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Less than fifteen years remain before the adverse effects of climate change reach an irreversible threshold.
Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, the 73rd president of the United Nations (UN) general assembly, phrased it best when she said, “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet.” She further stated, “Climate justice is intergenerational justice.”
The rapidly industrialized and urbanized world of today introduced new challenges that we, as the current generation, must overcome. The Industrial Revolutions that transformed our socio-economic and political thinking also caused us to inherit an unprecedented scale of unsustainable phenomena into the world: global warming, rising sea levels, increased frequency of droughts, alterations to weather patterns, and intensification of storms and floods. These are just some examples of the adverse effects of climate change.
But most of these effects, apart from global warming, were not widely known when climate change first surfaced as an issue. Climate Change was first identified through an experiment that was conducted by scientist Roger Revelle (1909 – 1991) in 1957. His discoveries demonstrated that the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere will not be completely absorbed by the ocean. Rather, some portion of the carbon dioxide will remain, inducing a net increase in the Earth’s global, atmospheric temperature.
Three years later in 1960, the quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide was shown to be steadily on the rise by scientist Charles Keeling (1928 – 2005). Keeling’s paper convinced the scientific community as it concluded that the average global temperature increased each year.
Thus, rigorous action was necessary.
Although proposed in 1968, the first UN Conference on the Human Environment took place in Stockholm, Sweden during June 1972. At this First Earth Summit, climate change emanated as a global issue. International governments were alarmed about the climate emergency — the striking reality of the effects of climate change. The declaration signed at this Conference outlined guidelines to step away from this bleak future and instead enjoy a preserved environment. As a result, the Conference gave rise to continuing developments that would challenge the creation of the climatic emergency: The Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Environment Fund that subsidizes UNEP, and the Environment Coordination Board that operates UNEP.
UNEP, after the initial 1972 UN Scientific Conference, continually expanded as the issue of the global climate and environment gradually transformed into a relevant problem that required additional attention and action. UNEP proposed the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution which instructed the monitoring of air pollutants due to F-11 and F-12 chlorofluorocarbons’ effect on the ozone layer-the protective layer that mitigates the radiation of the Sun’s rays. However, other events, mainly the most fear-inducing phenomenon of acid rain in Europe and North America, perpetually grew despite UNEP’s efforts to prompt officials to hold a firmer stance against the matter of climate change.
Therefore, during 1987, the UN General Assembly established the Environmental Perspective to the Year 2000 and Beyond in which the Assembly urged the international community to work together and strive against the accentuation of climate change. This dedication only further escalated in the following years.
In 1988, UNEP responded to the increasing depletion of the ozone layer as well as the planet rising in temperature each year with The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Climate Change was officially recognized and accordingly declared as an imminent threat to all of mankind. A year later in 1989, global efforts to attenuate the impact of climate change were enhanced and actively taken — the Malé Declaration on Global Warming and Sea Level Rise, the Helsinki Declaration on the Protection of the Ozone Layer, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
The Second World Climate Conference of 1990 emphasized the need for international cooperation to counteract climate change, which was classified as a unique problem that greatly pressurized the whole of the world. The follow-up to this Conference was the 1992 Rio de Janeiro UN Conference on Environment and Development in which world leaders convened and agreed upon the dangers of climate change. This Conference was highly successful in the sense that it propounded the creation of the Earth Summit, which outlines the international efforts necessary to secure and protect the global environment through agreed-upon international policies.
A result of the Conference in Brazil was the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Convention coined the label “greenhouse gas” in reference to gaseous compounds that trap heat within the troposphere, which is the lowest atmosphere of the Earth and the one that we all live in. These greenhouse gasses, the most staple of which is carbon dioxide, absorb radiation that is emitted by the sun, resulting in a warmer surface of the Earth. This is the phenomenon of the “greenhouse effect,” which the UNFCCC strived to counteract through an advanced plan that sought to limit emissions of greenhouse gasses until levels eventually reach zero.
In order to expedite the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Convention adopted the Berlin Mandate of 1995 with the objective of aiding developing countries in their transition to emitting fewer greenhouse gasses. However, arguably the most imperative development to combatting the adverse effects of climate change was the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. This proposal was targeted at the reduction of larger, more-industrialized nations’ emissions of carbon dioxide. Even though the Protocol was open for ratification since early 1998, it was not approved by the 160 nations that would sign it until 2005. Even then, the United States, along with other countries that followed suit like Afghanistan and Sudan, declared its non-involvement due to the reasons of inequality in the efforts of some developing countries. Therefore, the United States, in conjunction with the other nations that followed, believed they had to overcompensate, which would be detrimental for their economy, for the developing countries’ lack of involvement and rigorous contribution.
President George W. Bush and his administration believed that developing countries should dedicate to the effort in a similar magnitude, relative to larger, more powerful countries and that countries like the United States should not do all the work. Furthermore, President Bush asserted that a limit on greenhouse gas emissions would reduce industrial activity, which would then, in turn, damage the stability of the U.S. economy.
The United States’ lack of involvement in this program demotivated support regarding the assistance required by developing countries to combat climate change, which is absurd given that climate change is a unique issue that should transcend those barriers. Our war against climate change is a collective effort.
Therefore, in 2015, the UNFCCC started the Paris Agreement to call for the reversing of climate change with a specialized dedication to aiding developing countries in the process. It is a legally binding international treaty in which countries cannot withdraw prior to three years of their start date in the Agreement. For reasons similar to President Bush, former President Trump aimed to pull back from the Paris Agreement in 2020 (after they had joined in 2016-2017) because the Agreement would place the United States “at a permanent disadvantage.” However, once current President Biden took office in January of 2021, he rejoined the Agreement and vowed to be a sincere member.
In addition, the UNFCCC developed the Green Climate Fund (GCF) during 2010. This fund was rooted in the idea that developing countries can better adapt and further mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, which they experience on a heightened level.
With all these ongoing prospects that the international community has introduced, we are working towards restoring the Earth to its former, far healthier state.
However, the downtime in responding to the imminent and constant threat of climate change has already introduced some of the aforementioned effects. Empirical data relate higher numbers of droughts, hotter global temperatures, rise in sea levels, and increased storms and floods of larger magnitude when compared to 50 years prior.
Even though these changes will inevitably incur some degree of challenge to every country, its people, and the planet, they will take a greater toll on the more susceptible nations — the developing world and coastal nations, such as the countries of the Indian Subcontinent.
“The monsoon season makes it very hard for us,” said Mamzud Hamza, who lives on the second floor flat of a building in front of the main road of the Moghbazar region of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and more, experience the effects of climate change on a harsher magnitude than countries like the United States. This is due to factors such as geographical location, population, and seasonal patterns.
“It [Bangladesh’s monsoon season] is basically [a period of] extended rain,” explains Hamza. “Dhaka’s roads are made of weak materials like plastic and hardened dirt in some places[,] so the rain makes big holes in the roads. It can become very dangerous to transport [at] this time. The rickshaws are not stable and cars can get stuck.” The infrastructure of the small country is still in development and the government is working to make it better. Hamza referred to polymer-modified bitumen, which is essentially recycled waste plastic, when speaking of Bangladesh’s roads. This material is not optimal because it usually cracks and fractures due to the country’s atmosphere and year-round humidity.
“Also [During monsoon,] it always rains a lot with heavy droplets. The architecture of the buildings is not strong enough to withstand. In primary school, we learned that the buildings break/chip away [erode] very easily,” said Hamza.
Directly below Hamza’s flat lives Mahadia Tahasin, whose family employed the building darwan. Each edifice of urban areas of the country has a darwan, who regulates various processes (sort of like the super-super of the residency). They usually occupy a small room, which doubles down as their office as well as home, that is on the ground floor of the building. In events of excessive rain and flooding, they lock their rooms and shut off the power box to ensure safety. This lack of power during heavy storms is what many native Bangladeshis, Indians, and Pakistanis refer to as a “current-out.”
“The ground floor becomes unwelcoming when it rains,” remarks Tahasin. “The dirt mixes into mud and enters through the front gates. The front gates cannot even keep the water out! Every gate has a design made with metal bars, and there are many, many open sections where the dirty mud goes through. The darwan’s tiny residence and the lobby become too unclean. We have to scrub and be diligent to clean all of it for each [monsoon] season for months.”
However, these effects become only more severe in regions that are more rural, such as the Barisal District of Bangladesh. This District is renowned as the largest “Grahm,” or agrarian province of the country.
“I have many friends in Barisal. People in the Grahm have it a lot worse. With their predominantly mud houses and timber houses as well as rusted tin [corrugated iron] for roofs, the locals of rural Bangladesh are more vulnerable to a bad monsoon. Even though the rainfall increases the cultivation of many crops, the effects take place in the homes of the farmers. Floods can sometimes ruin the harvest season and also cause muddy runoff to enter several homes since there are minimal solidified roads. Adiba’s, my friend’s, home was destroyed by a violent storm. They had to go to nearby houses for shelter,” said Tahasin.
Hamza, Tahasin, and Adiba are just a few examples of the difficulties that millions of people, not only in Bangladesh but also in the Indian-Subcontinent and developing countries as a whole, have to face. These countries are not the greatest contributors to the growth of climate change, but they are indeed the greatest receivers of its adverse effects. This disproportionality can be reduced by the cooperation of the aforementioned larger, more-industrialized nations. Either through direct cutting of their own carbon emissions or the subsidization to these smaller, more vulnerable nations, countries like America, Russia, China, and more are integral to preventing the development of climate change.
However, that is not to say that developing countries and countries of the Indian Subcontinent do not play a part in the advance of climate change as an issue at all. On top of managing the detrimental consequences of climate change, citizens of some of these countries have to additionally survive through the primary benefactor of it: greenhouse gas emissions.
“People in India are often subjected to masks even without the COVID-19 pandemic due to the smoke and dust particles. Industrial fuel is immense. So, the government is trying to establish methods on climate control through policies including limiting gas-related vehicles and incentivizing citizens to ride bikes or walk more often,” said Shivas Khera ’22. The carbon footprint of certain few Indian megacities, such as Mumbai, constitutes a large portion of the entire country’s footprint. The same trend occurs in some Bangladeshi cities, Pakistani cities, Singaporean cities, and more.
Therefore, our fight against climate change is a communal effort. We, as the people of the world, must recognize the urgent threat upon us. Time is of the essence and we must unite in order to address climate change as an international issue.
Our war against climate change is a collective effort.