What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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Climate change, ISIS and Economy of Common Good

Rishab Khanna*

What if I said that the floods in Chennai, crazy storm in Sweden, and the upsurges in the Middle East have only one long-time solution?

Some might say that this is absurd, but I believe that not being able to see the connections and the systemic loopholes is absurd.  Untamed thirst for natural resources, coupled with excessive carbon emissions, has created major crises in many of the economies.

It is no surprise that the developing countries and especially Least Developed Countries have most to lose. The developed countries have been built on the colonial past, during which they not only exploited resources of the developing countries, but also left a lasting imprint on the social and ecological systems, in a way that has continued the neocolonial exploitation.  Many of the developing countries have been controlled through dictatorial regimes which have been often imposed on them by the west.

According to my colleague Peter Riddle, “Whenever we (the Western coalition) have supported a particular group in West Asia to counter another group, that group has become a monster. We supported Israel, and that alienated the whole Arab and Muslim world. We supported the Taliban in Afghanistan to oust the Soviets, and it became Al-Qaeda, which spawned ISIS”.

However, the G20, or the group of developed nations refused to take responsibility of the historical debt, at the same time, they continue to misguide the world with the arbitrary figure of the GDP. Do more products and services in the economy mean a better life, improvement in the ecological system? Not  necessarily. On the contrary, it could mean more war and increase in destruction of natural resources.  No wonder most countries do not want to stop climate change, or stop the oil trade with ISIS, as it affects the GDP of our world.

Don’t we all wonder, why are we obsessed with quantifying the GDP, when it has not the relation with the quality of life?

In fact, in a survey done by Accenture in Germany and Austria, almost 80 to 90 percent of the respondents said that they wanted a change in the economic system, and almost 67 percent said that they would like to review GDP as the highest goal of the economy.  Then what are we waiting for?

Currently the leaders from emerging countries like India believe that mitigating climate change is a huge sacrifice for us.

President Pranab Mukherjee recently said, “India faces a huge responsibility and challenge in meeting its developmental requirements while remaining committed at the same time to clean energy.” What If there are no contradictions in these goals. What if development goals are only possible with clean energy, with minimal impact on health and environment?

Imagine that the new climate target of the COP 21 agreement for limiting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees of warming becomes part of the common good product of nation, making GDP (Gross Domestic Product) irrelevant.  An increase in the common good product would mean reducing inequality, reduction in emissions and more jobs.

At the corporate level, an increase in the common good balance sheet, would mean fair wages, reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide and no revenue coming from the sales of weapons or on patents of live forms.

Our financial return would be the common good return, where investments are creating social impact rather than just blind profit.

The founder of the Economy for the Common Good, Christian Felber, says that working for the common good as the highest goal of the economy is nothing new, as most constitutions of democratic countries refer to the same; however this has not been given the attention it deserves.

The COP 21 agreement is a historical treaty for us, as 196 countries have committed to the path of climate justice, however the political reality is often shaped by the economic rhetoric of blind growth, without creating the right framework for a transparent market which would promote ethical and sustainable production, and until we turn the economy back to its feet, we will struggle to achieve the climate target, 17 SDGs or even peace in the world.

(Rishab is former Board Member of Indian Youth Climate Network -IYCN and is currently working as Programm associate for Ethical Leadership and Sustainable Living at Initiatives of Change, Sweden)


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A Snapshot from Waste Management at the Indigenous Terra Madre: Segregating Beyond the Bin

Managing waste of 45,000 people

Sanghamitra Nidhi Dutta

Very rarely do we give a thought about the bottle, or that crumpled piece of paper we just tossed into the (sometimes labelled, sometimes not) bin.

As a waste manager for the Indigenous Terra Madre, 2015 (3rd to 7th November, 2015), I can say that there is, indeed, a lot that goes beyond the bin.

The first three days of the event took place at the Convocation Hall of North East Hill University (NEHU). About 120 bins were placed on-site, labelled Biodegradable and Non-biodegrable. They, however failed to serve their purpose initially as their signs were often covered up by oblivious staff while lining with black garbage bags. We managed to remedy that by ensuring that the signs were visible, as well as posting extra signs above the bins, at eye level, categorized into Organic Waste and Inorganics, which was further diverged into Plastic Bottles Only, and Miscellaneous Dry Waste (Plastic bottles excluded).

IMGP6876-2The kitchen and catering staff for the delegate dining hall were duly informed about the disposal arrangements including the segregation of the waste and were made aware of the compost pit (courtesy of Bethany Society, who also supplied us with Garbage2Gold powder for speeding up the composting process) on the grounds for the organic waste. The leftover food from the hall was collected by a third agency, to be used as feed for livestock.

The dry, inorganic waste from around the venue was accumulated at one area, which would be regularly picked up by the Shillong Municipal Board. Upon emptying of the incoming bins, the waste would immediately be separated into separate corners, assigned for plastic bottles (which made up the biggest chunk of the total dry waste amount, as each individual bottle was of a mere 300ml capacity), paper waste, cardboard and assorted metallic waste.

The execution at NEHU was fairly organized and uncomplicated, with waste being properly disposed of.

The actual food festival took place in Mawphlang, on the 7th of November. Now, managing waste for a food festival is no mean feat, but I (or my teammates, for that matter) certainly wasn’t expecting what awaited us at the site on the day before the main event.

The ideal dimensions for a compost pit is ten feet in length, three feet in width and two feet in depth. Despite explicit instructions for at least three pits of the aforementioned dimensions, what greeted us in Mawphlang was a perfectly cubical pit, eight feet cubed, with a layer of water on the bottom. It was neither safe nor feasible as a composting pit. Upon summoning the Event Manager on to the site, he swore in incredulity, wondering if it was supposed to be a compost pit or a water tank. Engaging workers, we got the one third  of the depth of the pit filled manually overnight.

The stalls were supplied with biodegradable plates made of bark, and forks, spoons and cups made of corn starch. Upon a survey of the thirty six stalls, it was found that none of them were using inorganic materials for serving food. A couple of stalls even took it step further and opted for leaves for plates and leaf spines as spoons.

The central challenge in Mawphlang was the sheer number of people. We had at least, if not more, forty thousand people. That’s roughly sixty to eighty thousand plates, from the stall area alone. The ITM Kitchen and the Taste Workshop in the Heritage Village were also having a busy with people coming in constantly. We were short on housekeeping staff as well as the number of bins that filled up repeatedly in a short periods of time. The signs we put up above every single bin failed, as the crowd was so large, no one probably had the patience or the sight to take notice, leading to incoming bags of mixed waste, which had to be separated by (gloved) hand. This difficult task was taken on by the team as well as the local boys hired for the day, in turns.

IMGP6888The now-six feet deep pit filled up rapidly, with about a quarter of it left, and about three hours of the event still left. Keeping our fingers crossed and hearts strong, we carried on. The flow gradually thinned, and after sundown, it was no longer possible to continue. We sprinkled G2G dust after every two-three feet.

7th November was coming to an end. And when the party ends, the real work begins.

We had to return on the 8th for the final wrap up. The kitchen area of the stalls had left behind huge amounts of organic waste which had to be carried down to the compost pit and ensure there were no (or at least, minimal) inorganic waste mixed in the pile.

It went into the 9th, when the SMB turned up in the morning to collect the dry (well, not so dry; after a point, it’s simply impossible to separate anymore) waste. The Pit was closed up with a layer of soil, and a fence put around it to dissuade people from dumping more waste on top, with a sign declaring the presence of fertilizer, which, according to the experts from Bethany Society, would be ready for use in approximately three months.

The Event Manager, who I’d come to befriend after discovering we shared a birthday, asked me if I had any parting words for him before they went back to Mumbai. I smiled.

“Never, ever manage waste for a food festival.”

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COP21: Of Responsibility and Transparency

Ankan De & Supriya Singh

The gathering of countries and civil society at COP 21 at Paris is very focused on creating an outcome which ensures that all the countries of the world agree upon a legally binding arrangement which ensures a strong commitment from all the parties (countries) of the World. However, while there may be exceptions, the reality stands here: key developed countries who are instrumental in ensuring the success of the process are not only shirking their responsibilities but are also working tirelessly to facilitate the creation of a weak agreement which will not accomplish what humanity has set out to accomplish here. Unfortunately the World’s big emitter like the United States of America is also part of this regressive club. Owning up to historic responsibility is key in realizing an equitable agreement which protects the interest of both developed countries as well as developing countries.

Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) explores the diverse roles that different countries are to take up depending on their capacities and level of development. The true irony lies in the fact that while discussing the language of the text during the debriefs, the CBDR focal points not only talk about how “Developed” countries should take the lead in realizing their  commitments but that they only do so in a “voluntary” manner. The fact that obligations are termed voluntary highlights how nations are well on their way to arrive at a hollow compromise.

The negotiations so far indicate that the developed nations are not only wriggling out of their historic responsibilities behind closed doors but subsequently present a public picture to the contrary. The French Presidency had promised a very transparent and open process, however the present state of affairs is a far cry from what was promised. Exclusion of civil society observers and closed door bi-lateral consultations go a long way in losing faith in the verity of the process being “transparent”. The details of these discussions and the compromises being arrived at thus not being disclosed appropriately. Parties themselves are complaining about the lack of inclusiveness.

Survival of the human race is at stake here. There is no scope of business as usual scenario being the order of the day. It is important for the leaders of the world to converge on an agreement keeping in mind principles of equity, justice and transparency.  It is up to the leaders of the world to determine how this event will be remembered in the annals of history.

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Irresponsible Behaviour of Different Agencies Hindered the Participation of a Wastepicker in Climate Negotiations

It is deeply disappointing and disheartening the way Bombay French Consulate and VFS center in Mumbai conducted their business. Our colleague Ms. Asha Sambhaji Doke- wastepicker (we prefer to call her waste manager) from Aurangabad was supposed to travel with us to Paris for Climate Change negotiations. She was a panelist and supposed to speak in many side events. We applied for visa through VFS center. As she was a delegate – observer in United Nations negotiations,  her visa fees was waived. VFS center employees didn’t take care of her file properly, we were told that there is no courier service to Aurangabad, some one has to come and pick up the passport.

In first application the consulate refused the visa on two grounds: not sure whether she will come back, not clear how she will sustain herself there. Irrespective of the fact that both to and fro tickets were given with the application, sponsorship letters, accommodation confirmation were all attached.

It was decided to apply again. This time we paid the visa fees and to our surprise there was a courier service to Aurangabad. And VFS was happy to deliver the passport. For some reason the center didn’t take Biometrics of Asha. They said they were recorded the previous time. Suddenly out of blues after four days, Consulate asked them to provide the Biometric details. She was asked to come to Mumbai for filing the Biometrics. The misery didn’t end there. The Consulate after having her application for almost a week, near to the travel dates, asked us to submit the Sponsorship letter, copy of a colleague’s visa and audit report of sponsoring organisation again and not through email, hard copies only. We rushed and provided the documents to a colleague who reached Consulate five minutes late and they decided not to receive it. On Friday all the documents were submitted the third time. The departure date was 29th December (we plan to postpone it by two days) we have no idea what’s the status. The consulate also asked us how Asha will survive in France as she doesn’t know English. Our response was that many colleagues from India, Kabir Arora, Mansoor and Pratibha Sharma are  traveling with her and there are many translators who have volunteered to help. Her financials were again in question, even after having sponsorship letters. Colleagues from Zero Waste France, Indian Youth Climate Network and WIEGO wrote to consulate, leave aside response, no acknowledgement of email was received. French government is hosting and is the Presidency of the Conference of Parties on Climate Change, instead of being inclusionary in spirit and welcoming to all delegates, they have shown the opposite. It is saddening that we are talking about the poor, who are most vulnerable to climate change,  many through their work are actually mitigating it. And the space for them to share their thoughts, experiences and reflections is shrinking.

Profile of Asha Sambhaji Doke is given below for reference.

Ashabai Doke: Ashabai Doke is a waste manager and green entrepreneur from Aurangabad, India. She is affiliated to Civic Response Team (CRT^) – an organization based in the same city.   As a member of CRT^, Asha manages two recyclable waste shops, and handles over 8 tonnes of material per month. Her efforts contribute to better earnings of over 30 sanitation workers, and more stable livelihoods for three other waste-picker women who are now freed of their bonded labour contracts. She is also the member of Kagad Kach Patra Kashtkari Sanghthana (KKPKS), a trade union, and spokesperson for other persons like her, who made a living from collecting waste materials from dumps.

And so, as she travels far and wide, within the country spreading hope to others who dream of earning an honest living; and abroad,  at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -UNFCCC CoP 21 in Paris, to authorities, colleagues, well-wishers and fellow human beings from far and wide on the struggle of one woman to overcome poverty, and to work together for sustainable & equitable Solid Waste Management solutions and a better, cleaner, more just world for all. CRT^ and KKPKS are both coalition member of Alliance of Indian Wastepickers.

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A Whole INDsea of Issues OR Incrementally Nonsensical Difficult and Confusing

Pandora Batra 

Seeing as large international organisations telling individual countries what to do and how to do it hasn’t really worked so far, in the lead up to the COP 21 countries have been asked to provide their own ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.’ (INDCs). These take the form of a report from each of the UNFCCC parties (countries) outlining what they are going to do to reduce CO2 emissions and help their populations adapt to the impacts of climate change.

You may have seen mention of India’s INDCs in the news recently as they were released on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October, 2015) and have created quite a stir in the Indian and global climate change community.

The main Indian INDCs in the report were:

To reduce the emissions intensity of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 33% to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level.

Translation: rather than making absolute reductions in emissions they are pledging to reduce the amount of GHG emissions released per unit of GDP.  They are saying they will continue to develop but reduce the amount of emissions that this development causes.

To achieve 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030.

Translation: “installed capacity” means that lots of solar parks/ wind turbines/ hydro and nuclear power plants will be built but that the actual electricity generated from these non-fossil fuel technologies will be lower due to transmission and and generation losses.

To better adapt by enhancing investments in vulnerable sectors.

To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of co2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Translation: Plant many trees..but what kind of trees? And newly planted mono-culture trees do not a forest make!

To better adapt, to mobilize domestic and new and additional funding from developed countries and to build capacities for improving research and development (R&D) opportunities and implement the above mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The reactions to India’s INDCs have been varied; Climate Action Tracker  which assesses the ambitiousness of each countries targets places India in the medium category, better than countries like the US and Russia but not as ambitious as countries like Brazil and China. Climate Action Tracker also claims that India is likely to over-achieve on its targets without having to update or implement any new policies. i.e. If India sticks to the targets they had made before the INDCs came out then they will overachieve on the INDC targets. Basically, the INDCs don’t really change anything, they are a nice bit of motivation and publicity but the targets aren’t moving India towards reducing its emissions faster or more efficiently.

What does this mean in global terms? Do the INDCs add up to the 2°C target? Well, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) the answer, simply put, is no. In fact the IEA report stated that “If stronger action is not forthcoming after 2030, the path in the INDC Scenario would be consistent with an average temperature increase of around 2.6 °C by 2100 and 3.5 °C after 2200,”

Contact: Pandora Batra- pandora.batra@hotmail.com

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COP 21 for Dummies- What is COP? What is UNFCCC?

Christopher de Vreese

It is important to go over the basics before we move onto the more complex issues surrounding the international climate change debate. This blog post aims to paint a broad picture of what the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is and explain; how it is important; what is at stake; and how it is different to the past Climate Change Conferences.

The Conference of the Parties (COPs) serve as formal meetings that take place within the mandate of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘UNFCCC’, between all 196 member states of the United Nations. (The UNFCCC is currently considered the only legitimate international environmental treaty, due in part to its virtually universal membership). The treaty itself did not set binding limits on greenhouse gas ‘GHG’ emissions (CO2, Methane, etc) for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. Instead, it provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (called ‘Protocols’ or ‘Agreements’), that may set binding limits on greenhouse gases.

The Parties to the convention therefore meet annually since 1995, in COPs, to assess the progress in dealing with climate change, and hopefully establish legally binding obligations on reducing GHG Emissions. In the mid-1990s, the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, however it did proved to be a failure due to lack of commitment and enforcement. The COP15 in 2009 (a.k.a The Copenhagen Negotiations) also attempted to create a worldwide legally binding Climate Change Treaty, but lack of consensus between developed and developing countries on various issues resulted in a non binding treaty called the Copenhagen Accord.

This brings us to the COP21, (or 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference), which aims to bring together all the Member States, regardless of their level of economic development, under a single climate change regime. However this climate change treaty, if agreed, will be different in form and nature from its predecessors.

The Treaty will have 2 dimensions, which will combine a Top-Down approach (International Legally Binding Aspects) and Bottom-Up approach (National Non-Legally Binding Aspects) into one treaty. The first dimension will try to tie together the different parties through a common thread called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs are basically non-legally binding commitments that each country will make in order to reduce GHG emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change. When all these INDCs are brought together they should, in theory, limit global warming to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The second dimension, or the legally binding aspect, will be the international framework covering issues such as means of implementations, which will include components surrounding financing, technology transfer mechanisms as well as monitoring and review mechanisms. The aim of this dimension, will be thus to create a common and transparent framework from which all the member states can measure their climate change actions under the same criteria.

The reason why this COP is so important, for the world and the youth of India, is because we are running out of time and carbon space in order to meet the 2.0 °C target. If we do not find a common framework in Paris with common definitions and goals on how tackle climate change, the consequence will be the inability to act effectively over the next 15 years and a growing vulnerability towards the effects of climate change. It is therefore also your responsibility to make your voice heard!

Contact: Christopher de Vreese- christopher.dv@hotmail.com

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Recycling Should be a Part of Solid Waste Management NAMA

The government of India is determined to deal with issues of waste mismanagement through development of a NAMA in solid waste management. However, proposals on the table focus on harming technologies, such as incineration of waste, and neglect the option of recycling as a more promising way to reduce emissions and contribute to co-benefits 

It is very apparent that India will have its NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action) in Solid Waste Management and Forestry. NAMA in solid waste management makes sense for many developing countries. The green house gas emissions from waste sector (including waste water) are as low as 3 percent.  Considering that most of the cities in developing countries are facing garbage menace, taking an initiative on that front is a win-win for all, for example by providing clean and livable cities plus reducing carbon emissions. Time could not have been this ripe as the newly elected government of Mr. Narendra Modi announced Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan – a Clean India Campaign – after coming to power. The vision is to have open defecation and garbage free India by 2019.

To start the discussion, GIZ (German sustainable development support agency) with the approval of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change undertook a feasibility study for framing a NAMA in Solid Waste Management Sector. Their outcome was that the emphasis should be given on processing, i.e. composting for organic waste and the rest can be sent to cement factories as fuel (not very clear though in their published summary).Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan recognizes composting as an important pillar and also suggests waste to energy. These two approaches seem alike, but they have one fundamental flaw: recycling is nowhere mentioned. Incineration either for energy or as a fuel for cement factories will result in increased carbon emissions. Pursuing that path is unacceptable. Currently we don’t have any strong empirical evidence suggesting the scale of reduction in emissions through recycling, but the hunch is that recycling is better than incineration. Continued here…

Published in Carbon Market Watch newsletter.