The Stockholm conference on the human environment marked the initiation of global consciousness on sustainability. It brought the world together to discuss the big issues of growth and environmental management.
This was the time when Rachel Carson, through her seminal book Silent Spring, had told the story of poisoning of nature. It was also the time when the industrialised West was battling against pollution and toxification.
Our colleague Anil Agarwal, who was at the conference in 1972, often recalled how Stockholm’s lakes were so contaminated with chemicals that you could develop a film negative in the water.
This conference was about the fallout of industrialisation and how to cope and mitigate its harmful impacts.
War destructs and demolishes life, all forms of environment. It’s war’s powerful approach to contradictions within and with environment surrounding life. Wars including the current Ukraine War bear this signature of destruction of and on environment and ecology. The first victim is life; and, then comes surroundings of life that help sustain life. Activities to secure, nourish and sustain environment are hampered/suspended during war, and in war zones also.
Military activities, preparatory to war including training/drills/exercises, itself is threat to environment and ecology. Military/war expenditure is in direct and hostile contradiction with environment and ecology. The expenditure takes away a lot of resources, which can be allocated for life, steps to nourish and secure environment and ecology. The sphere of destruction of environment and ecology widens as the sphere of war widens. Today’s Ukraine is the witness. Iraq and Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Vietnam are witnesses. Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand as witnesses.
When presenting my research on global institutions established to guide policymaking on environmental challenges, my (mostly North American and European) audiences will often wonder at the need to scrutinise these science-policy interfaces. Isn’t the only thing that matters, someone will inevitably ask, is that we have asked the best scientists on the planet to guide us?
This is typically when I draw from Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain’s seminal 1991 piece, ‘Global warming in an unequal world’. Agarwal and Narain called out the environmental colonialism evident in a 1990 report by the US-based World Resources Institute purporting to measure a country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
I invite my interlocutors to consider the distinction Agarwal and Narain draw between “luxury” and “survival” emissions. We then consider what gets erased when we take up the now commonplace unit: the metric tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) or of CO2 equivalent.
From June 5 to June 16, 1972, countries across the world shed a bit of their sovereignty. The aim was to create a common governance structure for the planet’s environment and natural resources.
The occasion was the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the first such worldwide convergence on planetary environment, with the theme ‘Only One Earth’.
When the participating 122 countries — 70 of them developing and poor countries — adopted the Stockholm Declaration on June 16, they essentially committed to 26 principles and an action plan that set in a multilateral environmental regime.
One of the overarching principles was that sovereignty should be subject to not causing harm to the environment of other countries as well.
February 28, 2022. Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”
The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.
The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was approved on Sunday, February 27 2022, by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on February 14.
The second draft of Group III of the IPCC, the one in charge of mitigation proposals, affirms that it is necessary to move away from current capitalism in order not to cross planetary limits. It also confirms what was already advanced in the article published in CTXT on August 7: “Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must reach a ceiling in at most four years.” The document also recognizes that there is very little chance for further growth.
The signatory scientists and journalists have analyzed a new part of the Sixth Report, filtered by the same source: the scientific collective Scientist Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion Spain. In this section you can clearly see the differences existing in the scientific community with respect to the necessary measures to carry out an effective and just transition. Fortunately, among the usual more timid positions, demands are beginning to appear that not long ago would have been unthinkable for them to appear.
Beyond the headlines: what climate science now shows about Earth’s future. Can we act in time?
The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its latest comprehensive report on the state of the earth’s climate. The much-anticipated report dominated the headlines for a few days in early August, then quickly disappeared amidst the latest news from Afghanistan, the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in the US, and all the latest political rumblings. The report is vast and comprehensive in its scope, and is worthy of more focused attention outside of specialist scientific circles than it has received thus far.
The sixth report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) runs to nearly 4,000 pages. The IPCC has tried to summarise its report as the ‘final opportunity’ to avoid climate catastrophe. Its conclusions are not much changed since the previous publication in 2013, only more decisive this time. The evidence is clear: we know the cause of global warming (mankind); we know how far the planet has warmed (~1C so far), we know how atmospheric CO2 concentrations have changed since pre-industrial times (+30%) and we know that warming that has shown up so far has been generated by historical pollution. You have to go back several million years to even replicate what we have today. During the Pilocene era (5.3-2.6 million years ago) the world had CO2 levels of 360-420ppm (vs. 415ppm now).
In its summary for Policy makers, the IPCC states clearly that climate change and global warming is “unequivocally caused by human activities.” But can climate change be laid at the door of the whole of humanity or instead on that part of humanity that owns, controls and decides what happens to our future? Sure, any society without the scientific knowledge would have exploited fossil fuels in order to generate energy for production, warmth and transport. But would any society have gone on expanding fossil fuel exploration and production without controls to protect the environment and failed to look for alternative sources of energy that did not damage the planet, once it became clear that carbon emissions were doing just that?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a very large, detailed and important document “Climate Change 2021. The physical science basis” that is prefaced by a detailed Summary for Policymakers (SPM) . Set out below for the benefit of busy readers is a summary and critique of this summary. In short, the SPM superbly sets out the science of the shocking and worsening climate crisis but significantly fails when it comes to setting out urgently required policy prescriptions
“Climate Change 2021. The physical science basis. Summary for Policymakers” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  is the summary of the Working Group 1 contribution to the Sixth Assessment report of the IPCC (AR6).