By Dr Arun Mitra
Humanity is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”, the UN secretary general has warned, saying ‘the fight for a liveable planet will be won or lost in this decade.’ He told world leaders at the opening of the Cop27 UN climate summit in Egypt, “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing … And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible”. He warned the world faced a stark choice over the next fortnight of talks: either developed and developing countries working together to make a “historic pact” that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and set the world on a low-carbon path – or failure, which would bring climate breakdown and catastrophe.
Governmental representatives and civil society organisations from around the globe are meeting at the Conference of Parties – COP 27 in Egypt. According to the provisional list published by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 33,449 participants have registered for COP27.
The issue has gained importance because the world is witnessing repeated natural calamities as a result of rise in temperature of the earth and melting of glaciers causing rise in the sea level. This summit is in continuation of several such meets held earlier to discuss and impress upon the governments to take steps to mitigate the factors responsible for climate change. Half-hearted measures by the governments, particularly the developed or fast developing economies in taking steps to control climate crisis have added to the crises.
Increase in military activity is one among the major causes for the production of gases responsible for climate crises. Production of arms, their maintenance, their transport and use, all involve energy. Extensive use of munitions in the war between Russia and Ukraine is adding to climate crisis. There is no sign of war coming to an end in the near future. Threat of use of nuclear weapons has not completely ended despite assurance from Russia. Nuclear power plants are in persistent danger.
It is therefore important that the countries should debate on reducing tensions in different parts of the world so that production, sale and use of the armaments is put under check.
A study, “Climate Consequences of Regional Nuclear War” conducted by Ira Helfand former Co-President International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Alan Robock from the Department of Environmental Sciences, Rutgers University, USA has pointed out that the present nuclear weapons numbering about 17000 on earth pose a serious risk to climate and thus risk to all life forms.
According to the study a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using 100 Hiroshima sized nuclear bombs will put over two billion people at risk. Such a war would kill up to 20 million people outright as major cities of the subcontinent would be destroyed and it would blanket much of South Asia with radioactive fallout. But the global consequences are even more alarming. Soot and debris injected into the atmosphere from the explosions and resulting fires would block sunlight from reaching the Earth, producing an average surface cooling of -1.25ºC that would last for several years. Even 10 years out, there would be a persistent average surface cooling of -0.5ºC. This will reduce rainfall globally by 10%.
The study further cautions that in such situations, there will be reduction in crop yields. The food shortage will lead to increases in food prices further affecting the already malnourished poor people across the globe. There are more than one billion people in the world whose daily caloric intake falls below the minimum requirements. Even a modest, sudden decline in agricultural production could trigger massive famine. If famine conditions persisted for a year or more, it seems reasonable to fear that the total global death toll in the Global South could exceed one billion from starvation alone.
There is a very high likelihood that famine on this scale would lead to major epidemics of infectious diseases. Illnesses such as plague, which have not been prevalent in recent years, might again become major health threats.
According to the estimates in the study the food crisis is likely to trigger internal and external conflicts. In such situation the use of nuclear weapons between the two nuclear super powers, the United States and Russia cannot be ruled out. Huge swaths of both countries would be blanketed by radioactive fallout and their industrial, transportation, and communication infrastructures would be destroyed. Most Americans and Russians would die in the succeeding months from radiation sickness, epidemic disease, exposure and starvation.
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) have highlighted this issue and tried to impress upon the participating parties in the Egypt summit to take serious cognizance of nuclear weapons and ask all nuclear weapons possessing countries to join the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and abolish these weapons for good.
Persistent increase in the expenditure on the nuclear arms, despite the UNOs passing Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which has declared the nuclear weapons illegal and has called for their complete abolition is a cause of concern. This is in our hand. Huge expenditure on nuclear weapons is costing several welfare needs of our people. It is unfortunate that the narrative to the effect is not being given due importance including in our country. This should have been one of the main focus of the debate, but is not seen on the top of the list. It is the duty of all peace loving citizens to raise the voice. The participating parties at the COP-27 should debate this issue seriously as a priority. (IPA Service)