IPCC Report, The Plastics Resolution and a Few Questions

The clock is ticking, the small window is closing fast, the dangers assessed are far more than previously assessed and many more statements in the recently released  sixth assessment report of the IPCC grab the attention of its readers and the peace that people have given themselves giving effect to “ignorance is bliss” either by choice or not is quite easily shattered if one just is able to read whatever scant coverage other more immediate, and arguably pressing issues have allowed it to get. And yet, as Menaka Guruswamy rightly writes, we live in an age (climate)  of denial. In other words, we are heading towards doom of our own volition. I guess that speaks to our (self -proclaimed) title as the smartest species on the earth, doesn’t it? It’s not that this threat sprung out of nowhere, we have known about this for decades, and yet here we are. The Secretary General of the UN  hit the nail on the head of our spectacular failure, calling it “ atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership” 

We are nearly  seven years into the 2015 Paris Accord where the world came together and decided that  we have to put a stop to the rising temperatures at 1.5 degrees of pre industrial levels, and we are already at 1.1 degrees. If the above statement is anything to go by, I would think it’s a safe, but heart-wrenching assumption that we will fail to effectively restrict the rise in temperatures. That being said, far too many people and far too much depends on the fact that we keep trying- and trying to bring not just incremental changes, but also the sweeping ones  that will make us uncomfortable initially but in the larger scheme of things, have substantial impact on our effort to survive and ensure that the planet survives too, for those to come after us. 

One of those sweeping changes is the reduction in the use of plastic, which has formed an essential aspect of our existences.  The pervasiveness of the pollution caused by plastic is at a point where soon enough  (by 2050), there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean. A change that may be coming in the near future, is a legally binding international treaty that aims to curb the use of plastics. 175 countries have adopted a resolution to do so. India, thankfully is one of the 175. This is not to say that being a part of this group is some achievement, it most certainly is not, but, given the general hesitancy of the establishment to take impactful steps that in some way will affect the status quo and will have an effect on the economy, It most certainly counts as one. Although some may consider my depiction if the government to be unfair or otherwise motivated,  I ask them to take the following into account – India is the worst country so far as plastic being dumped into the oceans, as reported in 2020; a statement by the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in the lower house of Parliament tells us that the plastic waste has more than doubled in the last five years and, only a lowly 1/4th of the total waste produced is recycled- despite this, out of the four pathways laid before the UN in adopting this resolution, India favored a position that did not include a legally binding treaty. 

The foot that India put forward was,  that there should not be a legally binding treaty and that countries should be allowed to decide the action to be taken voluntarily. They also said that amidst this push for reduction of plastic, developing countries should be allowed to set down their own goals, in line with their development plans terming it as “national circumstances and capabilities”, eventually agreeing to the legally binding nature. It however has to be noted that while India was the one to bring in to the fore in 2019 at the United Nations Environment Assembly, domestically, in 2018, it watered down it’s boldest plan to weed out multi-layered plastic in packaging, and historically speaking, the record doesn’t inspire much confidence. 

One can legitimately ask the question, keeping in mind the recent budget, coal mining permissions in Hasdeo Arand, The Konkan Railway line forest clearance, Char Dham Road Expansion and many other incidents, as to how far we as a country will go before our long term interests are once again forced to cower before those of “ease of business”, for eg- EIA Draft Rules of 2020 or, those of “development” in general. It doesn’t bode well for India. 

 The question above, then gives rise to some more- India as the second most populated country, with the effects of climate change already clear and set to intensify to a point where numerous cities will be in grave danger, will be left with what options?  With the $5T economy set out as a clear goal for the country, what does that mean for the environment and the future generations? Whether in this economic expansion, the environment will be accorded due consideration, where it is equal and not subservient to human needs?

A major issue that plagues the environment conservation movement, the ingrained human understanding that nature is secondary to them and primary are their needs, when in truth it is that humankind needs the facilities of the natural world to stay alive, prosper and do whatever else. This  anthropocentric understanding is the basis of our consciousness,  and will continue to be a pestering problem  till a general realization dawns on those in positions of influence and power, that the problem lies not with the laws or enforcement mechanisms, but with the education being imparted. Research shows that Gen Z is very  climate conscious, but that is not enough by a long shot. The educational process which needs attention still, does not discriminate with age- it needs an approach that sensitizes to the absolute horrors awaiting the earth, just further ahead, in no uncertain terms, those who are charting out our course for the immediate future. By the time climate conscious Gen-Z comes to calling the shots, it would be far too late.  This considerations of economic need and political expediency of supporting this one-sided form of development have led us to this point where experts and commentators  are already acknowledging that we are facing increased risks from climate change and despite it being clear that we stand to suffer great loss,  but yet, argument of us being a developing country is being flaunted on the international  stage, and attempts to keep the reduction of plastics ‘voluntary’ are being made The question we need to ask is simple: if we don’t focus  on climate resilience, adaptation and long-term change by way of education and constructive awareness, who is this economic development for? If there is a question on survivability, then what does that say about our priorities? . At times, playing a role, however small, in making people aware of the life-threatening situation we are in feels all-important, and yet, when we see a profit and loss statement dictating the terms of our future, it feels hopeless. We cannot give up though. We must try and save the earth. The time has passed for endless statistics and gently worded warnings.
[Ishan Chauhan is an Independent Researcher who writes on environmental law and policy. Previously published pieces in the Navhind Times, Greater Kashmir etc can be found here: https://linktr.ee/ChauIsAuth ]

Ishan Chauhan
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Ishan Chauhan is an Independent Researcher who writes on environmental law and policy. Previously published pieces in the Navhind Times, Greater Kashmir etc can be found here: https://linktr.ee/ChauIsAuth

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