Editorial 1 : Honest reckoning

Context: Major world economies seem unwilling to move away from fossil fuel.


  • The boundary wall enclosing discussions around global climate is 1.5°C, or the average increase in global temperatures since pre-industrial times. Now that 1°C is crossed, all the wrangling under way at the climate summit in Dubai is to cap the half-degree rise.
Fossil FuelsFossil energy sources, including oil, coal and natural gas, are non-renewable resources that formed when prehistoric plants and animals died and were gradually buried by layers of rock. Over millions of years, different types of fossil fuels formed — depending on what combination of organic matter was present, how long it was buried and what temperature and pressure conditions existed as time passed.Today, fossil fuel industries drill or mine for these energy sources, burn them to produce electricity, or refine them for use as fuel for heating or transportation. Over the past 20 years, nearly three-fourths of human-caused emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels.

Insufficiency of Global pledges

  • Global pledges to cut emissions are insufficient to achieve this. Current estimates are that to limit warming to 1.5°C, the world requires three times more renewable energy capacity by 2030, or at least 11,000 GW.
  • That there is wide global consensus on the need for this tripling was first formally articulated in the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration at the G-20 summit in Delhi in September.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCCThe UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets out the basic legal framework and principles for international climate change cooperation with the aim of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”To boost the effectiveness of the 1992 UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in December 1997. It committed industrialized countries and countries in transition to a market economy to achieve quantified emissions reduction targets for a basket of six GHGs.The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period took place from 2008 to 2012. The 2012 Doha Amendment established the second commitment period from 2013 to 2020. In December 2015, parties adopted the Paris Agreement, which requires all parties to determine, plan, and regularly report on the nationally determined contribution (NDC) that it undertakes to mitigate climate change.Parties also submit aggregate progress on mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation, which are reviewed every five years through a Global Stocktake.

Run up to the Dubai summit.

  • In the run-up to the Dubai summit, it was perceived that this would be widely endorsed by the larger group of about 190 countries signatory to the UN convention on climate. It turns out that, so far, 118 countries have endorsed the pledge and two major countries, i.e., India and China, have so far abstained from signing.
  • The Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, while still a draft text, says that in their pursuit of tripling renewable energy capacity, signatories should also commit to “…phase down of unabated coal power, in particular ending the continued investment in unabated new coal-fired power plants”. This is a major red line for India.

India’s stand

  • While India has positioned itself as a champion for renewable energy — its 2030 targets as articulated in its formal, nationally determined contributions (NDC) speak of tripling renewable energy capacity to 500 GW from the current 170 GW — it has reiterated several times that it could not be forced to give up certain fuelsCoal-fired plants are responsible for nearly 70% of India’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Other Developed countries stand.

  • Developed countries that have made commitments to give up coal often have other large, fossil-fuel resources as back-up. The United States joined 56 other countries at Dubai in a commitment to completely eschew coal for its energy use, by 2035. However, the U.S. only draws about 20% of its energy from coal and at least 55% from oil and gas, with plans to produce more of it in 2030 than at present.


  • The paradox of the world’s major economies’ commitment to renewable energy is that it is not, as of now, actively geared to replace fossil fuel. Till there is an honest commitment to actually replace existing and future fossil capacity with clean energy, pledges and declarations are worth little more than the paper they are drafted on.

Editorial 2 : Shared blame

Context: Cyclone Michaung alone was not responsible for Chennai’s troubles.


  • Apportioning blame for calamity after a natural disaster is almost impossible, but Indian cities have often tried to ease this decision, and Chennai on December 4 was no exception.
  • Late on December 3, rains began to pummel Chennai as Cyclone Michaung, soon to intensify into a super-cyclonic storm, parked itself roughly 100 km east of the city.
  • By the next morning, most areas had recorded more than 120 mm of rain, with a few recordings more than 250 mm.
Cyclones and AnticyclonesCyclone, any large system of winds that circulates about a centre of low atmospheric pressure in a counterclockwise direction north of the Equator and in a clockwise direction to the south. Cyclonic winds move across nearly all regions of the Earth except the equatorial belt and are generally associated with rain or snow.Also occurring in much the same areas are anticyclones, wind systems that rotate about a high-pressure centre. Anticyclones are so called because they have a flow opposite to that of cyclones—i.e., an outward-spiralling motion, with the winds rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern. These winds are usually not as strong as the cyclonic variety and commonly produce no precipitation.

Blaming the Nature, and infrastructural shortcomings.

  • The figures represent a breathtaking volume of water to be delivered in a single day — and which Tamil Nadu Minister for Municipal Administration K.N. Nehru echoed when he said the city had not received as much rain in seven decades. But that is not the full story.
  • The narratives built around disasters influence the responses to them, and proclamations that attribute a singularity to a natural calamity often feed an unfair line of reasoning in which nature shoulders all the blame.
  • Just as the rain intensified over Chennai on December 4 morning, the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited shut off power in the city as a precaution, presumably to prevent loose cables from electrocuting pedestrians in dirty water.
  • That such a precaution was required at all speaks volumes about the state of the power infrastructure. There are no quick fixes or short cuts in addressing years of inadequate investment in maintenance and repair.

Damages and Losses

  • Several trees were toppled, water stagnated on almost all roads, overhead cables flew loose, and storm water drains were choked with plastic trash.
  • Many trains were cancelled, the airport had to be closed, and there were reports of people being stranded at many locations.
  • Yet, that 2023 was not 2015 redux is to the city’s as well as to the storm’s credit: the former because of the warnings and preparation, more resilient civilian infrastructure, and people’s memories of 2015; the latter because it dumped less water than the 2015 torrent did in a single day.

Climate change angle, and the city’s ability to respond.

  • The extent to which climate change ‘boosted’ Cyclone Michaung is for attribution science to say, although it would be naive to wait for any verdict other than that warmer seas are feeding stronger cyclones.
  • But the city’s ability to respond to such storms has been compromised by decades of unplanned construction, defiance of zoning, and some forms of public indiscipline, especially littering.


  • Expecting the resulting problems to be resolved overnight, or even by a single government, is unreasonable, yet the progress needs to be much faster than it is at present, if only to preclude the need for drastic, even oxymoronic, measures such as cutting power supply to guarantee safety. Finally, in Michaung’s wake, Chennai can start by doing something it failed to in 2015: treating its sanitation workers — mostly Dalits and Adivasis — better.