Sitting in Bangladesh, where the impacts of human-induced global warming are already present, it sometimes feels incomprehensible how the countries responsible for the majority of emissions have failed to take the issue seriously enough and do anything substantial to reduce emissions.
The 2015 Paris Agreement where all countries finally agreed to take action was a significant positive achievement, but the subsequent withdrawal of President Donald J. Trump and the failure of the recent COP24 to get the major polluters to raise their ambitions of reducing emissions beyond what had been promised in Paris are great disappointments.
However, as the climate change problem turns itself into a climate change emergency, the year 2019 may actually see a turning tide of global action.
Renewable Energy in US
The first ray of hope is the fact that President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and promotion of coal domestically has not been able to suppress the development of renewable energy across the United States. Actions of governors of states like California and New York to fight climate change have kept the U.S. on track to fulfill its commitment to reduce emissions.
The strong support for the New Green Deal – aiming at addressing both climate change and economic inequality – by incoming younger Democratic members of the House of Representatives is another encouraging sign in the United States.
A second glimpse of hope is the shift in the debate on climate change in developing countries like China and India, which are also major emitters of greenhouse gases. Both these countries, along with other developing countries, used to argue that they had a right to exploit their coal and other fossil fuels to develop and hence did not want to commit to reducing emissions.
However, since the Paris Agreement, these countries have become the forefront of developing renewable energy from sun and wind. They are pursuing cleaner energy as much as possible to reduce the pollution impacts in cities like Beijing and Delhi as much as for global climate change. This realignment of national development goals with global goals in many developing countries is a significant positive shift.
Adapting to Change
The third reason for a sense of renewed optimism is the experience that some of the least developed countries, who are amongst the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, are finding ways to adapt to those impacts.
For example, in Bangladesh, where the low-lying coastal zones are already being affected by rising salinity partly due to sea level rise, millions of farmers are now growing salt-tolerant varieties of rice. When it gets too saline even for tolerant rice varieties, these farmers now grow shrimp.
Some of the most vulnerable and poorest countries, like Bangladesh, are learning to adapt and while this doesn’t reverse climate change, it is dealing with the outcomes. This knowledge can be shared with other countries, including the developed ones who will inevitably also have to face the impacts of climate change sooner rather than later.
Finally, the biggest reason for a renewed sense of optimism is the unleashing of the power of youth across the world to mobilize for actions in every country that recognizes climate change as the emergency it is.
These youngsters are prepared to take radical action. This is a manifestation of a major shift in the dynamic around the global climate change issue from rich to poor, from polluters to victims of pollution, and from young to old. One example of the unprecedented power of children is the school strike started by the 15-years-old Swedish Greta Thunberg that is now spreading across the globe.
To wrap up my main message of hope for 2019, I can see the beginnings of people around the world taking climate change with the seriousness it deserves and finding solutions to tackle the problem, from reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and switching to renewable energy to adapting to the worst impacts in poorer communities and countries.
However, we need to scale and speed up these initiatives if we want to keep the global temperature rise under 1.5 degree Celsius and adapt to the impacts that even that level of warming will bring.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.