Home / Opinion / Views /  We must keep hope alive as climate aims slip away
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We don’t have time to sit on our hands as our planet burns," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter in 2018, when the most powerful person on earth was in stout denial of climate change. For young people, added the US Democrat, it’s a matter of life and death. Donald Trump, of course, was not alone in his dismissal. Slow-burn crises can get lost in the rough routines of myopic public life anywhere. Still, myopia lost its excuse after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began releasing its sixth report. Last August, the first part of its latest update showed how the world is warming up faster than we had thought. In February, it explained how this would impact us worse than estimated before. On Monday, its third part laid out paths of climate mitigation, detailed with costs of action and inaction. As our progress so far has been tardy, it also issued a reminder of today’s challenge: global emissions of heat-trapping gases must peak no later than 2025 to keep the mercury well below 2° Celsius—ideally capped at 1.5°—above our pre-industrial average. With at least 1.2°C baked into the globe already, this is quite late in the day. Alas, the pre-pandemic decade was an exhaust-fest, the worst on record in terms of volume. On an annual basis, though, its upward curve began to bend. This holds out the hope that hints of dread over ‘game over’ will not result in a sense of resignation to fate. For all our lethargy, an actual dent has been made and a rapid rescue could yet fend off doom. It’s about getting our act together.

After that 2025 peak, the world must achieve a goal of ‘net zero’ on carbon fumes by 2050 for half a chance to contain the heat at 1.5°C, says the report. After this point, every tonne puffed out must get sucked right back. For a half-likely 2°C cap, we must go carbon neutral by 2070. The difference of half a degree would be stark, especially for those exposed to its worst effects, humans included. However, the IPCC has to be realistic about feasibility. Its proposals include some drastic slashes. For a 1.5°C goal of net-zero, the world’s dependence on coal must drop 95% by mid-century, on oil 60% and on gas 45%. India is among the countries that do not consider this feasible, given our economic reliance on dirty fuels. By New Delhi’s climate calculus, even a speedy clean-up will not allow carbon neutrality before 2070. While growth in global output is sure to be held back by climate-action plans, the IPCC admits, it urges us to weigh this against a swelling tide of losses brought on by an overheated earth. Sadly, unless funds are found to plug green viability gaps in countries that are short of money, it is unlikely they would be able to pitch in with faster emission chokes.

Yet, as Heleen De Coninck, one of the new report’s authors, has put it, “We’ve reached the now-or-never point." Should action targets start slipping away, India could work on a last-ditch space programme to ‘geo-engineer’ the planet for potential climate control. Once seen as science fiction, this could involve placing reflectors in orbit, say, to adjust how much solar heat reaches us. With our low-cost base of expertise and launch pads in a newly-opened space sector, we could study if it’s worth a shot. But any such mission would take a global consensus, not to speak of proper coordination across bitter divides, real clarity of purpose and equitable control mechanisms, so that no power gets to weaponize or misuse it for, say, a weather tweak. Let’s initiate talks.

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