Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Feeling the heat

Debashish Munshi & Priya Kurian

While leaders of more than 190 nations are currently deliberating on climate action at the COP 21 summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, millions of ordinary citizens have taken to the streets in cities and towns around the world to make sure their voices are heard. These citizens fully understand the implications of the science of climate change and they don’t want political leaders to drag their feet on taking urgent action to arrest and reverse the devastating impacts of climate change.

The effects of climate change are there for the world to see. The Indian Prime Minister and his entourage were in Paris this week when the southern city of Chennai (formerly Madras) in his country was deluged by the worst rains in over a hundred years, killing nearly 200 people, submerging homes, and cutting off power and transport links.  The havoc caused was so unusual that even the city’s venerable newspaper, The Hindu, couldn’t cover the disaster as it couldn’t bring its edition out for the first time since its inception in 1878. This calamity, exacerbated if not entirely caused by poor urban planning, ties in with the alternating bouts of heavy rainfall and drought in different parts of the world, stifling heat in temperate zones, and a spate of cyclones, tornadoes, and typhoons.

In an earlier blog, we had highlighted recent studies published in PUS that show the importance of emphasising local contexts and framing information that people can relate to in conceivable terms to get people to act on climate change. The increasing regularity of what are seen as unusual climate events have made it easier for people to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-induced climate change.

As social scientists and science communicators with a special interest in climate action, we (along with John Foran and Kum-Kum Bhavnani of the University of California, Santa Barbara) recently organised an international  symposium on ‘ClimateFutures’ at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in July this year to brainstorm innovative ideas to combat climate change.  The 19 of us, from 17 countries across six continents, had a range of perspectives to share but we were all united in centring the idea of justice in action that the world takes.

Following the symposium, John, Kum-Kum-Kum, and the two of us, along with most of the symposium participants, sent an open letter to the executive secretary of UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, and the President of COP21, Laurent Fabius, urging them to make sure the delegates “focus more sharply on the plight of those most vulnerable, e.g. who live in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, Kiribati in the Pacific, the Philippines in Asia, and Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa, and who face the risk of being drowned or losing their freshwater resources as sea levels rise.”

We make the case for “an ambitious and legally binding treaty, one that is both effective and equitable” and call for a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that global temperatures rise no more than 1.5° Celsius,” and for developed nations to take greater responsibilities in mitigating climate change by way of setting aside substantial new funds for climate action as well as free technology transfer to poorer nations.

We also press the need to keep corporate lobbyists out of the frame of the COP process.

We hope international governments can demonstrate as much understanding of the science of climate change as the young people who are marching on the streets to protect the planet for the future.

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