A Ticking time bomb: Addressing Climate Change

Akshaya Krishnan

Adi Raghavan

For more than 20 years, Metronome, which includes a 62-foot-wide 15-digit electronic clock that faces Union Square in Manhattan, has been one of the city’s most prominent public art projects. However, on Saturday, Metronome adopted a new ecologically sensitive mission. Now, instead of measuring 24-hour cycles, it is measuring what the Global Warming Potential scale and two artists, Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, present as a critical window for action. A last resort to prevent the irreversibility of global warming effects.

2020 has already seen some of the worst climate disasters of all time, with the California and Australia fires and numerous floods. But this will only get worse if we do not change our lifestyle. Scientists say that by reducing emissions, we can at least delay the effects of climate change significantly. But for this to happen, everyone needs to educate themselves on the hazards behind climate change.

International cooperation is imperative to any success in this mission. The Paris Agreement is a landmark accord, due the sheer scale of adoption and the acknowledgement of a common goal- addressing climate change and its negative impacts. It aims to limit global temperature rise straightforwardly- by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also aims to mobilise support for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Currently, 197 countries are part of this agreement. The agreement teetered when President Trump withdrew his support, a grave error that will undoubtedly be addressed by the Biden administration.

Climate change is a universal phenomenon. No matter where you live, you will be affected. However, it is undeniable that some places are more susceptible to natural disasters than others due to climate change. The climate change risk index analyses to what extent countries and regions have been affected by disasters. The Global Climate Risk Index 2020, published by environmental think tank Germanwatch, found Japan to be the most vulnerable country to climate change, followed by Philippines, Germany, Madagascar and India. The index assessed 181 countries and quantified impacts of climate change through economic loss, GDP effect and fatalities to arrive at a ranking. It stresses the level of vulnerability of nations to severe climate events, which they should view as warnings for more severe events in future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant social and economic challenges to India on top of a bevy of climate disasters such as Cyclone Amphan. The economic standstill due to the pandemic is leading to sharp reductions in emissions in the short term. Still, they will start increasing again unless India develops a focused green COVID-19 recovery strategy. In the wake of the pandemic, the government responded with one of the most extensive stimulus packages in the world. While there is no explicit green recovery programme, there are discussions about using part of the stimulus package to support the development of the renewable energy industry and manufacturing of electric vehicles. The Modi Administration continues to provide mixed and inconsistent policy signals concerning India’s energy transition, with a push towards higher shares of renewable energy, but no clear pathway for a shift away from coal or fossil fuel-based mobility. 

India’s national climate action plans, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, set three primary goals—increase the share of non-fossil fuels to 40% of the total electricity generation capacity, and to create additional carbon sink of 2.5 -3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover. Environment secretary C K Mishra is confident that India will meet the targets set under the Paris agreement, although it remains to be seen. For India to fulfil its targets, the government needs to do more in terms of passing laws that prevent the degeneration of the environment. 

 Other countries remain steadfast in their emission commitments. Japan aims to reduce GHG emissions by 26% by 2030, whereas Germany aims to reduce it by 55%. Even the European Union has set targets for all businesses and citizens for cutting back emissions according to their Green deal. Countries are finally realising that climate change is a genuine and urgent threat, and are perhaps acknowlewding the disastrous consequences of it with more urgent rhetoric.

The US, in the wake of climate change deniers and an encouraging administration, remains crucial in the long haul. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has released the Green New Deal for the United States. This deal aims to reduce the US’s economic dependence on fossil fuels by slowly redirecting the economy towards a new approach: one that significantly mitigates the impact of climate change. The Congresswoman has repeatedly stressed the need for this legislation and has made her priorities very clear: to not only educate people about climate change, but also to be the change.

The Green New Deal highlights two critical steps. The first is to move away from the traditional notion of fossil fuels. But this is not so easy. Many people work in coal factories, and they would lose their livelihood if this were taken away from them. This is where the next step comes in. The government needs to find new job opportunities for its constituents. Simply telling them to use more renewable sources of energy will not help. The government needs to create an environment where they can do so.  This is why the Green New Deal not only focuses on the policies but also on how to provide marginalised communities with an alternate source of livelihood. 

On the other hand, the UK has developed its own climate change policies. It developed something called the National Adaptation Programme (NAP). Lord Gardiner of Kimble, an environment minister, said it focuses on actions the government and others will undertake to “address the most urgent risks” and “make the country more resilient to climate change”. 

MPs who sit on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), say the government is still not doing enough in one key area of adaptation: resilience to heatwaves. Released in a week where the UK is experiencing a severe heatwave, EAC’s report warns there will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 – triple the rate now – if the government does not take more action. 

However, the goals that various governments set related to climate change, like reducing carbon emissions,  do not necessarily correspond to addressing matters of climate change. Sometimes, it ends up becoming an entirely political statement. This is an extremely dangerous precedent. The abhorrent politicisation is the main reason the Green New Deal is criticised. It has become a matter between Democrats and Republicans, a matter of choosing sides. People support the opinions of the people in their ingroup, and this results in unnecessary separatism. This is, however, a collective issue, and in the end, it affects everyone equally, regardless of any differences people might have. 

As you can see, many countries around the world have proposed various laws regarding climate change. This proves that they understand the seriousness of the situation. Climate change is a very real threat. The clock in Metronome is proof that we’re running out of time. It is a symbol: a symbol of hope, and at the same time, a reminder, a symbol of urgency. It reminds us to stay grounded and protect the planet we have left. This is the earth’s way of telling us that the ultimate choice is in our hands: we destroyed our environment, it’s our responsibility to fix it. 

Ticking Timebomb- Akshaya Krishnan.jpg

Credits: Getty Images