Climate Change

Urgent Survival Issues

Bharat Dogra

Even as the preparations for the Paris climate summit reach a frantic pace, there is growing unease that whatever agreements emerge from there may not be adequate to achieve such reductions in GHG emissions that are needed to avoid catastrophic impacts.

This view is supported by some recent expert reviews which had access to the latest information and data.
The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change (LCHCC) after examining a lot of latest data has concluded recently, "High-end emission projection scenarios show global average warming of 2.6°-4.8°C by the end of the century with all their regional amplification and attendant impacts."

Further this report (June 2015) with access to latest data says, "GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are continuing to rise at a rate that is incompatible with limiting warming to 2°C in the coming 35 years (by 2050) and which exceeds the IPCC's 'worst case scenario'. We are on track for a global average temperature rise of more than 4°C above the pre-industrial temperatures in the next 85 years, at which point global temperatures will still be increasing by roughly 0.7°C per decade (due to the lag in reaching equilibrium). This distribution will not be even : the so-called polar amplification phenomena might cause temperatures in parts of the Arctic to increase by 11°C in this time-frame."

The fact that the world's leading experts see current GHG emission levels and increases as going beyond the "worst case scenarios" and certainly much beyond the 2°C limit is deeply disturbing. This implies that current life patterns are likely to be very badly disrupted, unless very significant and massive reductions can be achieved in the very near future, and then this trend can be maintained.

Counting carbon dioxide levels from 1870, the rise so far has been little over 0.8°C. With global emissions increasing by about 50 billion tonnes a year, how many more years will it require to reach the 2°Celsius limit? 25 years? 20 years? What after that?

At this stage the likelihood increases of non-linear, highly disruptive and catastrophic changes. As the LCHCC Report cited above says, "As we proceed rapidly towards 4° Celsius warming by the end of the century, the likelihood of crossing thresholds and tipping points rises, threatening further warming and accelerated sea-level rise. Second, small risks can interact to produce larger-than-expected chances of catastrophic outcomes, especially if they are correlated.Such impacts (and their interactions) are unlikely to be trivial and could be sufficient to trigger a discontinuity in long-term progression of humanity."

Another critical survival issue is that of WMDs or weapons of mass destruction. At present it is estimated that over 15500 nuclear weapons exist in 9 countries. Try to recall all the unbearably painful descriptions that you've read about Hiroshima or Nagasaki and then multiply these by 15500—you then get an idea of the destructive capacity that humanity has accumulated without any rationality. In addition depleted uranium weapons have been widely used in recent years. The possibility of the likely use of tactical nuclear weapons in future wars has been widely mentioned.

The fastest growing nuclear weapons programme is that of Pakistan where the possibilities of terrorists gaining access to nuclear weapons is also widely believed to be the highest among the nine nuclear weapons countries.

In addition there is the added threat of (illegal) manufacture and use of chemical and biological weapons. Terrorist groups and non-state actors can also gain access to crude but highly destructive versions of these weapons.

To what extent can the United Nations, as the most important international organisation of the planet earth, make up for these shortcomings in tackling the most urgent problems? The record so far is not at all an encouraging one, as is evident from the fact that remedial action on the most urgent issues has lagged far behind the real needs.

One serious problem of the United Nations is that in its General Assembly a nation which has a population of one hundred thousand has the same representation (one vote) as a nation whose population is more than a thousand times.

The only privileged nations to have extraordinary (veto) power are the five permanent members of the Security Council who include the worst pollutants and human rights violators in the entire world.

Unfortunately, narrow minded lobbies and vested interests have also become an integral part of the functioning of the UN, further reducing its ability to approach the most urgent issues in a non-partisan way which could get very widespread, broad based support. Due to its increasingly bureaucratic ways, the UN has not been able to create and motivate a very wide and strong network of volunteers and activists to work on the most urgent issues.

The record of the United Nations can of course be improved for tackling the most urgent issues by initiating long overdue reforms. It can be repositioned as a more volunteer based, activist driven international organisation dedicated above all to the more urgent 'survival' issues. It can set a clear time frame for urgent actions on these 'survival' issues. But before this can get wider acceptance the existing unjust structure of the United Nations (particularly the Security Council and the veto power for its five permanent members) must change. However as things stand today, this appears to be very difficult.

So the role of people's movements is a very critical one. Well organised social movements with clear aims can mobilise people on a large scale to pressurise their national governments, the world leadership and the United Nations to initiate justice based effective remedial actions on survival issues before it is too late. The movements for justice and equality as well as movements for peace and environment protection supported by movements for gender justice, animal rights movements and several other movements, all can contribute to this by better co-operation and integration with each other for wider objectives.

If such movements can create strong public opinion for justice based solutions to survival issues, then true and sincere internationalism, with the objective of saving the planet earth and uniting all people for this, can progress much beyond limited reforms of the United Nations. It should be possible then to think of creating a world government with a mandate for initiating adequate and effective remedial actions on the most urgent survival issues.

To start with the mandate of the world government can be restricted to urgent survival issues like climate change, weapons of mass destruction and a few other such issues. To form the world government, one representative can be selected from a constituency of about 20 million people, ignoring national boundaries. The election campaign should be conducted mainly on urgent survival issues. In addition, various professional bodies (such as organisations of climate scientists, nuclear scientists, medical scientists etc.) should be asked to select their most capable representatives to assist the world government.

The tasks of the word government can be the following—
*   Ensuring complete prohibition of nuclear weapons or any other WMD in the arsenal of any country. However the world government will be entitled to stock limited, say about 5% of the existing stocks at 3 or 4 places in the world to check any efforts of terrorists to acquire and misuse such weapons.
*    A detailed justice based agenda for checking global warming and climate change to tolerable limits should be prepared and enforced by the world government. Similar action should be taken on other environmental issues which pose survival threat. The industrial countries with their historical responsibilities should be asked to accept justice based financial responsibility for reducing GHG emissions.
*    Over a period of time all national armies and weapons expenditure should be curtailed by about 90 per cent or so. The task of border disputes settlement should be taken up by the World Government. (Global production of all arms can be reduced by over 80 per cent or so).

At the next stage, if the internationalism and one earth consciousness of people can continue to rise, the mandate of the World Government can be expanded to include additional issues or urgency. Gradually this world should move from artificially created boundaries to one world based on equality of all human beings at all levels and concern for all other forms of life. At the same time, however, decentralisation and local self-government should be strengthened everywhere.

Vol. 48, No. 20, Nov 22 - 28, 2015