Today on International Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions Day, we amplify the call to reduce global CO2 emissions to keep global warming below 1.5C and prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis, especially on vulnerable populations in the Asia-Pacific.
CO2 emissions, among all greenhouse gases, are the main driver of climate change1. CO2 is released into the atmosphere primarily through the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, transportation, and industrial production2. Despite international treaties and conferences enjoining countries to cut their carbon emissions such as the Kyoto Protocol in 1995 and the Paris Agreement in 2015, emissions are still rising by the year, albeit more slowly3. The world is currently at 1.1C of warming and is on course to experience 2.7C of warming by 2100, well above limits set to prevent catastrophic chains of reactions that would upend ecosystems and life as we know it4.
While reducing CO2 is a globally urgent matter, we do not all bear the same responsibility in cleaning up our act. Currently, while the Asia-Pacific region produces the most CO2 emissions, more than the combined total of all other regions, it holds the biggest population. If emissions are counted per capita, Asia falls below the global average, while North America, Oceania, and Europe lead 5.
Historically, the most responsible for the climate crisis are developed countries like the US, UK, and countries in the EU, having industrialized earlier. Joining them are China and India, whose rapid carbon-heavy development in recent decades now places them among the top annual carbon emitters6. These countries must take up their commitments towards curbing CO2 emissions and achieving net zero. Importantly, they are also responsible for contributing to the loss and damage funds for climate-vulnerable developing countries, which would allow these countries to adapt to, cope with, or mitigate the impacts of climate change they already experience.
Yet despite the urgency of the climate crisis, state bodies and multinational corporations still plan and build destructive “development” projects like new coal power plants, large-scale mining, and industrial plantations. Local environmental defenders like farmers and indigenous communities who stand against these projects’ implementation have even faced various human rights abuses from project proponents. One case in point is the West Bengal government’s Deucha Pachami coal mine in India, projected to be the world’s second largest coal mine, where indigenous women fighting against pollution and displacement were beaten by police in protest marches7.
Projects like the Deucha Pachami coal mine would further developing countries’ dependence on dirty energy sources such as coal and oil and accelerate the deforestation in highly biodiverse regions. Thus, supporting the work of environmental defenders is direct action towards reducing CO2 emissions and responding to the climate emergency.
Reducing CO2 emissions should not just be an individual effort, but a collective goal that must prioritize climate justice for those most affected by climate change. Let us support and protect our environmental defenders across the Asia-Pacific! #DefendTheDefenders