05 Editorial - Challenges Are Not Lacking!

posted Aug 14, 2018, 9:44 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Aug 14, 2018, 9:45 AM ]
We do not need convincing that climate change exists; we have fallen victim to it too many times for that. Each of the last four years has seen record-breaking heat. The decade from 2008 to 2017 was the warmest decade on record in India. This, coupled with mismanagement of water reserves, has led to more drought and water shortages: Shimla, for example, has recently seen its worst-ever water crisis, in turn leading to a 30% drop in flights and hotel bookings compared to last year - bad news for one of India's most popular summer tourist destinations.

Indeed, the World Bank recently identified climate change as one of the greatest threats to the growth potential of the Indian economy, and predicts a fall in living standards for nearly half of Indians, because of changes in temperature and precipitation. Our country and its people deserve so much better than this torturous future.

To add insult to injury, the major contributor to climate change – the burning of fossil fuels, and especially coal – provokes a myriad of other problems that cause suffering to Indians, not the least of which is air pollution. In many parts of India today, the irony is that every life-giving breath of air we take also increasingly contributes to our death. This mostly used to be a problem during the winter and around individual weather events – now, in places such as Delhi, toxic air is a threat all year round. More people died of air pollution in India in 2015 –1.81 million – than anywhere else in the world. Closing our eyes to this reality is to avoid the gaze of our conscience.

So much for the 'empty half of the glass'. The good news is that the solutions to this crisis are still very much in our hands and the hands of our global allies. Solar and wind energy – reliable methods of generating electricity that contribute neither to climate change nor to air pollution – are now cheaper than coal in our country. The argument that coal is the fastest or most sure-shot road to development simply doesn't add up any more, even before taking into account the money needed to treat patients with respiratory problems from harmful power plant emissions, rebuild cities after more intense flooding from climate change, or feed farmers whose crop fails due to more severe droughts – all negative consequences of using fossil fuels. India is already moving from coal to renewable sources of energy, and is becoming renowned as a solar leader globally; the quicker we phase out coal completely, the better.

At GCAS, Indian businesses and banks are coming to the table with pledges to reduce the emissions associated with their production and investments that prove they are serious about climate change. At COP24, the most important climate summit since the Paris Agreement was signed, India should push hard for a rule book that ensures the Paris Agreement is implemented in a fair and ambitious way by all countries, and prepare to increase the ambition of its own national climate plan to make sure the goals we signed up to in Paris – and on which the lives and livelihoods of large sections of our population depend – are met.

Pope Francis has appealed for a massive "financial paradigm shift" and "systematic and concerted efforts aimed at an integral ecology" that put human dignity and care of our common home at their heart. The scale of the Pope's call, in his speech, 'Challenges are not lacking' may sound daunting, but opportunities are not lacking, either. And huge challenges are something our country has a proud history of meeting with huge courage.

Bp Allwyn D'Silva is Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay & Secretary of the FABC Climate Change Desk.