The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is ‘Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.”. It may seem a broad-sweep goal. But the scale of anthropogenic damage done to the environment just over the last one-and-half centuries, and the scope of what must be done to correct this, is so vast that exactitude in the discourse is now elusive. This newspaper has highlighted ad nauseam the stark environmental and climate reality of the planet today. We are a mere fraction of a degree away from significant climate-change effects, with the carbon budget all but exhausted by rich nations. Meanwhile, scores of other nations suffer crushing poverty even as experts forecast they will shoulder a disproportionate burden when the full impact of warming comes to pass. The window for meaningful action is closing fast, the IPCC warned us some time ago. Now, the UK’s Met Office, the lead centre of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, has said there is a 90% likelihood that at least one year between 2021 and 2025 will become the warmest on record. Moreover, there is a 44% chance of the temperature in that year breaching 1.5oC, the warming-cap (above pre-industrial levels) the Paris Accord holds as ideal by 2100. In any case, the current pledges of the countries party to the accord can’t limit warming to under-2oC by 2100.
In the interim, bio-diversity has received a severe blow, with anthropogenic warming, habitat-loss, consumption, etc, having led to massive species loss. The Worldwide Fund for Nature estimates that there has been 53% decline in wildlife species since just 1970. Ice-melt, droughts, cloudbursts, devastating heat and cold waves, etc, are all there, tell-tale signs of the unprecedented impact on the planet the Anthropocene has had. Popular solutions and proposals, researchers meanwhile say, may not be adequate any longer.
The UN says humans are consuming 1.6 times the resources the planet can restore every year, and that there is a need to rewild an area the size of China by 2030 to meet commitments on nature and climate; a similar effort needs to be made for oceans as well. The International Energy Agency has recently said that meeting the goal of net zero by 2050 needs drastic global action: no new oil &gas exploration and no new coal-fired plants from this year itself, no new fossil-fuel cars from 2035, 50% of heavy trucks being EV by 2035, all coal and oil plants phased out by 2040, more than 90% of heavy industrial production to be low-emission by 2050, energy intensity of the global GDP to fall by 4% every year between now and 2030, etc.
These are radical goals. More so, given, despite their rhetoric, G-7 nations, committed $189 billion of direct and indirect support to coal, oil, and gas between January 2020 and March 2021, compared with $147 billion to support clean energy, per an analysis by development charity Tearfund, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Overseas Development Institute. But, as the IEA and UN show, the need is for radical action. It will perhaps mean fundamental shifts for consumption, human habitation, progress, transport, etc. Therefore, mankind must “reimagine”, to “recreate and restore”—indeed, a mission statement for environment action now.