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COVID-19, climate and carbon neutrality

  • 09 November, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

COVID-19, climate and carbon neutrality

By, Jairam Ramesh is an MP (Rajya Sabha) and a former Union Minister


  • Our lives have been turned upside down. The COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath can be seen either as a longish pause on the button of economic growth or as an opportunity for reset, recalibration and rethink.

Note: Phrase can be used in Essay:


  • History is divided into two periods: Before the Common Era or BCE and the Common Era or CE.
  • But given our experience this year, BCE could well stand for Before the COVID-19 Epidemic and CE for the COVID-19 Epidemic.



Ecological disequilibrium

  • COVID-19 is undoubtedly a public health catastrophe and certainly calls for enhanced investments in research and development that impinges directly on public health.
  • But more fundamentally, the pandemic reflects fundamental ecological disequilibrium.
  • Evidence has accumulated that loss of biodiversity and ever-increasing human incursions into the natural world have contributed heavily to the outbreak and spread of epidemic diseases.
  • Understanding the three Es — evolution, ecology and the environment — will be key to identifying potential pandemics. COVID-19 also reinforces the need to pay far greater attention to the biosciences that underpin agriculture, health and the environment that are going to be profoundly impacted by the current pandemic.
  • There is also now robust scientific evidence to show, for instance, how air pollution exacerbates the impacts of COVID-19.
  • Public health science and environmental science are two sides of the same coin.
  • In fact, I have been saying for over a decade now that our environmental problems — such as air pollution, water pollution, chemical contamination, deforestation, waste generation and accumulation, land degradation and excessive use of pesticides — all have profound public health consequences both in terms of morbidity and mortality and hence demand urgent actions.
  • The traditional ‘grow now, pay later model is not only unsustainable in the medium- to long-term but also dangerous to public health in the short term.
  • We live in a world where climate change is a reality.
  • No longer can we argue about uncertainties in the monsoon, the frequency of extreme events, the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers and the increase in mean sea levels.
  • A recent report of the Ministry of Earth Sciences called ‘Assessment of climate change over the Indian region’ is an excellent and up-to-date analysis that deserves wider debate and discussion.
  • It also points to the need for making our future science and technology strategy in different areas anchored in an understanding of the impacts of climate change caused by continued emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • This scientific understanding is essential for what may be a solution at one point of time but becomes a problem at another point and may even become a threat in a different context.
  • Take the example of HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons, which were at one time seen as the panacea to fix the depletion of the ozone layer.
  • The depletion of the ozone layer has been fixed more or less, but HFCs are a potent threat from a climate change perspective since their global warming potential is a thousand times that of carbon dioxide.

California model:

  • In September 2018, the American State of California — the world’s fifth largest economy in itself — was the first to commit itself to carbon neutrality by 2015.

Commitments of carbon neutrality by world countries:

  • The European Union followed California’s example but with the year 2050 in mind.
  • China stunned the world by declaring its goal of carbon neutrality by 2060.
  • Japan and South Korea joined the club by announcing their intention to do so by 2050, like the EU.

Post-COVID-19 world

  • The post-COVID-19 world is an opportunity for us to switch gears and make a radical departure from the past to make economic growth ecologically sustainable.
  • Much of the infrastructure we need for the future is still to be put in place — one estimate widely quoted that something like 70% of the infrastructure required in India by the year 2050 is waiting to be established.
  • GDP growth must, without doubt, revive and get back to a steady 7%-8% growth path.
  • However, in this post-COVID-19 world, we should make efforts to ensure that the ‘G’ in GDP is not ‘Gross’ but ‘Green’.

Way forward:

  • India too has to begin thinking very seriously about its level of ambition in this regard, especially since this will have public health consequences as well.
  • At the Paris climate change conference in December 2015, we committed to having 40% of our electricity-generating capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by the year 2030. I have no doubt that we will reach this level.
  • However, carbon neutrality is something different. It should mean that for a country, carbon emissions are equal to absorptions in carbon sinks, of which forests are one.
  • Both sides of the equation are important and have to be addressed simultaneously.
  • Carbon neutrality will involve massive scientific invention and technological innovation especially when it comes to removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.



Source: TH


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