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A year of reckoning for the climate crisis

One year ago, we knew exactly what was at stake. What have we done about it in 2019?

Protesters at the global climate strike in London in September.
Protesters at the global climate strike in London in September. (Photo: Getty Images)

Keeping track of climate change should come with a health advisory: You should have a high threshold for anxiety and dread. Because, in case you haven’t heard, the news isn’t good.

2019 started with fires ravaging California, and ends with fires ravaging Australia. In between, the Amazon burnt, as did forests in the Arctic Circle. India experienced one of the worst storms on record with Cyclone Fani and alternately drowned and suffered a drought during the monsoon. Greenland’s ice sheet melted at record levels, and so did parts of the frozen continent of Antarctica. One factor connected them all, of course: the climate crisis.

Yes, it has been that kind of a year, one where the worst fears of climate change started coming home to roost. It’s fitting, then, that this year we, at Mint Lounge, decided to focus on the climate crisis in a sustained and unflinching manner. We started doing cover stories and in-depth reports on various aspects of the climate crisis, and most importantly, how they affected India. We started a weekly series, the “Climate Change Tracker", in August, just as floods were ravaging large parts of India. In November, we launched an accompanying podcast.

Click here to listen to the latest episode of Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast

Then things started happening so quickly that it was often a struggle for a weekly series to keep up. The Amazon started warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with a report on global heating, people around the world started taking to the streets in protest against climate change inaction, the UN held multiple summits where it implored world governments to cooperate.

We had been warned last year, with the IPCC’s landmark “1.5 degrees" report, about what the future holds if we don’t act now. But have we heeded the warning? Here’s what we learnt in a year of covering climate change.

lWe learnt that the world is around 1.2 degrees warmer than at the time of the Industrial Revolution, and we are on our way to warming anywhere between 3-5 degrees Celsius by 2100 if we don’t act in the next few years.

lWe learnt that the Himalaya will lose 90% of its snow and ice in the next 80 years . Remember, 580 million people live in the Ganga river basin alone, directly dependent on perennial snow-melt rivers.

l We learnt that the world’s coral reefs, which support 25% of global marine diversity, have probably gone past the point of no return. We learnt that coastal megacities like Mumbai and Kolkata may well sink by 2050.

l We learnt that the only way to save forests is to make forest-dwelling people equal partners in conservation. According to a 2018 UN report, indigenous people and local communities invest up to $1.71 billion (around 12,086 crore) in conserving forests in developing countries.

l We learnt that bees are dying around the world, affecting pollination, which affects agriculture, which affects the food we eat. An estimated 5-8% of current global crop production, worth $235-577 billion, is directly dependent on pollinators.

l We learnt that the Amazon rainforest is close to its own tipping point. If any more of the forest burns, then the rest of the Amazon will start dying off, releasing even more carbon into the air.

l We learnt that the 20 warmest years have all occurred in the past 22 years. The top four warmest years are 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. When the tallying is done next year, 2019 will surely join this club.

l We learnt that Greenland has lost nearly four trillion tonnes of ice in the past 27 years. And the melt is accelerating.

l We learnt that there’s plastic in the deepest point in the world, the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

l We learnt that despite all the virtue signalling by world governments, greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 1.5% every year this past decade. The planet’s only hope is that emissions decline by 7.6% every year from 2020-30.

l And finally, we learnt that nobody is going to give you anything if you only ask politely.

Greta Thunberg at a strike.
Greta Thunberg at a strike. (Photo: Getty Images)

You have to pile on the pressure. You have got to demand your rights. The face of global protests this year was Time’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg but consider this—5,000 global protest rallies were held on one weekend in September alone, with four million people participating. This is what is keeping governments on their toes.

So what hopes do we carry into 2020? For one, there’s the potentially watershed UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Conference of the Parties (COP) 26 climate summit in Glasgow in November next year. New climate targets will be notified and it will be difficult for governments to wriggle out of doing nothing.

The poorest and most vulnerable countries will face the worst outcomes of the climate crisis the soonest.
The poorest and most vulnerable countries will face the worst outcomes of the climate crisis the soonest. (Photo: Satish Bate)

The poorest and most vulnerable countries, the small island states and Latin American nations, which will face the worst outcomes of the climate crisis the soonest, are joining hands to form a pressure group in international negotiations. They will not back down, and countries such as the US, China, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and even India, will have to respond.

“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition," the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said at the end of the inconclusive COP 25 summit in Madrid in December, adding, “But we must not give up, and I will not give up." He’s right, we can’t, simply because there’s no other option.

Follow the Climate Change Tracker with #MintClimateTracker on Twitter and Facebook. Click here to listen to the latest episode of the podcast

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