Climate change has emerged as one of the most defining issues of twenty-first century. Admittedly, it is an extremely broad concept which encompasses a wide spectrum of negative human-induced effects on the world’s environment. The current understanding of climate change tends to be limited to a few catch phrases such as global warming and carbon emission. Increased warming of the earth’s atmosphere due to industrial carbon emission is, however, just one aspect of the much larger process of climate change. Currently, the main focus regarding climate change is limited almost exclusively to the cause and effect of global warming. In order to move away from these labels, non-government organisations (NGOs) should take on the initiative of revealing the truth about the ongoing climate change debate.
Our climate is changing - this idea began gaining prominence in the late 1970s following the Stockholm Environment Convention. This period witnessed many alarming findings such as the melting of Arctic and Himalayan glaciers, discovery of the ozone hole, the rise in sea level, abrupt weather patterns and atypical heat conditions. This lead to the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – an international treaty designed to address the issue on a global scale. Simultaneously, concern with climate change brought about the formation of a colossal number of environmental NGOs across the globe.
The UNFCCC has stressed the impact of direct and indirect human enterprises on the climate system. It has highlighted that heedless anthropogenic activities "alter the composition of the global atmosphere" (UNFCCC Charter 1992). Examples of this can be seen across the world and include exploitation of water resources, fossil fuels, uneven land use patterns, uncontrolled irrigation activities, deforestation, over mining, pollution and industrial carbon emissions. Such short-sighted and unsustainable activity affects the ecosystem and causes the earth's climate system to change abruptly. Uneven precipitation, changes in weather cycles and monsoon pattern, incremental increase in earth's temperature, ozone depletion, rise of sea level and destruction of many varieties of flora and fauna – all of these pieces of evidence illustrate the general global transition.
Despite the fact that the causes and effect of climate change vary, the UNFCCC focuses its policy-making primarily on carbon emissions resulting from global warming. Moreover, in the present discourse, the terms climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably. Both state and non-state actors have, however, hardly addressed the ambiguity of climate change as a concept. Even the European Union – an active leader in global climate policy – has failed to notice and address this issue.
By reducing global warming to the issue of unchecked industrial carbon emissions, the West intends to curb the growth rate of rapidly developing nations such as India and China. Equating the issue of climate change with global warming is a ploy used by the West to serve its own selfish economic interests.
Localised approaches are needed in order to find a serious solution to this global challenge. With their broad base of public support for working on behalf of environmental causes, NGOs can be tremendously helpful in the process. Owing to their close interactions with people, they can inform policy-makers at both national and international levels about the core realities of climate change at different strata.
The cooperation between NGOs and the media is essential in bringing data supporting a broader spectrum of causes and effects of climate change before public.
Both top-down approaches with emphasis on government actors as well as bottom-up strategies involving grassroots decision-making should be considered by NGOs in generating awareness the diverse aspects of climate change as a global problem. History shows that NGOs have acted as powerful pressure groups and made a difference in societies in the past. Therefore they can make a valuable contribution in tackling the threat of climate change.
Climate is changing for worse. This is a real problem that needs concrete solutions. The devastating effects of climate change are ostensible in day-to-day life and they have the potential to alter the destiny of mankind. Helping tackle the problem is a responsibility we all share globally. And that’s why the role of non-state actors like NGOs in bridging the gap between policy-makers and public is so crucial in combating climate change.
Vijeta Rattani is a Ph.D. scholar in Centre for European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.