Climate change is a cyclic process and happens naturally due to the earth’s orbital parameters and other natural causes such as increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to volcanic eruptions, etc. This cycle takes over thousands of years. However, the present cycle of climate change is accelerated by human activities, particularly by the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbons, etc. Some of them are naturally present in the earth’s atmosphere and some are purely artificial, man-made! Their concentrations are at apex levels for almost two million years and are still surging.
This will lead to climate change having a magnitude similar to previous naturally occurring changes. Unfortunately, humans have shortened the cycle time down to a mere century or two. The earth’s mean surface temperature may increase to unprecedented levels in more than millions of years. The consequences of this rise in temperature, such as severe droughts, wildfires, floods, depletion of sources of drinking water, rising sea levels, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms, declining biodiversity, etc., are evident. The frequency of occurrence and magnitude of these disasters will only increase in the near future unless immediate actions are taken unitedly by all the countries of the world.
This stern message of taking action was reiterated in the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties (COP) -27 that took place from 6-20 November 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The representatives of a hundred states and governments met at COP27 and reaffirmed the commitments to limit the increase in earth’s mean surface temperature below 1.5 0C above the pre-industrial era and confirmed that we still have a small window of opportunity to restore the health of the earth. After days of deliberation and intense discussions reached a breakthrough agreement to “establish and operationalize a loss and damage fund” for vulnerable and developing countries particularly those that are hit hard by climate disasters.
This was a result of the realization that the current funds were insufficient to bridge the gap in regards to providing climate action and support in response to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change. Though a transitional committee will decide on the operationalization of the new funding arrangements for consideration and adoption during the next COP scheduled to be held in Dubai, UAE next year. At least, this COP has assured the availability of the fund for building climate-resilient nations.
India is one of the countries most affected by climate change-related natural disasters, and understandably will be one of the prominent beneficiaries of the fund. This fund would be used towards strengthening its resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters. Not only that, India is expected to get access to the technologies and solutions to mitigate, and adapt to climate change, reduce impact and get early warning systems for any future natural disasters. This fund will be an important catalyst in the process of India becoming net zero by 2070 as committed during COP-27.
This fund is envisaged to be allocated for climate actions and the implementation of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals globally. It will provide a critical push required for the development and adaptation of new technologies related to greenhouse gas capture and low-carbon solutions for existing infrastructures and low-carbon economy. Subsequently, green climate funds set up by both inter-governmental agencies and states or governments towards reaching a net-zero economy combined with this new “loss and damage fund”, a new sector of jobs for specialists in such technologies, solutions, and related policies will emerge.
Hiring these super-specialists, trained in climate actions, essentially the climate “warriors” will be pivotal for companies, the government, and the scientific community. Here, at this point, it is important to mention that around 30 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are required to be reduced annually starting from 2030 in order to maintain the increase in global surface temperature within the desired limit by the end of this century.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified six technology-driven sectors including energy, industries, transport, building and cities, etc. where such a high reduction in emissions can be possible. So, new or existing technologies for greenhouse gas capture and low-carbon technologies will play a pivotal role in these sectors. This will invite such climate warriors both for the implementation and maintenance of such advanced systems. They would be abreast of the domains like energy and technology including the production of green hydrogen and carbon dioxide capture, environmental engineering, climate chemistry, climate simulation, and climate finance.
Additionally, they will be responsible for ideating, implementing climate and economy-friendly solutions, and policy-making worldwide. It will, therefore, be the emergence of a new era of engineering that will see an amalgamation of domains of multi-disciplinary engineering with applied research, climate economy, and policies. To cater to such impending demands in the market, appropriate undergraduate programs in the country need to be established.
Existing undergraduate programs on energy and technology offered in various central and private institutes and universities in India are more generalized having their primary focus on renewable energies. This, in a big way, targets climate actions, however, not comprehensive and sometimes puts little emphasis on policies related to climate change. To bridge this gap, a number of advanced postgraduate and fellowship programs on climate change, CO2 capture, and low-carbon energy technologies have been introduced by many premier institutes in India such as IISC and some IITs, etc.
In a significant development, India’s private institutes and universities have come forward and started contributing to such advanced domains of education. Some of them, now, are pioneers in establishing postgraduate programs related to carbon capture and low-carbon technologies. Additionally, specialized courses on greenhouse gas capture, green hydrogen production, low-carbon technology, energy storage technologies (both battery and thermal systems), etc. are also getting incorporated into the syllabus of traditional engineering disciplines such as mechanical, chemical engineering, etc.
However, to match the demand of the specialized workforce required to tackle a behemoth like a climate change they are inadequate. The dearth of engineering graduates specializing in climate change and related climate action is apparent. Such engineers will actually be participating in the implementation of technologies and policies on the ground level. Therefore, analogous to the introduction of an undergraduate-level program on artificial intelligence, though it is a part of computer science and engineering, a separate program on climate change is the need of the hour. Such courses and programs will directly train those climate warriors and ensure they are industry-ready.
A crucial pre-empty step has been taken at Anant National University, Ahmedabad where a unique School of Climate Action, and a consolidated B.Tech. program specializing in climate change has been kick-started. The success of such programs will ensure other players join the brigade and collectively build a climate-resilient future.
( About the author: Dr. Rohan Dutta is an Associate Professor at the Anant School of Climate Action, Anant National University, India )