The glacier collapse in India and the Paris Agreement

Looking back at this year: weeks 6 and 7 of 2021

Yesterday, I shared photos of week 6 of this year, and I shared memories, but I didn't mention what happened in the world in the second week of February. One of the events that caught a lot of attention was the glacier collapse in India. I am sure you will remember the pictures of the water and rocks crashing through Northern Indian valleys, destroying houses, buildings, and many lives. But, in case you missed it, this is a short video from Al Jazeera news showing the devastation.

In the first days, there was a lot of speculation about the role of climate change in causing this event. In the weeks that followed, experts developed several theories about the possible cause. It seems now likely that climate change didn't directly cause the outburst; a landslide or a similar geological change event seems a more probable direct cause. However, environmental changes caused by climate change likely contributed to the geographic conditions that allowed for the disaster to happen. 

The story of the environmental concerns in the area reads as one that we have read before in articles about other countries. The leading roles in these plots, from the Amazon to Flint, Michigan, are concerned scientists and local inhabitants on the one side and corporations and government on the other side that ignore their warnings until disaster strikes. Let me rephrase that last part: often until long after the disaster has struck. 

A worldwide pattern, where the voices of scientists and the people are ignored

In this case in India, scientists warned for many years about the dangerously high rate of warming in the Himalayas. And the region's ecosystem had become too physically exposed to the dangers of development projects. Some scientists had advised against building dams in the higher river valleys. But the warnings were ignored, and more dams and highways were built. 

It's a story that I see repeated all over the world by all kinds of governments. And, unfortunately, we also see it on a global scale; the story of climate change follows the same pattern. For decades, the voices of scientists and environmentalists were ignored while companies and governments pursued short-term successes that guaranteed more profits and reelections. They reaped the benefits of ignoring science at incredibly high long-term costs for others. 

The U.S. is back on board

There was also positive news about the environment. In week 7, on 19 February this year, the historically biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, the United States, officially rejoined the Paris Agreement. I believe we should all welcome that move but let's not forget that none of the nearly 200 other countries that joined this agreement had made the shameful step to leave the treaty. 

So in the proper order of welcoming countries' policies, I would like to start by thanking all other countries for having emitted fewer greenhouse gasses in total than the United States. Second, I would like to thank nearly all other countries for still producing fewer emissions per capita than the United States, number 9 in the top 100 of CO2 emissions per capita (Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE occupy the top-3 positions). And third, I welcome the U.S. back in the league of countries willing to mitigate and adapt in line with the Paris Agreement. 

After putting America's step into perspective, I would like to mention how much I welcome President Biden's priority to return to the treaty; he ordered this move on his first day in office. I am sure I wrote about it somewhere but couldn't find it. However, while looking for it, I found this article about Biden's climate policy challenges that I wrote this spring.

If you are not happy with the result of COP26 (like me), imagine how much less would have been achieved if his predecessor had won the elections. (In case this newsletter is more widely read in the U.S. than I expect: no, Biden didn't steal the election, if you believe so, stay tuned to The Planet, where we check our facts).


Meanwhile in Ottawa

So that was catching up with the weeks six and seven, and we are one day closer to the end of the year. I still see a few forgotten Halloween decorations, but increasingly, I see the Christmas decorations in the neighborhood. I also saw the first snow this week, and looking at the pictures of week seven of this year in mid-February, I realize that we will soon get much more than this first thin white layer in the mornings. So let's look at some of my pictures of week seven. 

I enjoy walking in these snowy landscapes; somehow, the sounds of a forest are so different when there is a thick layer of snow. And, of course, the light is fantastic; the low sunlight is reflected on the white snow and filtered through the bare trees. I love all seasons; the Canadian winter is long but very special.

The pandemic kept Canadians inside. But a virus can't beat all traditions: like skating in Ottawa, with Parliament Hill in the background.

And Luna needed some rest after a busy day.


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Notes:

https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/12/asia/india-glacier-raini-village-chipko-intl-hnk/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Uttarakhand_flood

https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/10296/economics/top-co2-polluters-highest-per-capita/