Almost five years since the signing of the landmark Paris climate deal, we are too far from where we should have been
American motivational speaker and writer Denis Waitley once said, "Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs and that is the risk of doing nothing."
This statement also epitomises our fight against climate change, the defining challenge for us and our future generations. Given all the evidence of climate change induced catastrophes and the availability of scientific assessments of different emission trajectories, the tendency to carry on with business-as-usual (BAU) is something incomprehensible to many people.
This is quite a contradiction to the incredible scenes of jubilation among the people when the historic Paris Climate deal was forged in 2016, following the negotiation at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in 2015. Back then, almost all policymakers, professionals, experts and researchers involved in areas of climate change, resource conservation, sustainable energy and related fields, expressed their satisfaction too.
Notably, the Paris Climate deal is built on the commitments submitted by the countries, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), unlike the legally binding targets under the Kyoto protocol. However, countries need to track the progress of their NDCs and report back to UNFCCC every five years. The idea behind the Climate deal, based on NDCs of different countries, was perhaps hinged on the assumption that the countries would be more open about what they would do to reduce emissions.
In the present context, different climate policies are much more attainable compared to what they were several years back. Since the economics of clean energy has considerably changed in recent years and renewable energies are cheaper than fossil fuels in many cases, pursuing greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation policies now makes even more sense for all practical purposes.
Putting aside climate benefits, investment in GHG mitigation will deliver benefits to more people while improving their quality of lives in respect to the BAU prospect. For instance, investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency can generate three times more jobs against the same level of investment in fossil fuels.
Therefore, under the circumstances, clean energy is an avenue for smart investment, imputed to the altered cost-benefit calculus that makes fossil fuels less attractive. Ideally, this should motivate countries to ratchet up current climate actions.
On the other hand, it's worth mentioning that the poorest and most vulnerable countries will bear most of the brunt of rising tides and devastating storms. But the rising temperature is also affecting different countries in Europe and other parts of the world with some of the warmest summers they experienced in recent years. Hence, the option is clear – spend money in the near term to have no regret later.
However, almost five years since the signing of landmark Paris Climate deal, we are too far from where we should have been. With the present level of climate actions and ambitions, there is a very remote possibility of getting closer to 2° C bar, let alone 1.5° C under the Paris deal.
As such, in stabilising the global mean temperature, transformations are needed on the ground and such transformations are, to some extent, taking shape globally. In the midst of climate and ecological crisis, the young generation, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for future, are no longer willing to take the backseat. They want to assert their voices to shape their own future instead. The transformation or change that we are experiencing, particularly the way people talk about climate change and the number of people talking on the topic today, is quite amazing.
Furthermore, businesses are being subject to more stringent legislations in some countries to shift to environment friendly operations. As usual, science continues to underscore the colossal risks of procrastinating on taking climate actions and the equally enormous opportunities that stem from a rapid transformation towards a cleaner world.
Yet, it is the time for great introspection to take stock of how much progress we have made thus far and where we aspire to go. All these will help us chart the pathway that will help to realise the objective of cutting 50% GHG emission down by 2030. And essentially, we will then know to what extent we would need to ramp up our efforts to be Paris Climate goals compatible.
The caveat is that the cost of inaction could be colossal. And what is of real concern is we can't exactly quantify the cost of inaction. Often, we use social cost of carbon by putting a price per ton of CO2 emission, considering the future damage the emission would inflict upon us. While the social cost of carbon can guide us in undertaking policies, it is fiendishly difficult to estimate the exact cost of carbon.
The Pre-Paris agreement era had one challenge – to get concurrence from the required number of countries for the deal to be signed. Now, the lesson we can draw is that achieving the targets under Paris Climate deal is even more challenging. Most of the countries, as reported by the Climate Analytics, are not on track to meet Paris Climate goals.
Worryingly, we have just over a decade to spearhead rapid and far-reaching transformation of the global economy to ensure 50% emission reduction. There is a need for ratcheting up country level ambitions in climate policies progressively. To this end, countries can surely leverage the momentum that has been created by the teenagers and the level of awareness that people have today.
Finally, "inaction" can't be the answer and the cost of inaction might be unprecedented. Keeping aside economic consequences, many facets of life could be severely damaged. Amidst the potential irreversibility of climate change impacts on us, dilly-dally approaches to deepen our understanding to assess future risks with more certainty perhaps won't be sensible.
The message should be now clearer and louder: "stop dawdling". In all sincerity, appropriate policy tractions are necessary and we can't be too slow.
Shafiqul Alam is a Humboldt Scholar. He is an engineer and environmental economist.