Long before the wider public and policy-makers were paying any attention to the issue of climate change, scientists were already suggesting that burning coal and other human activities were adding to the natural greenhouse gas effect. That was in the 19th century. Two centuries later, and we haven’t made much progress.
Climate change is now understood and accepted by most, but acted upon only by some. Extreme weather conditions over the past decade have resulted in economic losses of nearly $200 billion a year. Over time, this is expected to intensify. Just this year, here in India we experienced a horrendous monsoon. Who will help reduce the impact of climate change?
Let me share a personal example. I knew a colleague who was purchasing a home in the US. He was told that he should budget $500 for monthly electricity expenses, since that was what most of his colleagues living in similar placed paid each month. It turned out his bills never crossed the $200 mark in a month. It is an exciting prospect to imagine the possibility of reducing electricity consumption in homes in the United States by 60% and the impact that could have.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are the millions of people around the world who do not have access to electricity. Energy consumption in these nations will only increase as development reaches the doorsteps of many.
It is clear that consumers of developed nations will need to find a way to lower their carbon footprint to ensure that the increasing footprint in emerging nations can be accommodated for the sake of a sustainable world economy. But developing nations still have a responsibility. The development path in these nations must be very different from that followed by developed nations. GDP growth per unit of energy consumed needs to be disproportionately higher than before, especially as populations grow.
The intended nationally determined contributions indicate that even in 2030, the carbon footprint of residents of developing nations will be far lower than developed nations, despite the actions being taken by both. Rather than use this as a platform for negotiation, it may be fitting to see it as an opportunity to do more and give future generations a better chance of survival.
We have many challenges ahead of us. How do we reduce the carbon footprint of developed nations? And how do we ensure that the newly developing nations are able to grow in a carbon-efficient manner? Some say the technologies that can make this happen are not yet widely available. For the sake of our children, let us hope that this happens sooner rather than later, and that it occurs in an egalitarian way to facilitate the survival of life on earth as we know it.
The author is one of 79 signatories to an open letter from CEOs to world leaders urging climate action.
Author: Anand G. Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director, Mahindra & Mahindra Group
Image: A child embraces a globe shaped balloon during a rally held ahead of the start of the 2015 Paris World Climate Change Conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Rome, Italy , November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi