Climate Change: Are We Alleviating or Accelerating the Crisis?

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An Open Letter by Cecil Rajendra.

2023 WAS THE hottest year since official records began in 1850. And, according to Paleo-Climatic data, 2023 was the hottest year in the past 125,000 years. Worse, environment scientists predict that 2024 will be hotter still. Climate change/global warming has affected, and continues to affect every facet of life on earth. Millions of lives have been lost through floods, fires, droughts, heat-waves and air pollution. Its effect on our wildlife, flora and fauna, oceans, glaciers and coral reefs have been equally catastrophic: 40% of insects—beetles, butterflies and bees—face extinction. Abundance of flora and fauna has dropped by over 20% and abundance of wildlife by 82%. Around one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. In our part of the world, we have already witnessed the extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros.

The Cause

The spike in global warming is due primarily to the release of excessive carbon emissions (or greenhouse gases); not by natural causes, but by human activity. These include the burning of fossil fuels i.e. oil, coal and gas, heavy industries, the automotive market and the clearing (often by man-made fires) of large swathes of rainforests for lucrative monoculture projects like cattle farming and palm oil plantations.

Global warming has also been spurred by every nation’s obsession with “growth”. “Growth”, in layman’s terms, simply means more factories, refineries, hotels, high-rises, highways, cars, shopping malls etc.—all of which require dirty energy. Growth = Global warming!

Our Response

It is not as if we weren’t aware of the damage we’ve been inflicting on our planet. Ever since Rachel Carson’s seminal Silent Spring warned us of the cost of tinkering with the “Web of Life” where everything is connected to everything else, we have been put on red alert. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, nations around the globe passed a flurry of Environmental Protection Laws which were either ignored or not enforced.

So, in 1995 the first COP (Conference of Parties) was convened in Berlin where it was agreed that the Earth was One and we should all join the battle to save our Planet. There have been 27 COP summits since. At every COP summit, pledges, promises, protocols and resolutions were passed and commitments made to cut carbon emissions and stem global warming. There were also several projects designed, ostensibly to alleviate the situation. The most notable being the ESG (Environmental Social Governance) programme, SLL (Sustainability Linked Loans) and the carbon trading market.

Result & Reality

The naked truth is that none of those summits, conferences, commitments, resolutions and green/sustainable solutions have made an iota of difference. The proof of their failure is evidenced by the Earth’s soaring temperature. Over the decades, there has been no real political will to stem global warming. At the COP 2015 Paris Agreement, nations committed to keep the global warming threshold under 1.5°C. Yet, in 2023, the world experienced 12 consecutive months of global warming above 1.5°C.

The litany of broken commitments worldwide is echoed in Malaysia…

Both Petronas and Tenaga National recently admitted that though they had committed to net zero greenhouse gas emission (GHG) in 2020, their total GHG emissions in 2022 were higher than in 2020.

When it comes to environmental issues, you will find double talk, deceit and deception across the business board…

We say we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint, yet our automotive industry boasts it will be putting a million more gas-guzzling vehicles on our roads in 2024.

We swear commitment to clean air, yet for half a century, millions in the region have been subjected to pollutants (haze) caused by the open burning of rainforests by multinational palm oil conglomerates.

No one has been prosecuted nor will anyone be...

And, what about those “green/sustainable” solutions proposed to combat climate change: ESG and Carbon Trading. ESG is an acronym for “Environmental Social Governance”.

Outfits professing to be “green” and “sustainable” are eligible for special environmental funds and loans. The problem is that there is no common definition of “green” or “sustainable”. Nor is there proper accountability or transparency on the part of the lender or borrower. Further, most companies regard ESG not as a way of saving the planet but as a business opportunity!

As such, there is widespread abuse of the ESG label…

The world’s largest ESG fund, Morningstar Inc, recently revealed that 1,238 companies claiming to be ESG compliant held stocks in the arms and weapons industry! Further, last year Bloomberg reported that the USD1.5tril market for ESG sustainable loans had been withdrawn en masse amid greenwashing fears. The “G” in ESG more appropriately stands for “greenwashing”.

And, carbon trading is nothing more than a ruse that gives a rich guy in a developed country a free pass to avoid reducing his carbon emissions by funding an emission-reducing project of some poor sod in an under-developed country.

As we are one Earth, could someone please explain how in the world does carbon trading reduce carbon emissions worldwide and reverse global warming?

What We Need To Do

The situation is dire.

Dire situations call for drastic action, not distractions…

Enough of token solutions, false commitments and gaslighting conferences. Least of all another climate summit in a fossil fuel-producing country presided over by the CEO of its national oil company that is on record as saying that the best way of reducing carbon emissions is by producing more petrol!

Under his stewardship, the summit baulked at resolving to phase out fossil fuels but merely to transition from them. As no time-frame or mechanism was put in place as to how and when this “transition” would take place, the COP 28 statement gave unfettered licence to fossil fuel producers and auto-makers to crank up production. It can be said that COP 28—“the COP that copped out of phasing out”—did not alleviate but accelerate the current climate crisis.

Nope, what we need are not resolutions but immediate, affirmative legal action… We need writs, summonses, stop orders and mandatory injunctions to halt this devastation. This is a tall order and our chances are slim… but there is a sliver of hope…

In 2016, a historic case—Juliana vs. USA—was filed by 21 children against the government of the US for failing to safeguard their well-being, health and future against climate change. Thanks to the intervention of big oil and big business, who raised preliminary objections as to the locus standi (standing) of the kids, the case has been stalled in the US courts. However, similar cases have been filed by children against their governments in 25 other countries. If our children—who everyday witness their forests being dismantled and their beloved earth sizzle as a result of our greed and inaction—have no standing in our Courts of Justice, then who has?

And, recently, the European Court of Human Rights correctly ruled in favour of the children of Switzerland. I hope our young people pounce on this Swiss precedent and get cracking. And, when they do, I hope our legal profession and our judicial system step up and raise their game as gate-keepers of justice. Under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 12 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976), everyone has a Right to Life, Liberty, Health and Security.

Let’s give teeth to these provisions, stem global warming out and put an end to this climate crisis.