India is an ESB transgression hotspot - GulfToday

India is an ESB transgression hotspot

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.


Illustrative image.

Seven of eight earth system boundaries (ESBs) that are critical for stability of the planet’s health and survival of species have already been crossed, a new research paper by the Earth Commission published in the Nature journal said, suggesting that the very future of humanity may now be at risk from the climate crisis. Transgression of ESBs is spatially widespread, with two or more ESBs already transgressed for 52% of the world’s land surface.

According to a map supplied by experts, India, along with other countries of South Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa, is an ESB transgression hotspot, with at least five ESB transgressions occurring in the Himalayan foothills.

A Weather Channel report points out that in 2009, a team of global scientists introduced the concept of planetary boundaries, which humans should not cross if they want the Earth to remain hospitable to civilisation. They are climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus), ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution, stratospheric ozone depletion, and release of novel chemicals (including heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics, and more).

The study, developed by an international science commission engaging more than 40 researchers from across the globe, showed that humans are taking colossal risks with the future of civilisation and everything that lives on Earth. For example, human activities are altering water flows, excessive amounts of nutrients are released into waterways from fertiliser use, and limited natural areas are left. The world has already passed the safe and just climate boundary, which is set at 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial temperature levels, as tens of millions of people are already harmed by the current level of climate change. Further, the rising temperatures are melting away large Greenland ice sheets and increasing deforestation in the Amazon forest, all likely to lift oceans by metres, releasing billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane.

The abstract of the paper states that the researchers use modelling and literature assessment to quantify safe and just ESBs for climate, the biosphere, water and nutrient cycles, and aerosols at global and subglobal scales. They propose ESBs for maintaining the resilience and stability of the Earth system (safe ESBs) and minimizing exposure to significant harm to humans from Earth system change (a necessary but not sufficient condition for justice). The stricter of the safe or just boundaries sets the integrated safe and just ESB. Their findings show that justice considerations constrain the integrated ESBs more than safety considerations for climate and atmospheric aerosol loading. Seven of eight globally quantified safe and just ESBs and at least two regional safe and just ESBs in over half of global land area are already exceeded. The researchers propose that their assessment provides a quantitative foundation for safeguarding the global commons for all people now and into the future.

“Our results are quite concerning. This means that unless a timely transformation occurs, it is most likely that irreversible tipping points and widespread impacts on human well-being will be unavoidable,” said lead author Prof. Johan Rockstrom, Earth Commission Co-Chair in a media statement.

“Avoiding that scenario is crucial if we want to secure a safe and just future for current and future generations,” added Rockstrom, who is also Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

The scientists also delivered the first quantification of safe and just Earth system boundaries on a global and local level for several biophysical processes and systems that regulate the state of the Earth system. “The Earth system is in danger; many tipping elements are about to cross their tipping points,” said co-author Dahe Qin, director of the Chinese Academy of Science’s influential Academic Committee.

The scientists called for setting just targets to prevent significant harm and guarantee access to resources to people and for as well as just transformations to achieve those targets. The safe ESBs for global warming are based on limiting the likelihood of climatic tipping points while maintaining biosphere and cryosphere functionality. A Wion report says that these features were chosen because they cover all the major components of the Earth system (atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, biosphere and cryosphere) and their interconnected processes (carbon, water and nutrient cycles) or “global commons” that according to the report “underpin the planet’s life-support systems and, thereby, human well-being on Earth; they have impacts on policy-relevant timescales; they are threatened by human activities; and they could affect Earth system stability and future development globally.”

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