1 December, 2021

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“It’s One Minute To Midnight And The Clock Is Ticking”

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

The speeches at the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference (Conference of Parties – COP26) had a resounding impact. The star was the great broadcaster and nature documentary maker David Attenborough, but there were other memorable one liners: The title of this column is from Boris Johnson, UN Secretary General António Guterres quipped “As we dig deeper for coal and metals we are digging our graves”, and Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottle warned “We may survive 1.5o C but 2o is a death sentence”. Barbados, Seychelles, the Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and scores islands of the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos will disappear under rising seas. Coastal regions the world over will be devastated, no part of Lanka’s coast will be spared. In Bangladesh a country of 165 million, 20 million will be displaced and the country will be devastated by a rising seas and hurricanes. The countenance of great coastal metropolitan cities the world over will be disfigured, but worst is that drought and feminine will scourge the African Continent and water-riots will become common. This is what climate scientists warn in one rising crescendo.

Reproduced from David Attenborough’s presentation

Science says that it is already too late to limit temperature rise to 1.5o above pre Industrial Revolution levels and, horror of horrors, predicts that 2.7o by 2100 is more likely. This will be catastrophic and as Attenborough’s computer simulated slide reproduced via the BBC suggests, it is all man made; the effect of natural factors alone is negligible. The struggle now is to turn the rising threat back within a few fractions of a degree as it overshoots the 1.5 limit. It is possible to accurately estimate the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere for about the last 5000 years and it remained consistently below 280 parts per million (ppm) up till 1900. Since then it has risen to 414 ppm, exactly mapping Attenborough’s temperature rise graph.

A huge disappointment was that China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin copped out of COP26. The former obviously because he is too embarrassed to face the public and world leaders at an event like this, but Putin I don’t know why. China is by a long chalk the world’s worst polluter – not per capita but total. Its carbon emission is twice that of the US; 27% of global CO2 emissions are from China. But don’t forget that it is also by far the largest producer of green energy (wind, solar and hydro) in the world. China’s promise to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, a decade after the Paris Accord target of 2050 is therefore disappointing. Modi is an even bigger slouch, he says India will reach carbon neutrality only in 2070. Even though Russia is the world’s largest gas producer (the buyers do the damage) its own contribution to carbon dioxide emissions is only 17% of China’s and 32% of US emissions, so it’s a bit strange that Putin decided to miss the glamour and the show.

It is correct that the rich nations account for most of the world’s polluting emissions. The G20 countries (which include China) are guilty of over 75% of global pollutant emissions. Sub-Saharan Africa (population 1.14 billion, 14% of the world’s 7.9 billion) produces only 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Nigeria which will have a population of 200 million by 2100 is also the continent’s largest oil producer but most of it is burnt in more prosperous countries. Sri Lanka’s share of global emissions is 0.05% while its population is 0.27% of the world’s total. The breakdown of emissions in Lanka is 47% transport, 29% power generation, and about 8% each in industry, buildings and farting cows – I am unable to estimate emissions from kerosene and firewood in urban and rural home-cooking. The switch out of fossil fuel for electricity generation and transport in the developing world will have to be managed carefully if the living standards of the poor are to be protected in this century. The rich world must live up to its promise $100 billion made in Paris ten years ago to help poorer nations tide over difficult choices, but so far only half has been delivered. This has undermined the rich world’s credibility. There is also been some muttering in the technical sessions about paying compensation for the massive amounts of pollution historically deposited in the atmosphere by the rich nations over many years the cost of which others now need to bear.

It is said that COP26 should mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age. This is not the responsibility of people’s and governments alone, it is also the responsibility of capitalist businesses which sit atop mountains of finance. The location of COP26, Glasgow is the city of Adam Smith who expected much from the “invisible hand of the market”. Well actually by far the biggest contributor the climate apocalypse has been business and in the front row of the accused sit the fossil fuel (oil and coal) companies. The invisible hand is driven by profit; business has fought tooth and nail by fair means and foul, by lies and bribery to spew CO2 into the atmosphere. Oil and coal producers and political allies in Senates and Cabinets have done more harm than the tobacco industry did in its day when the latter condemned millions to their death with fake “research” and billion dollar lobbies.

Political leaders at COP26 and the UN Secretary General expressed the hope that bug business, multilateral agencies and big banks will at least now make substantial contributions to combating climate change. The record is dismal. It was as early as 1988 that a young NASA scientist James Hanson in a ground breaking presentation told the US Senate that he was ninety-nine percent certain the earth was warming due to the greenhouse effect of human activity. President Bush Sr. ridiculed him and spoke of the power of the “White House effect” to undo anything. Big business launched a cynical two decade campaign of conspiracy to undermine science via institutions that it organised – the CATO Institute, IFCAT etc.

Forests are major regulators because they absorb CO2, instead they are being burnt to cinders. Canada, Brazil and Russia cover 80% of the world’s forests. One-third of all CO2 emissions now come from the burning of trees. The Amazon rainforest is at the mercy of callous chain-saw wielding Bolsenaro financial patrons, organised in a multimillion dollar illegal logging mafia, which lines his pockets and bankrolls his elections. Nevertheless 100 leaders at COP26 signed up to an agreement to end all deforestation by 2050 and the signatories included Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and Canada. The signatures of the first were greeted with hoots of laughter by climate activists who recall previous greenwashes. Greenwash is woke neologism in the mould of whitewash.

About 10% of all species are likely to go extinct in the next few decades even if the 1.5o target is achieved. One shivers to imagine what would happen if global temperatures rise by 2.70 as distressed climate scientists foresee. Over 1000 bats died in Australia last year from heat exhaustion; I guess their souls await Morrison’s arrival in hell. Unhappy ecosystems will unbalance the entire lifecycle including that of the human species (serves them right I can hear you mutter). Most scientists are now sceptics; they believe that humanity has reached a tipping-point. A tipping-point when passed creates irrevocable, irreversible and catastrophic change. I am not a climatologist but that’s what most climate scientists say.

In addition to the agreement on deforestation over 90 countries signed up to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Methane is tens of times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas though it stays for a shorter period of time in the atmosphere. As expected China, Russia and India did not sign; I guess they did not wish to be seen such glaring examples of greenwash. Dozens of countries signed up to a pledge to ease out coal within a decade but the biggest coal-culprits China, India and the US did not join the pledge. Making false promises does more harm than opting out honestly; the fib that “70% renewable-electricity, zero chemical-fertilizer” deceivers in Sri Lanka prefer. The big powers and big business will practice greenwashing by continuing to pollute like crazy and planting a bunch of trees here and there. The mood of cynical activists and scientists after the three day opening was ‘lots of filibuster and hot air but little translated into concrete action targets’. Well the rest of the world must hope that it’s not so bad.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Greta Thunberg told a rally after COP26 in Glasgow: “It is no secret that COP26 is a failure. We cannot solve a crisis with the same tools that got us into it in the first place. We need drastic emission cuts unlike anything the world has seen before. People in power live in bubbles of their fantasies; eternal growth on an infinite planet and technological solutions that will appear out of nowhere to erase the crises. All the while the world is on fire and people living on the front line bear the brunt. The summit was a two-week celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah to keep business as usual and create loopholes to benefit themselves. Our emperors are naked.”

    Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate told the rally: “Historically, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions, yet Africans suffer its most brutal impact. The global south is on the front-lines of disaster but Africans are not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers”. At the COP26 opening David Attenborough warned the world that the disaster was destroying not only the world of man but also nature’s magnificent wonders.

    • 0
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      Unfortunately, that’s the only way they can exist – business upon business…..globally enticed. Such is their monetary set up. They have no other avenue. True many of their town and small city red-neck residents can’t see the wider picture of their existence and want isolationist ways. But in the US, the land not being theirs traditionally, has been destroyed by them. And minus globalism, they are kaput. So the only way they can survive is business upon business. Otherwise over a billion White people will suffer the consequences. Only way to take care of the earth then, is the business model for climate change. And to leave true climate friendly countries like Myanmar and North Korea alone…..shame on Sri Lanka wanting to ape Western infrastructure.

      • 0
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        And excess carbon has to be sequestered into the earth. Hope Binden’s infrastructure cum climate change bill includes pipes being driven deep into the earth for CO2 to be changed into hard carbon yet again. Or for forests to grow in the troposphere……Or the mossy equivalent floating around.

    • 1
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      Greta our authority on environment recently invited the Chinese to stop using chopsticks to save trees.
      She was politely told that chopsticks are made of bamboo (a grass) and advised to stop using toilet paper as it is made out of wood pulp.

  • 2
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    The situation is far worse than what this article contains. Nevertheless Professor David thanks to be commended for writing it. Most Sri Lankans are illiterate about these matters. When confronted with the truth they dismiss is as utter rubbish. The messenger gets shot. There were literate Sri Lankan who came from as far away as America to vote for Gotler. It is they who knowingly ushered in this disaster who will face their karma for doing so. The IPCC started off by saying the crisis is 100 years away. Then it was 50Years away now, it is do something before 2030 or else we are damned. There is a reason for the ever accelerating time line. It is call in mathematics the exponential curve where the rate of acceleration is exponential and not linear. Another little known fact is that the IPCC does not take into account the accelerating global Methane emissions in their modelling. In the early years Methane’s potency to trap heat is not 10 times that of CO2 but 84 times. Among the attendees of COP26 were politicians, bankers, economists and businessmen. NOt a single reputed Scientists of the caliber of Michael Mann or James Hansen. THe closest thign to a scinetist the COP26 managed to muster was Sir David Attenborough.

  • 2
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    kumar very relevant aticle for the planet but sri lankans are wondering how to put food on the table,after that they may worry a little about the planet.

  • 3
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    KD: From Covid to Climate Change, keeping up the fear psychosis with endless numbers games is the means to control the media and populations as the West goes for Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD), having isolated China and Russia.

    The Elephant in the room of the UN and COP 26 Hot air Greenwash Circus was Militarization and its Carbon footprint which is never calculated. Here the US with its 800 military bases and war machine is by far the biggest culprit. Please Read Elizabeth de Loughrey’s Allegories of the Anthropocene. Duke University Press 2019.
    Military corporate interests are increasingly being extended through digitalization, data grabbing, cyber operations and surveillance by a range of State and corporate actors as a global struggle for Ocean Resources and UDC security escalates. The US is at the forefront, as de Loughrey notes: American militarization of the oceans is foundational to maintaining the global energy supply that undergirds what some call the Capitalocene. Over 60 percent of the world’s oil supply is shipped by sea, and over 20 percent of the Pentagon’s budget goes to securing it. Securing the flow of oil has been a vital US naval strategy—not to say “mission”—since the 1970s.

    • 2
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      De Loughrey notes: carbon emissions are regularly tied to citizen consumption rather than to military expansion, which is invisible and never factored into the anthropogenic climate change equation.

      The US Navy and its associated air force emit some of the dirtiest bunker and jet fuels to secure the passage of maritime oil transportation; this energy in turn is consumed and emitted by the military in rates disproportionate to any nation.Not only is this fuel cycle common knowledge in military circles, but the Pentagon was
      exempted from all the major international climate accords and from domestic carbon emission legislation It should concern Anthropocene scholars and those in the emergent field of the energy humanities that “militarism is the most oil exhaustive activity on the planet.”
      Some have warned that there is a “dangerous feedback loop between war and global warming” because the Pentagon, in protecting its energy interests through extensive maritime and overseas base networks, estimated at over seven hundred is the world’s largest consumer of energy and the biggest institutional contributor to global carbon emissions.This seems shocking because carbon emissions are regularly tied to citizen consumption rather than to military expansion.

  • 3
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    Thanks to Gota Sri Lanka will not face any issues due to climate change
    long before that all the youth would have left the country. Old would have died. Only Rajapakse family will be living in Sri Lanka

    • 2
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      Dilshan

      “Only Rajapakse family will be living in Sri Lanka”

      There is also possibility that Chinese will have their Dì èr gè dùjià wū, ( 第二个度假屋 ) second holiday home in Sri Lanka in addition to their present substantial investments in sea front prime land.

  • 5
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    China and Russia opted out because the UN Climate Change Conference was merely a photo opportunity for western nations to pat each other on the back and boast about what they are supposedly doing – in reality nothing.

  • 6
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    Nice to see the metamorphosis of a person who denounced environmentalists for blocking the coal power project in Sampur and effectively said to hell with the environment and the peasants of the region let us build the coal power plant. (He still has a soft corner for the black solid.)
    *
    I cannot understand why he is shying away from using per capita consumption of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions as the the criterion.
    *
    Also the pollution by a country is strictly not what is generated in the country.
    With most of the polluting manufacture outsourced by the US and Europe, a good part of the pollution attributed to the Third World (including China and India) is actually pollution for consumers in the West.
    So the sums need to be reworked based on consumption per capita and the relevant pollution at source.

  • 1
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    World leaders & activists flocked to Scotland, whilst some leaders came in their private jets to pledge their support to slowdown climate change in various stages, the activists remain unimpressed & sceptic. I saw a glimpse of GR on tv & I am sure he would have been accompanied by a ‘high level’ delegation, & after enjoying the best Scotland has to offer, must have returned to SL by now, hopefully, enlightened as to how we should do our bit to reduce Co2 emissions.

    According to Prof. Kumar, 47% contribution is from transport but with an aging vehicle population & 2 stroke tuk tuks, we are not likely to make any improvements. In fact, the current blanket emission testing is a joke but there appears to be no expert among the ‘viyathmaga’ pundits who can come up with a suitable solution on vehicle emissions. If the country promotes electric vehicles, we are back in square 1 as we are dependent on coal fired power plants to meet the requirements, which, is already contributing to 29% of the emissions. So any large scale wind farms, solar panel grants to households, in the cards? At least the ban on cattle slaughter will have some benefits if cattle farming is discouraged as the poor cows are blamed for methane gas emissions that harm the atmosphere.

  • 2
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    The west including Western Europe and USA had built up their countries without any regard to the environment.

    They are the greatest polluters.

    Dr Gamini Corea a few years back prophetically asserted that if China and India followed the same path to develop their countries that will be the end of the world.

    The entire world has to pay back for the utter foolishness of the developed so called civilized world.

  • 0
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    the biggest polluter is china with 28% of emissions. The US and EU and japan and Uk should just stop buying anything from china and it will automatically reduce its emissions.These countries preach to others and put pressure on them to reduce emissions but still continue to buy products from china.

    ps.god will send more and more viruses to reduce emissions if we don’t do it ourselves.

    • 2
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      S
      Good idea. But there is a catch:
      China, India, Brazil etc. are polluting the planet to provide goods that are consumed in the Political West.
      Where will pollution in the West stand if they produce all what they consume?
      *
      The correct scale to measure pollution is per capita emission content of consumption in each country.

  • 0
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    SJ

    per capita is not the way to look at emissions.Per sq.metre land area is the way to go.If countries are overpopulated that is their problem without exporting it to others.

    a carbon tax on countries that are excessive polluters is the answer.Their goods will become more expensive.Then to continue selling they might make a real effort to reduce the emissions.Otherwise they won’t.Look at the polluting countries here.

    https://www.9news.com.au/world/greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-countries-climate-change-explainer/e2e2bace-4328-4bd2-aef2-5d8d5ed0e996

    china and india with their massive populations that dwarf the others are dangerous for this planet and a carbon tax of at least 10% should be immediatly placed on their products and services.A message should be clearly sent out to them that their population is a problem for the planet.

    other dangerous countries are russia,iran,saudi arabia,canada,southafrica who also should be taxed.Their populations may be smaller than china and india but they are wastefull polluters.

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