Daily Current Affairs 17.08.2021 (The message from the IPCC report, Fall of Kabul)

Daily Current Affairs 17.08.2021 (The message from the IPCC report, Fall of Kabul)


1.The message from the IPCC report

Equitable cumulative emission targets and not net zero is the key to achieving the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), titled ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’, is the first of four that the Panel will issue over the next one and a half years. The reports are eagerly awaited as they provide a summary assessment of all aspects of the challenge of global warming and past reports have heralded significant shifts in climate policy. This particular report has added significance as it is the only one of the four of AR6 to be ready before the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Glasgow in November.

Findings of the report

A significant section of the report reinforces what is already well known, though, importantly, with updated numbers, higher accuracy and specific regional assessments, including South Asia. Global surface temperature is now higher by 1.07oC since the pre-industrial era. The impact of climate change on the atmosphere, oceans and land is unmistakably of human origin and this impact is picking up pace. It is a striking fact that there is no part of the inhabited world that is now untouched by the impact of global warming. Carbon dioxide is the dominant source of warming. Aerosols contribute to reducing the impact of warming by other greenhouse gases, by almost a third. Methane reduction, while needed overall, is particularly significant only as part of the endgame as the drastic reduction of aerosols actually leads to an increase in warming.

A major scientific advance in this report is the use of multiple lines of evidence (through precise technical methods) to pin down the values and trends of key climatic variables more accurately, and narrow their range of uncertainties. Climate predictions from models appear to be working better in many specific ways due to improved representation of basic processes and higher resolution, while the use of other evidence enables scientists to ensure that the modelling output is suitably filtered to match more closely the real world. Thus, the value of equilibrium climate sensitivity — the measure of how a specified increase in carbon dioxide concentration translates into long-term surface temperature rise — is now pinned down to the range of 2.5oC to 4.0oC, with a best estimate of 3oC, compared to the Fifth Assessment Report range of 1.5oC to 4.5oC. With the inclusion of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology’s Earth System Model among the climate models used in AR6, India too has joined the climate modelling fraternity.

The report expectedly projects an increase in climate extremes due to global warming, with heat waves, extreme rainfall events and occurrence of extreme sea levels all expected to intensify and be more frequent. Coincidentally, the IPCC session for the approval and release of the report was held in the background of news of unprecedented disasters from the global North, including massive forest fires, unprecedented rain and flooding, and record heat.

Restrict cumulative emissions

A major finding of the report is that air pollution reduction and steep climate change mitigation are not complementary goals but require independent efforts over the short and medium term. This is particularly important as the claims of such a linkage have been used to argue that India, for instance, must cease the use of coal immediately, despite its continuing importance as the key element of the country’s energy security.

The truly disconcerting news though, for the global North, is the report’s clear message that reaching net zero was not the determining factor for the world to limit itself to a 1.5oC , or 2oC, or indeed any specific temperature increase. The report is clear that it is the cumulative emissions in reaching net zero that determine the temperature rise. This obvious conclusion from past reports and scientific literature had become something of a casualty in the massive campaign mounted on net zero by the developed countries with the partisan support of the United Nations Secretary General and UN agencies.

India’s Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change was quick to note this point about net zero in a statement, adding that “historical cumulative emissions are the cause of the climate crisis that the world faces today.” It also noted that the “developed countries had usurped far more than their fair share of the global carbon budget.” The limitations of the remaining carbon budget for 1.5oC are so stringent — a mere 500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide for an even chance of keeping to the limit — that they cannot be met by promises of net zero 30 years from now. The report is indeed a “clarion call for developed countries to undertake immediate, deep emission cuts,” as the Union Environment Minister, Bhupender Yadav, tweeted, especially if they are not to deprive the rest of the world, barring China, of any hope of future development. Developed countries must, in fact, reach net zero well before 2050. That Alok Sarma, the COP26 President, is not unaware of all this is seen from the shift in his discourse, appealing to “keep 1.5oC alive”.

Little cheer for Global South

However, the exposure of the misleading character of the net zero campaign can bring little cheer to the global South, for an equally disconcerting finding is that the world is set to cross the 1.5oC limit within 10-15 years. If deep emissions cuts by the three big emitters — the U.S., the European Union and China — are not forthcoming, even the prospect of a mild overshoot of the limit followed by a later decline is likely to be foregone. After years of procrastination in real action, the constant shifting of goal posts to avoid immediate emissions reduction, and marking time with their obsession with Article 6 negotiations to pass the burden on to developing countries, the developed countries now have nowhere to hide.

Regrettably, India cannot save the world from the consequences of the neglect of those whose responsibility it was to lead in taking credible action. India has contributed less than 5% of global cumulative emissions to date, with per capita annual emissions a third of the global average. India is also the only nation among the G20 with commitments under the Paris Agreement that are even 2oC warming-compatible. India needs its development space urgently to cope with the future, one where global temperature increase may be closer to 2oC. With India’s annual emissions at 3 billion tonnes in carbon dioxide equivalent terms, even the impossible, such as the total cessation of emissions for the next 30 years, with others’ emissions remaining the same, will buy the world less than two years of additional time for meeting the Paris Agreement temperature goals. The prospect of keeping almost a sixth of humanity in quasi-permanent deprivation for the rest of the century as a consequence cannot even be contemplated.

Focusing on definite cumulative emission targets keeping equity and historical responsibility in view, immediate emission reductions by the developed countries with phase-out dates for all fossil fuels, massive investment in new technologies and their deployment, and a serious push to the mobilisation of adequate climate finance is the need of the hour. This is the message that the IPCC report has sent to this year’s climate summit and the world.

Why in News

Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) titled Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.

  • It is prepared by the scientists of Working Group-I. The two remaining parts would be released in 2022.
  • It noted that global net-zero by 2050 was the minimum required to keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius.
  • It sets the stage for the Conference of Parties (CoP) 26 conference in November 2021.

Key Points

  • Average Surface Temperature:
    • The average surface temperature of the Earth will cross 1.5 °C over pre-industrial levels in the next 20 years (By 2040) and 2°C by the middle of the century without sharp reduction of emissions.
      • In 2018, the IPCC’s Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C had estimated that two-fifths of the global population lived in regions with warming above 1.5°C.
    • The last decade was hotter than any period of time in the past 1,25,000 years. Global surface temperature was 1.09°C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900.
    • This is the first time that the IPCC has said that the 1.5°C warming was inevitable even in the best case scenario.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) Concentrations:
    • They are the highest in at least two million years. Humans have emitted 2,400 billion tonnes of CO2 since the late 1800s.
    • Most of this can be attributed to human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.
      • The effect of human activities has warmed the climate at a rate unprecedented in 2,000 years.
    • The world has already depleted 86% of it’s available carbon budget.
  • Impact of Global Warming:
    • Sea- Level Rise:
      • Sea Level rise has tripled compared with 1901-1971. The Arctic Sea ice is the lowest it has been in 1,000 years.
      • Coastal areas will see continued sea-level rise throughout the 21st century, resulting in coastal erosion and more frequent and severe flooding in low-lying areas.
      • About 50% of the sea level rise is due to thermal expansion (when water heats up, it expands, thus warmer oceans simply occupy more space).
    • Precipitation & Drought:
      • Every additional 0.5 °C of warming will increase hot extremes, extreme precipitation and drought. Additional warming will also weaken the Earth’s carbon sinks present in plants, soils, and the ocean.
    • Heat Extremes:
      • Heat extremes have increased while cold extremes have decreased, and these trends will continue over the coming decades over Asia.
    • Receding Snowline & Melting Glaciers:
      • Global Warming will have a serious impact on mountain ranges across the world, including the Himalayas.
      • The freezing level of mountains are likely to change and snowlines will retreat over the coming decades.
      • Retreating snowlines and melting glaciers is a cause for alarm as this can cause a change in the water cycle, the precipitation patterns, increased floods as well as an increased scarcity of water in the future in the states across the Himalayas.
      • The level of temperature rise in the mountains and glacial melt is unprecedented in 2,000 years. The retreat of glaciers is now attributed to anthropogenic factors and human influence.
  • Indian Sub-continent Specific Findings:
    • Heatwaves: Heatwaves and humid heat stress will be more intense and frequent during the 21st century over South Asia.
    • Monsoon: Changes in monsoon precipitation are also expected, with both annual and summer monsoon precipitation projected to increase.
      • The South West Monsoon has declined over the past few decades because of the increase of aerosols, but once this reduces, we will experience heavy monsoon rainfall.
    • Sea Temperature: The Indian Ocean, which includes the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, has warmed faster than the global average.
      • The sea surface temperature over Indian ocean is likely to increase by 1 to 2 °C when there is 1.5°C to 2°C global warming.
      • In the Indian Ocean, the sea temperature is heating at a higher rate than other areas, and therefore may influence other regions.
  • Net- Zero Emissions:
    • About:
      • It means that all man-​made greenhouse gas emissions must be removed from the atmosphere through reduction measures, thus reducing the Earth’s net climate balance, after removal via natural and artificial sink, to zero.
      • This way humankind would be carbon neutral and global temperature would stabilise.
    • Current Situation:
      • Several countries, more than 100, have already announced their intentions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. These include major emitters like the United States, China and the European Union.
      • India, the third largest emitter in the world, has been holding out, arguing that it was already doing much more than it was required to do, performing better, in relative terms, than other countries.
        • Any further burden would jeopardise its continuing efforts to pull its millions out of poverty.
      • IPCC has informed that a global net-zero by 2050 was the minimum required to keep the temperature rise to 1.5°C. Without India, this would not be possible.
        • Even China, the world’s biggest emitter, has a net-zero goal for 2060.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  • It is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change.
  • It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
  • IPCC assessments provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climate related policies, and they underlie negotiations at the UN Climate Conference – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

IPCC Assessment Reports

  • Every few years (about 7 years), the IPCC produces assessment reports that are the most comprehensive scientific evaluations of the state of earth’s climate.
  • So far, five assessment reports have been produced, the first one being released in 1990. The fifth assessment report had come out in 2014 in the run up to the climate change conference in Paris.
  • The Assessment Reports – by three working groups of scientists.
    • Working Group-I – Deals with the scientific basis for climate change.
    • Working Group-II – Looks at the likely impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation issues.
    • Working Group-III – Deals with actions that can be taken to combat climate change.

2.Fall of Kabul

With Afghanistan under the total control of the Taliban, the future looks bleak

History came full circle on August 15 when the Taliban captured Kabul, almost 20 years after the U.S. launched its global war on terror. The city of roughly 5 million people fell to the Islamist insurgents without even a fight while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Americans abandoned their Embassy and rushed to Kabul airport. It was a surreal moment for the U.S., which had pledged to defeat the Taliban in every corner of Afghanistan, and a tragedy for the Afghans, who were left at the mercy of a murderous militia. The soldiers did not fight. Police abandoned their stations. Former Northern Alliance warlords left the country. And the government crumbled like the proverbial house of cards. There is already worrying news coming from the provinces that the Taliban are enforcing a strict religious code on the public and violence against anyone who resists. The last time the Taliban were in power, women were not allowed to work. They had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative outside their homes. Girls were not allowed to go to school. The Taliban had also banned TV, music, painting and photography, handed out brutal forms of punishment to those violating their Islamic code, and persecuted minorities. The chaotic scenes from Kabul airport, where people are desperately trying to cling on to airplanes hoping to leave the country, bear testimony to their fear of the Taliban.

This is a historic development that will have lasting implications for global geopolitics. Unlike 1996, this is not only about the Taliban taking power. This is also about an Islamist group with a medieval mindset and modern weapons defeating the world’s most powerful country. The U.S. can say in its defence that its mission was to fight al-Qaeda and that it met its strategic objectives. But in reality, after spending 20 years in Afghanistan to fight terrorism and rebuild the Afghan state, the U.S. ran away from the battlefield, embarrassing itself and leaving its allies helpless. The images from Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, and the airport will continue to haunt President Joe Biden and the U.S. for a long time. In 1996, when the Taliban took Kabul, the government did not flee the country. Ahmad Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani retreated to the Panjshir valley from where they regrouped the Northern Alliance and continued resistance against the Taliban. This time, there is no Northern Alliance. There is no government. The whole country, except some pockets, is now firmly under the Taliban’s control. The Taliban are also more receptive to regional players such as China and Russia, while Pakistan is openly celebrating their triumph. It remains to be seen what kind of a regime a stronger Taliban will install in Kabul. If the 1990s are anything to go by, darker days are ahead in Afghanistan.

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban is a Sunni fundamentalist organisation that is involved in Afghan politics. It is also a military group that is involved in an insurgency against the currently elected government in Afghanistan. 

  • The Taliban controlled almost three-quarters of the country from 1996 to 2001 and was notorious for their strict implementation of the Sharia or Islamic law there.
  • The period saw widespread abuse of human rights, especially targeted against women.
  • The current head of the Taliban is Hibatullah Akhundzada.
  • Mullah Omar is regarded as the founder of the Taliban. He died in 2013.
  • The Taliban officially refers to itself as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’.
  • The word ‘Taliban’ in Pashto means ‘students’.

Taliban – Origins

Background of the origins of the Taliban – Events that led to the rising in power of the Taliban

The Saur Revolution in Afghanistan (April 27) in 1978 installed a communist party in power there.

  • This government introduced many reforms for modernisation and hence was considered too radical by some.
  • Rural areas and the traditional power structures were unhappy with the new scheme of things and this led to anti-government protests in many places.
  • There were divisions even within the government.
  • The USSR intervened in Afghanistan wanting to place a communist ally in government there.
  • In December 1979, the Soviet Army was deployed in Kabul (February 15). They orchestrated a coup killing the ruling President Hafizullah Amin.
  • The Soviets installed their ally, Babrak Karmal as the President of Afghanistan.
  • The USA and other western countries saw this as Soviet invasion.
  • A bitter war was fought between Soviet troops and the insurgent groups called Mujahideen. While the cities and towns were under Soviet control, the rural parts were under the control of the Mujahideen.
  • The Mujahideen were persistent in their fight against the USSR and were also supported by the USA, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They were given training and weapons.
  • The citizens of Afghanistan suffered the most in this protracted war. Many civilians lost their lives and homes. Afghan refugees poured into countries like Pakistan, Iran and even India.
  • The Soviets withdrew troops in 1989 after nine long years and at the cost of the lives of 20 lakh Afghan civilians.
  • Now, the government of Afghanistan had to fight the Mujahideen alone.
  • The insurgents took control of Kabul in 1992. There was a bloody civil war as the Mujahideen themselves were divided into various factions all vying for power.
  • In 1994, a group of students seized control of the city of Kandahar and started a battle for power to control the entire country. They were called the Taliban. They were Islamic fundamentalists. In fact, many of them were trained in camps in Pakistan where they were refugees.
  • In 1995, the Taliban captured the province of Herat and in 1996, Kabul.
  • By 1998, almost the entire country was under the control of the Taliban.
  • Some of the Mujahideen warlords fled to the north of the country and joined the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban.

Afghanistan under the Taliban regime

Initially, when they came to power, the people of Afghanistan generally welcomed the Taliban. This is because they seemed to offer stability in a country wracked by long and bloody civil wars. 

  • The Taliban’s promise was to restore peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and enforce Sharia in the country.
  • Afghans were tired of the fighting between the Soviets and the Mujahideen and welcomed the Taliban, who were successful initially in weeding out corruption and removing lawlessness.
  • The Taliban introduced their interpretation of Islamic law, which meant that several rights were suspended for people, especially women and children.
  • They endorsed Sharia mixed with the Pashtun tribal code.
  • Women were required to wear burqas covering their whole bodies including faces; men had to grow beards.
  • Women could not go out of the house without a male family member accompanying them. They could not work outside.
  • The Taliban discouraged girls from going to school, and at one point, banned girls above the age of eight to go to school.
  • Public executions were held for those accused of murder and adultery. Amputations were also done for those accused of stealing.
  • They banned television, music, kite-flying, cinema, photography, painting, etc. Women were barred from attending sports events or playing them. 
  • People, especially women faced public floggings for any perceived wrongs.
  • The Taliban is also accused of carrying out massacres against civilians, especially ethnic or religious minority groups. Thousands were killed, women raped and people are still unaccounted for.
  • Needless to say, they did not believe in democracy.
  • The Taliban was much criticised for blowing up the 1500-year old Buddha statues of Bamiyan because they were idols.

Taliban – International Relations

  • Only three countries recognised the Taliban while they were in power namely, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. They are believed to have been receiving funds from both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
  • After the 9/11 attacks on the US, the Taliban drew focus from all over the globe.
  • It was accused of sheltering Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who were blamed for the 9/11 attacks.
  • In fact, the US intervened in Afghanistan in 2001 to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven and a base to operate in the country.
  • Pakistan officially broke off diplomatic ties with the organisation after 9/11. However, many top leaders of the Taliban are said to have escaped to Quetta in Pakistan, from where they were controlling the organisation.
  • The Taliban were removed from power in October 2001 by a coalition of forces led by the USA and several other countries (including NATO nations).
  • In December 2001, a new interim government was placed in Afghanistan headed by Hamid Karzai.
  • The country gradually started reconstruction work after long years of bitter battles and underdevelopment. 
  • However, the Taliban was reorganised by its leader Mullah Omar after its defeat, who launched an insurgency against the Afghan government.
  • It wages war in the form of suicide attacks, ambushes and guerilla raids and turncoat killings against the coalition forces.
  • Slowly through the second half of the 2000s, civilian killings rose in number.

Taliban was engaged in talks with the US, who were eager to leave the country.

In the wake of the proposed pullout by the United States, the newly-formed administration of President Joe Biden made a draft for the Afghanistan peace deal in March 2021. The draft peace agreement proposed by the US to “jump-start” the peace talks in Afghanistan envisages the formation of a transitional government with the Taliban and includes provisions to prevent terror-related activities on Afghan soil.

India’s Relations with the Taliban

India has never recognised the Taliban while they were in power. In 1999, an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked and landed in Kandahar, and it was suspected that the Taliban supported the hijackers. India also supported a key anti-Taliban group, the Northern Alliance. Following the backdrop of the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in 2019, the Taliban has sought positive relations with India. To this effect, the Taliban have reiterated the Kashmir is an internal matter for India and will not seek to interfere in the matters of other nations.

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