When business comes before climate

| | in Oped
When business comes before climate

Despite the vociferous commitment of nations to reduce global warming under the Paris Agreement, countries are unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of major industries and businesses. Clearly, there’s an absence of an impactful intervention to rescue the environment

Large companies are usually synonymous with growth and progress, and are credited for being the source of employment for the country, besides turning the wheels of the economy. But an increasingly overlooked fact is now getting clearer: Large businesses are also having the dubious distinction of being the largest polluters.

According to data gathered by Thomson Reuters, out of the 250 largest emitters, India’s state-owned company ‘Coal India’ topped the list with largest greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of 2076.2 million tonnes. Besides Coal India, three other Indian companies featured among 100 global businesses with the highest carbon footprint.

This interesting aspect is due to the fact that in spite of vociferous commitment towards reducing the rate of global warming at the Paris Climate Agreement by all member nations, the very same nations are unable to control the pace of greenhouse gas emissions of their major industries and businesses.

In the past three years, emissions from businesses with highest emission had been stable, instead of going down by roughly three per cent per year which is needed to limit global warming in line with goals set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Had the nations been really committed to the climate cause, this state of affairs would not have emerged and emissions from big companies would have started showing a downward trend.

The superficial concern for the environment is a global feature. Sample this out of all polluting companies and businesses, 33 per cent of the top 100 GHGs emitters are European. The United States has the second largest share with 26 per cent of top 100 companies being of American origin.

China has the third largest share with 14 per cent of top GHG emitters being of Chinese origin. India would have done well to keep out of this undesirable list but thanks to emissions of Coal India — at 2,076 million tonne — India now has an avoidable top position in this list. The thirst for economic growth and global competition to vie for international markets amidst dwindling natural resources are made worse by ever increasing population. This has led to a thriving manufacturing sector that has scant regard for the environment.

The insane scramble to put business before climate has not come without a price. According to a paper published on April 2, in the journal Nature Geoscience, spiralling global warming between 2010 and 2016 has caused the base of ice near the floor of the ocean to shrink by 1,463 sq km, roughly the size of Delhi. Continued warming at this rate will leave Antarctica without ice in the coming decades and one can only imagine the calamity of sea-level rise when all the melted ice finds its way to the world’s oceans. 

As the damage continues, there is clearly an absence of an impactful intervention to rescue the environment. Unfortunately India too is unable to take the lead and make a difference by assuming the role of a global climate change leader.

The task before India, to set a global example to control GHG levels, may not be as difficult as it looks. According to a study released by The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organisation, India can offset close to 520 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year through reforestation alone. The study further elaborates that merely by conservation of nature and reforestation, about 37 per cent of global greenhouse gas emission could be reduced by 2030. Reforestation activities alone could offset emissions equivalent to that produced by 90 coal power plants.

A third of India’s geographical area is still degraded and offers significant opportunities to sequester carbon through reforestation while also creating jobs and improving freshwater availability for rural communities.

Reforestation initiative, coupled with curbs on industrial emissions, can script a turn around at least for the Indian GHG output levels and immediately deliver cleaner and better air for the citizens. Initiative taken must also be followed through and effective implementation must be ensured for the results to be visible.

For instance, plastic ban is an apt example wherein the ban has been applied many times over but unfortunately one still finds the urban landscape and waterways choked with plastic covers. The methods are clearly available but the all-important initiative and spirited implementation is missing and this needs to change. This alone will ensure that the environment is not used as investment for business.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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