In the midst of arguably the most monumental crisis facing India since Independence, I hesitated to write this month’s article. It did not feel right—in fact, it seemed inconsequential—to write on a subject other than this human tragedy.
I decided in the end to meet my commitment by writing about the other subject which, if not today but in years to come, may well be comparably consequential. Climate change. The peg on which I hang this article is a fundamental learning from the pandemic. Broad brush assurances and claims are no substitute for a carefully structured road map.
Policy wonks, climate negotiators, academicians, corporates and NGOs are currently fixated on the concept of “net zero carbon emissions” and the appropriate target year for achieving it. Supported by economic analysis and moral logic, and drawing on the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility”, their arguments swirl around its meaning and whether the date should be 2050, 2060, sooner, or not at all.
I am personally supportive of the nature and direction of this debate. The world does need a well-defined, time-bound objective. “Net Zero” offers everyone a tangible metric against which to measure progress. My concern is that in the effort to secure a global consensus around this target, the discussants are loosing sight of the immediate. They are not spending enough time and effort to lay out the stepping stones. They are forgetting the advice given by parents to children impatient to make the Great Leap Forward.
One step at a time, but best take a short first step in the right direction than strive for a longer but unsteady stride.