As I write this, the 27th Conference of Parties in underway in coastal city of Sarm el Sheikh in Egypt. 400 private jets have already landed in Egypt carrying climate change activists and workers. The meeting is being attended and addressed by Head of States, Ministers and negotiators who will be joined by climate activists, leaders of businesses and other civil society representatives. UN being a global organization is more interested in forging a consensus on broad strategies for the countries to follow.
But these strategies are focused on
- Adaptation to Climate change and developing resilience – That is the countries should look at possible adverse effects of climate change and improve its capacity and resilience to deal with such situations, like developing food banks for food shortage, improving responsiveness to natural disasters such as floods, delay in monsoons etc. so that the communities are better prepared to deal with the effects of climate change.
- Technical solutions to reduce pollution and carbon emissions. Technologists are talking of cutting-edge technologies such as Green Hydrogen, policy makers are talking of reduction in fossil fuel consumption by adopting alternate technologies etc.
Then there are associated issues like poor nations are pleading lack of technology and money to buy technology. They want polluters to pay or in other words people who have enjoyed the technologies should own up their sin and pay for it. Déjà vu. Is it not? We have gone through the same cycle with Montreal Protocol. The technological solution for Chlorofluoro Carbons (CFCs) was Hydrofluoro Carbons (HFCs). Everyone was gung-ho about it despite knowing that while HFCs had low Ozone Depleting Potential (ODP), they had a high Global Warming Potential. Countries like India, where income levels were rising wanted to enjoy benefits of air conditioning technologies and countries like US were worried that a small per capita increase in use of air conditioning in countries like India and China would be devastating for the world.
All strategies to prevent climate change have to be based on
- Re-use, and
However structurally we are going in for consumption driven economies that undermine strategy of reduction (in consumption) and re-use. Our main criteria for measuring growth are increase in GDP for countries and increase in top line and bottom line for companies. It is interesting, for as a human being we look at multiple dimensions of growth and do not confine it to physical growth when we look at growth of a person. But our obsession with growth in GDP, top line and bottom line is leading to
- Undermining Right to Repair
- Increase in personal consumption instead shared resources
- Irresponsible disposal of waste especially electronic waste
- Undermining Right to repair or in other words, Reduce and Re-use.
- Companies promoting planned obsolescence with launch of new products frequently
- making repairs expensive. Today it is cheaper and advisable to buy new product rather than get it repaired.
- Increasing obsolescence by reducing storage time for spares.
Apple is a good example of denying Right to Repair to its customers. The company does not encourage repairs. It does this by not adopting repair friendly designs, by making availability of spares difficult and making repairs expensive.
- The other reason for increase in consumption is increase in personal consumption rather than consumption or utilization of public resources. It is acknowledged fact that consumption will reduce if people share resources rather than create and use resources for self or for an individual. This has not been happening for
- Lack of creation of public infra-structure. The governments especially in the poor and developing countries like India have been slow in developing reliable public infra-structure. India is a good example of it. The public hospitals are bursting at seams to cater to ever increasing patient load. The public transport system at more places is unreliable. The only exception has been metro but even that has not been supported with last leg issues. Most Indian Cities have failed to create multi-modal public transport systems leading to people increasingly relying on private vehicles.
- A life style where people are increasingly preferring personal comfort rather than compromise for “public good”. 400 private jets have landed in Egypt for the convention for people prefer not to use commercial flights discomfort in time or comfort in flight.
- The UN has no definition for “developed society”. The US lifestyle has become benchmark for lifestyle in developing countries. The US also has highest consumption levels as visible in per capita consumption. People prefer private cars to public resources or sharing of resources. Delhi government has tried to promote car pooling but has not been able to institutionalize it.
- Part of the increase in consumption also comes from buying overspeced items. For example, A typical example of it is a 15-watt LED bulb replacing a 40 watt CFL lamp where only a 9-10 watt bulb will do. Another such example is Sales of SUVs in urban areas, where sedans will work.
- The third element of 3Rs is Recycle. While the Governments are talking of recycling, and are developing policy guidelines but the governments are limiting their efforts to producers/ manufacturers and sellers. Hence, despite significant potential of (responsible) recycling we are still seeing a very small fraction of the material getting re-cycled. This small quote from an article in “DownToEarth” magazine says it all.
A report on e-waste presented by the United Nations (UN) in World Economic Forum on January 24, 2019 points out that the waste stream reached 48.5 MT in 2018 and the figure is expected to double if nothing changes.
Only 20 per cent of global e-waste is recycled. The UN report indicates that due to poor extraction techniques, the total recovery rate of cobalt (the metal which is in great demand for laptop, smart phone and electric car batteries) from e-waste is only 30 per cent.
The report cites that one recycler in China already produces more cobalt (by recycling) than what the country mines in one year. Recycled metals are also 2 to 10 times more energy-efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore.
The report suggests that lowering the amount of electronics entering the waste stream and improving end-of-life handling are essential for building a more circular economy, where waste is reduced, resources are conserved and are fed back into the supply chain for new products.
If the UN and the nations are serious about saving the world from climate change, they have to change their tracks. They have to focus on
- Countries willing to accept “technical recessions” due to reduction in consumptions. UN can and may want to look at indicators other than GDP such as Gini’s Index that provide us better indicator of have nots (where money is actually an issue since low incomes can lead to poor health, life and education outcomes).
- Countries adopt policies that push the companies to increase product lives and ensuring that they respect “Right to Repair”. The companies have to be pushed to ensure availability of spares at reasonable prices for the life of the product.
- Spend in creation of public infrastructure and launch educational campaigns to promote use of public infrastructure.
- Push consumers to dispose waste responsibly. The responsibility for safe disposal can not be limited or restricted to manufacturers and sellers, the consumers have to pick up their fair share of burden as well. This has to be achieved through development of policies that penalize unsafe disposal, education and awareness.