Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Copenhagen Call and Beyond

As Jairam Ramesh prepares to leave New Delhi for Copenhagen this week, there is much that is being debated at home on the role that India will play in reaching a global agreement on climate change. Much drama was witnessed at the start of this week.
Firstly, two seasoned climate negotiators from the Indian delegation refused to leave for Copenhagen .They were Ambassador Dasgupta and ex-environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh.
Secondly, there was a united walk out by all the opposition parties in the RS on the issue of India changing its position on climate change. Arun Jaitley alleged that the government had unilaterally altered the position it held all along. The overall discontentment around Jairam Ramesh with this new position was that India had sold its future and had weakened its position as a Negotiator.So had Jairam Ramesh altered the Indian position after all these years?
Yes he had. And very rightly so.
What Jairam Ramesh has done in the last 6 months since he took over the Ministry has been to quickly fill up the leadership role on a climate agenda. There has been virtually no leadership in the climate change space in India –it has been vacant –almost a leadership free zone. Government voices on climate change in India had so far been inaudible. He started to think out of the box, he started to change the game and started playing a different card. So just what did he do and what did he change around?
For the un-initiated on climate change politics, here is the background.
Decades of high fossil fuel consumption by rich countries has created the climate crisis by pumping large amounts of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere - the onus to clean up and give room to others to develop in a carbon constrained world, therefore, lay with the rich countries. The rich countries had to pay for damages. But this reached a deadlock with developed countries not committing to emission reduction targets nor putting money on the table. India’s argument was that in order to continue on its development pathway of a 7 to 8% GDP growth it had a right to emit and therefore could not take on any target for reducing emissions. Its development story had just!
Nothing wrong with this argument – it is the “polluter pay principle” in action. Those who pollute must clean up and pay up. However, the developing countries continue to suffer climate consequences through no fault. Infact, in a recent estimate, the World Bank suggests that the developing world will suffer 80% of the damage from climate change despite accounting for only one third of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So discussions have been around issues like –who pays whom and how much, transfer of technology, funds – issues around equity has been central.
With 1.1 billion people – or a population of just under one sixth the global total – India’s per capita emissions are a mere 1.7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per capita, compared to 23.5 tons CO2e per capita for the US. China is at 4.5 tons per capita (China has recently moved to Number 1 polluter in aggregate terms). Having such a low per capita emission really means that India must continue to emit to ensure its road to development continues – nothing can come in its way. India had a carbon emission right.
But this argument is unhelpful – the per capita argument allows rich Indians to hide behind the carbon strapped poor.
Playing the blame game has not made us prepare for the climate onslaught. India has spent year after year fighting this argument, justly so, but 15 years have gone by. While our GDP continues to gallop anywhere between 6 and 8% ,the most vulnerable continue to bear the brunt of climate change – floods, droughts, water scarcity, rising temperatures and disease, agricultural impacts, rise in sea level along coastal areas are some areas of intense vulnerability.
From the days of Kyoto Protocol lots has changed for India. Jairam Ramesh was quick enough to recognise this and get India to Copenhagen with a number .The Minister wants to show that we are a climate responsible nation – not for the sake of Copenhagen but for the sake of millions of Indians at risk.
A target to reduce its carbon intensity by 20 to 25% by 2020 was announced. This is indeed ambitious and has taken people by surprise. Further, India has joined the other developing countries (and NOT the developed countries) to go to the table and demand deep commitment targets from developed countries. It goes into the talks better equipped to negotiate having puts its ambition out on the table along with the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China.)
This new position shames the developed world - there is a sudden reversal in leadership. Jairam Ramesh has made it very clear that there is “no dilution” in India’s position and at no cost will India take on legally binding emission cuts. India’s interest and India interests alone shall dictate the negotiating stance while continuing to insist that developed countries take on legally binding deep emission cuts.
I do not know what the outcome will be on December 18th 2009 when the Copenhagen summit ends but this much I know.
That the challenge for India will be to build a new economy and build it at a speed that will allow us to meet climate deadlines – a world where our forests will expand, our food will be local, where our renewable energy sources rise, where rainfall will be predictable, where farmers do not live under uncertainty of droughts and floods, where are coastal cities are safe, where are glaciers continue to feed our rivers and where we can safely say we have secured the future of our children’s children.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Climate of Coincidence

As the world leaders were preparing to gather for the 2 week long climate change summit in Copenhagen on December 7th 2009 in an attempt to reach an agreement on climate change there was a sudden kerfuffle around hacked emails from a climate research institute. The now famous or rather infamous email hacking known as “climate gate” attempted to move focus away from the immediate need to solve the climate crisis. Whoever hacked into the email system timed the release well.
Timed the leak so perfectly so as to coincide with the opening of the Climate Summit.
The details that emerged from the hacked emails attempted to wipe out 21 years of climate science and research carried out under the IPCC .*
The IPCCs 4th Assessment Report of 2007 states:
• Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
• Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid 20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations
• The probability that this is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5%
The body of evidence that human activity is a key agent in global warming is overwhelming. There is no question now that since the industrial revolution temperatures are rising faster than ever before in the history of mankind. It is true that temperatures and climate has changed in the past but never this fast. Changes in temperatures have occurred over thousands of years and not over a few decades. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere today stands at about 380 parts per million – never before in recorded human history have we had such high level of atmospheric CO2.
The first ones to react to this “breaking news” was Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh’s chief Climate Negotiator Mohammad Al-Sabban told the BBC. “Climate is changing for thousands of years, but for natural and not human-induced reasons”. He went on to say he expects it to derail the single biggest objective of the summit - to agree limitations on greenhouse gas emissions."It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change,"
No relationship between industrialisation and increased temperature? I mean ,even school kids know that but Al Sabban does not – maybe he chooses otherwise.
As the world’s biggest oil producer, too much is at stake for the country if the world agrees to a global deal to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel.
On December 7th – the opening of the summit, it was worth noting that of the 192 countries represented at Copenhagen, only Saudi Arabia raised the hacking incident. Saudi Arabia made a strong intervention in the opening plenary .They cast doubt on the science based on the hacked emails .Earlier this year in the pre COP 15 meeting in Bon, Saudi asked for hand outs, if it had to invest in adaptation to fight climate change! Saudi – too broke to invest in fighting climate change. And most recently asked for compensation if they were a loss of revenue due to a decline in demand for oil as the world struggled to move to clean energy.
To blame Saudi only for the resisting to acknowledge and fight climate change may be unfair - there are other oil producing countries and companies that align with Saudi .
But the sooner the Saudis and their ilk discover that when the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned and the last fish is dead, we can’t eat money, the better it will be for all of civilization.

* The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific intergovernmental body tasked with evaluating the risk of climate change and was established in 1988 by UNEP and World Meteorological Organization under the UN . The IPCC is headed by Dr. Pachauri.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The countdown to Copenhagen has begun.

Suddenly the media and internet is abuzz on climate change news and views.
And like everyone and everything else, there is a scramble for carbon space.

So what is the Copenhagen buzz all about and does it mean anything for India?

Here’s the deal.

Three days from today, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be holding its 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) at Copenhagen from 7-18 December 2009 in Copenhagen.

More than 190 countries will gather to agree a way forward on climate change as the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.
One hopes that the meeting will end in a political agreement at the Head of State Level, with legally binding targets in 2010 and the outcome will be FAB.
Fair, ambitious and binding. Yet another climate acronym!

More than 65 Heads of State, including President Barack Obama – albeit on his way to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor Angela Merkel have confirmed their attendance at Copenhagen.

Will Dr Manmohan Singh attend? We do not know that yet.

This is indeed a disappointment.

India will be at the frontlines when it comes to climate impact.

While India has historically not been a major emitter of GHGs and its per capita emission is a mere 1.2 tons/ per person compared to 23 tons/per person in the US, it will suffer severely due to climate change.

Sadly though, as the IPCC states, India will be most vulnerable to climate impacts. We are already feeling the heat of climate change – rising temperatures, shorter and less severe winters in some parts of India, erratic monsoon with impacts on agriculture and livelihoods, droughts, floods, sea surges, cyclone, outbreak of diseases, desertification, disappearing glaciers. For the 700 millions living in rural India, there will be helplessness and uncertainty.

All this will not only have huge impacts on our everyday lives but a huge impact on our economy. India already spends about 2.3 % of its GDP on climate adaptation and this will only increase as the intensity of climate change increases. Food and water security will be one of the biggest challenges facing government. With rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers, that is a source of drinking water for 40% of the world’s population, wars over water will be inevitable.

Can India sit back and play the blame game or should we act?

The blame game has lead to inaction while year after year millions have been ravaged by climate impacts. We have wasted far too many years on blaming the developed countries while not doing enough domestically – India has not invested in climate research, nor built climate resilient cities ,nor assessed vulnerabilities at various levels.

It’s a tough road ahead for India s policy makers. Development challenges in India are now even more complicated by the reality of climate change – they are linked like never before. Policy makers must counter the climate impact and yet ensure that it gets millions of out poverty. Both daunting challenges but challenges that India can meet and must meet.

India today is the 4th largest emitter of GHG emission in aggregate terms and hence it is inevitable that it will have to be responsible for future emissions. As we go into Copenhagen or COP 15, it has been about 15 years since the first climate conference, we have had enough and more of climate denial and climate inaction by developed countries - its time policy makers across the world respond.

Indian civil society, generation next and the media must come together to ask the Government for more transparency into the climate negotiations and discussions, the Government has to engage civil society much more and not keep Copenhagen discussions in the closet. In the end, it is our future and the future of our children that is at stake.

India must play its part .Whatever maybe the outcome at Copenhagen – whether we see legally binding targets or politically binding targets, whether the US, the world’s largest emitter of green house gases commits to targets or not, in India s own self interest we must act.

This is no time for any hesitation – whatsoever.