COP 21 in December 2015 in Paris is primarily concerned with Global Warming and reduction of carbon emissions in the atmosphere so that the temperature ceiling of 2 degrees centigrade is not exceeded. Towards this end the 195 participating countries will submit proposals for carbon emission reductions and the time-frames by which these are to be met. There is no dearth of literature in the build up to the conference and expectations from it. Naturally the tone will be set by proposals that will be put forward by the biggest emitters, USA and China as well as larger economies like India on the way to growth.
Seeing that most past conferences including Copenhagen and Mexico were considered disappointments, the expectations from the Paris conference have been heightened in the light of increased frequency of natural disasters visiting the planet. COP 21 is being referred to as the make-or-break conference for humanity. Expectations have been further heightened because should the outcome not be positive, irreversibility will soon set in disrupting the homeostasis and the self-correcting mechanisms of the planet.
Taking it forward on the basis of a positive outcome because a negative result would be an unmitigated disaster, it becomes essential for leading figures of leading countries to cast a glance at other factors or events that are fully under human control and can damage the planet much more severely than a failed conference and increased emissions leading to unsustainable temperature rises even before the mid-century mark. Without doubt the biggest threat to humanity and the planet would be the use of nuclear weapons.
After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have not gone off anywhere in the world. However, the danger of the use of nuclear weapons by nuclear-haves and even some of the have-nots as well as non-state actors has become very real. Should nuclear weapons go off the real tragedy will be that the P5 countries, the shapers of the destiny of the world, within and outside the UN, would have done nothing to remove this gravest of all threats to the future of the human race.
Tragically, the P5 nations have failed again and again to meet their commitment in each and every one of the NPT Review Conferences, including the most recent one held in May 2015, thus acting as the primary barrier to the reduction of nuclear weapons and their abolition.
Meanwhile, the war doctrines of the eight nuclear-haves rely increasingly on the use of nuclear weapons. The wielders of power in these nations have gone ahead because the global outrage that these developments should have caused has not manifested itself. It may not be known in the public domain, but the war doctrines that have been polished and honed in several of the nuclear-have states delegate the responsibility for use of lower-calibre nuclear weapons to theatre commanders almost immediately in certain eventualities. There are other states where the authority for pressing the nuclear trigger does not vest with the supreme commander or the head of state. It rests in the hands of the generals.
In the era of the lowering of the nuclear threshold and its general acceptance the linkage to global warming and the future of humankind becomes clearly established. The generation that will have to bear the consequences arising from a nuclear mishap, nuclear exchange, or the use of nuclear weapons by those espousing dangerous theological orthodoxies will be the young generation. Seeing that they will be inheriting the responsibility for running the world in the coming decades, they have not risen up to demand a halt to this madness.
Today eight nuclear-haves have refined their nuclear war-fighting doctrines; with each passing year the threshold is being lowered. A country known to have been a source of nuclear proliferation and possibly the most likely source for acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-state actors could become the most likely source for initiating a nuclear exchange with its larger neighbour, having threatened to do so on numerous occasions.
Concomitantly, the Middle East cauldron is on the boil posing a threat of use of nuclear weapons. What is cursorily narrated above are scenarios that have suddenly acquired an immediacy.
Yet alarm bells that should have been ringing every day in capitals of the countries on the ascendant as well as the younger generation in universities and colleges around the world, whose future is being mortgaged, are loudly silent. It is not the time, at this stage, to introduce new elements into the Global Warming conference that may be picking up steam and throw it off kilter. However, without derailing the conference the world should become aware of the utter callousness of the nuclear-haves, whose doctrines talk of limited nuclear exchanges.
Here it would be pertinent to take immediate note of the latest studies that clearly bring out the magnitude of the global repercussions of even a limited nuclear exchange.
The excerpt below from the second edition of IPPNW’s report Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk - Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition explains how even the relatively small nuclear arsenals of countries such as India and Pakistan could cause long lasting global damage to the Earth’s ecosystems. Among the specific findings in Nuclear Famine, which was originally released in April 2012, are:
- Corn production in the US would decline by an average of 10 per cent for an entire decade, with the most severe decline (20 per cent) in year 5.
- Soybean production would decline by about 7 per cent, with the most severe loss, more than 20 per cent, in year 5.
- There would be a significant decline in middle season rice production in China. During the first four years, rice production would decline by an average of 21 per cent; over the next six years the decline would average 10 per cent.
- Increases in food prices would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the poorest. Even if agricultural markets continued to function normally, 215 million people would be added to the rolls of the malnourished over the course of a decade.
- Significant agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale, further reducing accessible food.
- The 925 million people in the world that are already chronically malnourished (with baseline consumption of 1,750 calories or less per day), would be put at risk by a 10 percent decline in their food consumption.
The new findings, published in 2013, paint an even grimmer picture.
Chinese winter wheat production would fall 50 percent in the first year and, averaged over the entire decade after the war, would be 31 per cent below baseline. More than a billion additional people in China would also face severe food insecurity. The total number of people threatened by nuclear-war induced famine would be well over two billion. The prospect of a decade of widespread hunger and intense social and economic instability in the world’s largest country has immense implications for the entire global community, as does the possibility that the huge declines in Chinese wheat production will be matched by similar declines in other wheat producing countries”.
Without in any way taking their eye off the build-up to the final stages of COP-21 it would be in the fitness of things in the light of the nuclear winter highlighted above for leaders of the P5 in concert with the UN Secretary General and the President of France to hold a follow up mini-conference in Paris at the end of COP-21 to announce to the world from the same platform that the leading nations take it upon themselves to commence the nuclear rollback with immediate effect along with the setting up of the independent Planetary Council as the sixth permanent Security Council member with veto right for all aspects that threaten the future viability of the planet and the rights of the coming generations. It needs no reiteration that even a very limited nuclear exchange whose likelihood stands increased would put paid to all the painstakingly negotiated protocols like NPT,CTBT, various Climate Change Conferences and all planet-saving, humanity preserving conferences in the pipeline.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army and author of Third Millenium Equipoise.