate chapter dedicated on the "Climate Change."
The pattern of weather is changing in an unprecedented manner, which we call climate change. We have already experienced severe cold days before the winter actually arrived. Some parts of the globe experiences heavy rainfall while in other parts of the globe there is no rain or partial rain on the rainy season. We sometimes experience high temperature rise in the summer and on other occasion, there is shivering cold. These are the results of the climate change. The snow in the high mountain is melting and the sea level is rising. In the past within a period of 100 years, the temperature of the Earth increased by 1 degree Celsius. And now, the temperature rise has become alarming with fear expressed by the climate scientists that it may rise by around 2 degree Celsius and there is an urgency to act now to maintain the temperature rise below 1.5 degree.
In such situation the countries like the Maldives and Bangladesh, which are situated at sea level, might face devastating effects. Climate change may occur naturally as well. However, human unsustainable activities make it more rapid resulting in catastrophic effects. The increasing use of fossil fuel, massive use of refrigerator, deforestation, land degradation, overgrazing, excessive misuse of land for agriculture, more industrial emission, etc. are mainly responsible for climate change.
Man has progressed a lot over the past two-three centuries by achieving success in many fields through industrial and agricultural revolutions and scientific innovations. However, the mechanisation and modernisation have resulted in adverse impact on the environment. According to a data, the earth has lost 50 percent of its fertile soil over the past 150 years. However, lately man has felt the urgency to address the issues related to climate change, environment pollution and desertification.
The countries with higher Human Development generally emit more carbon per person and higher per capita ecological foot prints, points out the Human Development Report 2019. Until recently, we have not taken seriously environmental costs of development. Attaining economic prosperity for the people and development of the country is not sufficient, as unsustainable development puts tremendous pressure on climate as well as the overall environment of the globe. Now, for development to be sustainable and free from ecological foot prints, we must take into account the environmental impacts and issues like carbon emission as well. Studies have shown that richer countries may damage water and air quality but they tend not to experience full impact on environment locally but rather a significant portion of such impacts tend to shift to poorer countries. Although rich countries tend to emit more carbon emission and have higher per capita carbon foot prints, they tend to shift the impacts to communities and countries elsewhere. They also tend to shift the climate change impacts to future generations, which are not immediately visible.
A nother finding of the study shows that higher inequality tends to make collective action to curb climate change more difficult. Rich countries account for lion's share of cumulative carbon dioxide emission and they are among the top polluters on a per capita basis, concludes the report. The report also warns that climate change is likely to cause some 250,000 additional deaths between 2030 and 2050. The report, however, suggests addressing inequality and the climate crisis together as it can move countries towards inclusive and sustainable human development.
The need for the hour is climate smart sustainable development. We need to adopt climate smart technology, climate smart agriculture, climate smart policies and climate smart behavioral approach if we really want to encourage climate friendly development. Humans have crossed many planetary boundaries such as climate change and biosphere integrity, which is pushing the Earth into a new world of "Anthropocene", which means a leap into the unknown, warns the HDR - 2019.
By the end of 21st century, unmitigated climate change could tremendously increase drought and extreme rainfall exposures worldwide increasing risk of flood and the impact of these shocks on livelihoods an impede human development, "influencing factors ranging from the availability of food to the ability to pay for health care and education."
The Human Development Report also warns of poor people having more exposed to droughts for warming scenario above 1.5 degree C in many countries in Asia and Southern and West Africa. "The rural poor in poor countries will suffer double whammy from climate change: a negative shock to their livelihood and hike in food prices resulting from drops in global yields."
The report calls for governments to recalibrate tools used to promote both equity and productivity in a more sustainable way and new opportunities may arise therein. Our concern should be on making room for the expansion of productivity in a way that doesn't destroy the planet, underlines the report. Citing the consensus expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the world needs to decarbonize the economy and reaching net zero emissions by mid-century the report stresses on achieving productivity and equality while ensuring environmental sustainability.
The report also stresses on changing the food habit of humans by reducing the consumption of meat, which is exerting more pressure on environment. Around one fifth of available fresh water in the world is directed towards livestock production, points out the report. Up to 80 percent of greenhouse gas emission generated by the global agricultural sector is from livestock production which adds up to 7.1 giga tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, according to the report. As production of animal foods requires much more land and resources than the production of an equivalent amount of plant based foods, the Human Development Report advises for a global dietary shift favouring more plant based foods and following guidelines for good nutrition for achieving sustainable human development.
Although there has been a global consensus on the need to reducing Green House Gas emission, the world seems to be divided between those countries that believe in strict implementation of the Kyoto protocol, and those that prefer to tackle the problem through voluntary initiatives. Therefore, what type of climate we will have in the future depends upon how it is being implemented. We need to forge understanding among different stakeholders on adopting climate-friendly policies and measures.

(Manandhar is former Environment Minister and Pradhan is a journalist)