Scientists have reached a near unanimous agreement that the earth has entered a new geological era – anthropocene – characterised by human induced climate change. The resulting super floods, typhoons, and heat waves have caused several thousands of deaths in the past ten to fifteen years. However, climate change not only claims its victims through the occurrence of these mega weather events but also subtly, through malnutrition, famines, lack of clean air and safe drinking water, and increase in vector – borne diseases. Glaciers and Arctic ice caps are melting at a faster rate, sea levels are rising, and several plant and animal species have been endangered. Climate change also has complex implications for human development and democratic governance especially in the developing world. Worryingly, although a large section of the population living in the most vulnerable countries has noticed changing local weather patterns, it is alsounaware of the causes of climate changeand the ways to mitigate it.
The enormity of the climate crisis may be gauged by the fact that in September this year atmospheric CO2 levels have permanently crossed 400 parts per million(ppm) for the first time in 4 million years and are not likely to decrease in our lifetime. According to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego, which maintains a daily record of CO2 levels with the help of the Keeling Curve – a graph which measures atmospheric CO2 primarily at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii – if business continues as usual and fossil fuel resources are exhausted in the next few centuries, CO2 levels will rise to 1500 ppm.
While this may appear as a doomsday scenario, there exist practical enabling solutions for weaning ourselves off the fossil fuel economy. Transition to renewable energy resources is one of the most effective tools available to us to fight climate change. Other methods such as nuclear fuelled power generation, development of carbon sinks, and carbon capture and storage can also help alleviate climate change but renewable energy offers an immediate means to decarbonise the energy sector since it is cheaper and more readily available.
Currently, global energy is primarily sourced from oil, coal, and natural gas and used for electricity generation, transportation and industrial use. In contrast, renewable energy is derived from water, sun, wind, bio-mass and geo-thermal resources. The reasons for making the switch to renewables are simple. Renewable energy is a clean, secure, and inexhaustible source. Unlike fossil fuels which are concentrated in some parts of the world, it is more evenly distributed. With falling costs renewable energy has become economical viable and has tremendous potential for growth. For example, the prices of solar Photo-Voltaic modules have fallen by a dramatic 75% since 2009. By some estimates, solar energy could easily outstrip fossil fuels and become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050. In contrast to the broader energy sector which saw a decline in jobs, the renewable energy sector has generated more than 8.1 million jobs, both directly and indirectly.
Renewable energy can also have a significant impact on improving local environment and public health by reducing pollution caused by Short Lived Climate Pollutantssuch as black carbon or soot and ozone and methane gases. In comparison to CO2, these pollutants remain in the atmosphere for a short duration and their elimination can have an immediate impact on slowing down global warming. Pertinently, black carbon is the primary component of particulate matter 2.5 – tiny cancer causing particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter which penetrate deep into the lungs.
The Paris Agreementwhich ‘… aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty …’ requires member countries to ‘prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve.’ It also directs countries to ‘pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.’ Thus, the Agreement, set to enter into force on 4th November, 2016, has immense scope for boosting renewable energy since a majority of countries have committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that ‘doubling the share of renewable energy by 2030 could deliver around half of the required emissions reductions and, coupled with energy efficiency, keep the average rise in global temperatures below 2 °C and prevent catastrophic climate change’ (emphasis supplied). The success of renewable energy, however, is already apparent from its reach, cost effectiveness, and the massive investment it has attracted in the past year. Close to 20%of global energy needs are now being met with renewable energy. This figure is likely to continue to rise globally with an increase in fossil fuel divestmentand incentives for renewable energy. The fossil fuel industry, meanwhile, has had to shelve many projects in the USowing to declining prices, grass roots opposition and tighter regulations.
Climate change is a ticking time bomb. If left unchecked, it will spare no one. But we can counter it successfully through the renewable energy revolution. And it can start with the single step of spreading climate change education and awareness in our communities.
Zeenat Masoodi is a lawyer living in Srinagar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org