If the Covid-19 pandemic has a silver lining, it is the worldwide decline in carbon emissions, a major cause of global warming. When the pandemic recedes, that advantage will be gone. So what steps are people in India, Pakistan, and other countries doing to reduce the off-the-charts monsoons, droughts, and other impacts of climate change post-pandemic?
Some environmentalists are optimistic that the unique conditions of the pandemic will prepare us to deal with climate change. After all, even during the pandemic, governments worked with each other and industry on innovative approaches to address it.
Investments are being made in renewable energy – wind and solar technology. Sustainable architecture is being developed to reduce carbon footprints while helping rural women to support themselves and their families through farming.
“Rural women worldwide are the gatekeepers of food security, assuming so much of the burden of family nutrition and playing an invaluable, invisible role in agriculture,” said Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for the Food Systems Summit 2021.
Governments Team Up
Nations are working with each other and industry on climate change.
Early in 2021, the US rejoined the Paris Agreement making the same commitment as about 100 other nations – to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
For its part, India has eight Paris Agreement targets, including plans to produce about 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel-based resources by 2030. By then, India also expects to plant more trees for CO2 absorption and reduce emissions by 33% to 35% over 2005 levels.
India has set up the Apex Committee for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement, to monitor government and private sector contributions to climate change, and to ensure India meets its Paris Agreement commitments. According to some, India is the only G20 nation on track to do so.
The same month, Pakistan announced plans to boost renewable energy to 20% by 2025 and 30% by 2030, up from to about 4% today. It did not put hydro power in this tally. In addition to wind and solar power, the nation is looking at geothermal, tidal, wave and biomass energy,
Meanwhile in India, India Climate Collaborative (ICC), set up in January 2020, brings together more than 40 entities, including philanthropic arms of major corporations, academic thinktanks, and aid agencies, Members share a goal to accelerate India’s development while simultaneously moving beyond its current climate goals.
“There is an urgent need to build an ecosystem around issues of climate change and sustainability wherein a range of actors do not work in silos,” said Shloka Nath, the collaborative’s executive director.
One of its new ventures is The Echo Network, a “social innovation partnership” steered by the India’s principal scientific adviser. It aims to increase scientific collaboration around environmental issues.
After launching a nationwide tree planting program with financial backing from the World Bank, Pakistan will host the UN’s annual World Environment Day on June 5, 2021. At least, 150 other countries are to participate in the event with the theme “Ecosystem Restoration.”
Impacts of Climate Change in South Asia
South Asian nations are among those most vulnerable to climate change. For example, the Global Climate Index 2021 ranks Afghanistan sixth, and India seventh, among the most impacted countries. The rankings are based on extreme weather events. Last year, India came in fifth, Sri Lanka sixth.
What’s Global Warming Anyway?
It happens when carbon dioxide and other air pollutants and greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, absorbing solar radiation. One big cause is the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, for industrial purposes.
Agriculture accounts for 15% or more of carbon emissions, livestock waste being a major culprit. Humans also make emissions worse by cutting down trees that would otherwise absorb carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, commercial and organic fertilizers release nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. Crops such as rice can emit methane, another greenhouse gas.
What Do We Have to Do?
The UN Environment Program says carbon emissions needs to reduce by 7.6% per year for the next decade to keep the globe from warming more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.
“If we reach 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels, the Mediterranean basin will experience desertification, coral reefs will disappear, and ice sheets will collapse,” said Jan Gould, an American inventor who works on new environmental initiatives in Pakistan.
Emissions Fell During the Pandemic
During the pandemic, the world saw a 6.4% drop in annual carbon emissions. The U,S, led at 12.9%, India was in second place at 8.0%, and Europe third at 7.6%. Russia saw a 2.8% decline in emissions, and China 1.4%, says an analysis by the international Carbon Monitor program and Nature.com.
Carbon emissions will certainly rise in some sectors as the economy revives.
“Travel and tourism will probably rebound. But the increased share of people working remotely may be here to stay, reducing the carbon footprint from commuting,” predicted Dr. Shermin de Silva, founder of Trunks & Leaves, an environmental organization in Sri Lanka.
Empowering Women Through Farming
In the developing world, women bear the brunt of climate change. Between 2011 and 2016, some 9 million men have annually moved from rural areas to cities in India, seeking work, according to the Economic Survey of India 2017.
About 80% of the region’s farmers are women, said Nishtha Satyam, deputy representative, UN Women Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The UN runs projects about sustainable agriculture for women and their families in these countries. In flood-jeopardized Bangladesh, for example, farmers grow saline-tolerant rice, build floating vegetable gardens, and raise ducks.
The UN’s Food Systems Summit, convened by Dr. Kalibata in March, considered ways to mitigate the effects of global warming on women farmers. It included an action track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, water use, and soil degradation involved in food production, processing and distribution.
Pakistan Evaluates Sustainable Agriculture Tools
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Agricultural Resource Council has worked to increase food production and conserve water in rural areas during the pandemic, As elsewhere, Covid-19 has also disrupted the economy, said Gould, founder of Responsive Drip Irrigation.
The council and its sister organization, the Pakistan’s National Agricultural Research Center, have researched such technologies as regenerative farming and more efficient irrigation. Regenerative agricultural methods, such as crop rotation, cover crops, and no-till cultivation, keep the carbon in the soil, where over time it can build healthy plants.
In 2020, the center tested Gould’s GrowStream, an irrigation system needing no electricity, and which improves soil health and yield for a decade.
Women farmers can easily manage the irrigation system on small holder farms of one to three hectares, enabling them to “provide for their family, while increasing their economic status,” Gould told SEEMA.
New Twists for Alternative Energy?
In 2019, India ranked fifth worldwide for installed wind power capacity, behind China, the European Union (EU), the US, and Germany, according to the Global Wind Council. Pakistan, however, was in 34th place and Sri Lanka in 55th place out of the 63 nations listed. India consistently rates in the top 10 for installed solar power capacity in industry.
The pandemic and some dispute resolutions delayed Pakistan’s plans to boost use of renewable energy until August 2020. But it got a jump start when the World Bank gave it $100 million for the Sindh Solar Energy Project, which supports deployment of solar power plants in Sindh Province at the utility scale, for distributed generation, and for households.
After the pandemic, some environmentalists, including Dr. de Silva, would like to see maximal decentralization of energy sources.“All energy sources have their particular footprints, so I would hesitate to generalize broadly. Instead, we must look to what makes sense for a given region and has the lowest impact overall,” she says. She described hydroelectric power as a good example of an outdated technology relying on the premise that an electrical grid must be centralized.
This story appears in the May issue of SEEMA Magazine, check it out here