What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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Saving the planet – youth style!

A couple of months back, a group of us converged in Bangalore for a youth workshop on Intergenerational Partnerships for Climate Change Mitigation. It was our own workshop where we had tried to discuss how youth could forge partnerships for climate change mitigation as a basis for achieving sustainable development. The location was Visthar, a beautiful youth training center to the north of Bangalore, with a campus bearing a striking resemblance to a natural forest! There were only about twenty participants, mostly youth, but representing many different vocations – there were students, engineers, scientists, activists, artists, teachers and even bankers! The discussions we had were no less stimulating and productive than expected from a much larger and more ably qualified group either. Most importantly, the workshop brought us together and enabled us to derive motivation from each other!

A range of presentations displayed the commendable initiatives that youth across the country were involved in, and clearly reflected the amount of groundwork that was being undertaken. What was particularly evident was the myriad ways in which climate change affected communities and people alike. A college student from Hyderabad presented her case study on the prevalence of asthma, and meticulously related a rapid increase in the incidence of this common respiratory ailment to climate change as projected by the IPCC findings. Another group from Patna presented a moving report on how freshwater discharge into the Ganga river would be subjected to extreme variations because of climate change, how water mismanagement was compounding this situation and how this would profoundly impact the lives of the people of Bihar. Anugraha John from Bangalore spoke of his experiences with his youth environmental program, the China-India forum and of his vision for the Asian Citizens Alliance, an intergenerational gathering of committed change makers from across Asia that he envisioned. Kartikeya Singh of the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) also described his experiences with the international climate change movement, and of the purpose and vision of the Indian Youth Climate Network.

We also had the opportunity to hear from eminent specialists – Mr. Shree Padre, the Magasaysay award winner and an established authority on rainwater harvesting, eloquently described how surface water was being wasted and spilled, and how climate change would cause an enormous decrease in rainfall and available surface water. Prof. Bhavani Shankar, retired Chief Civil Engineer of Karnataka shared with us the technological side of climate change and its impacts on water availability, and of the need for reviewing river water command area management to incorporate reduced in flows as an adaptation measure. We even managed a field trip to a CDM financed sustainable biogas cooking stoves project near Bagepalli, an hour’s drive north of Bangalore. The visit was highly informative, and we witnessed how economic benefits from market based climate change mitigation can bring sustainable growth to communities, although the inherent irony of those least responsible having to cut down on emissions wasn’t lost on us!

From the presentations and the ensuing discussions, it was evident to us that youth were not only clearly capable of positive action, but were also raring to go! What was needed was a convergence of ideas, not just people. Realistic, achievable and innovative ideas that could help effectively mitigate climate change forever, and help percolate sustainable benefits to our countrymen. We departed from Visthar after two days spent in the rare company of like minded people sharing concerns and outlooks, with a firmer resolve to redouble our efforts towards creating a sustainable planet.

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Climate Change Mitigation – an equitable solution?

A few weeks back, I was at attending a symposium on climate change, sustainability and equity in Hyderabad, organized by reputed institutions, and attended by prominent figures in academia and civil society. The symposium was informative and lively, consisting of numerous presentations on subjects ranging from climate change and gender to the future of ‘the protocol’. One topic that captured my attention was the issue of equity, and how climate change was creating inequity not only through its far reaching impacts, but also how even mitigation efforts were turning out to be an inequitable undertaking for the majority of the worlds’ population.  It is clear that the 36 Annex 1 countries of the UNFCCC, with their energy intensive lifestyles and their relentless but inequitable pursuit of progress have been responsible for the vast majority of emissions. Through this indiscriminate and inconsiderate pathway of development, they have created and reinforced inequity time and again.

Developing countries now have a very small window of opportunity for following this unsustainable but demonstrated development pathway before we reach the crucial tipping point of 550 ppmv of CO2 equivalent, following which the magnitude and frequency of impacts would far outweigh opportunities for development. Meanwhile, wealthy Annex 1 countries are perpetrating further injustices on the poor of the world, and are arm-wringing India into submission and into committing to binding emissions reductions. IsClimate Injustice portrayed by Center for Science & Environment this equity? Climate change will undoubtedly increase socio economic imbalances in society. Poorer segments of the population, especially those dependent on natural resource management such as farmers, livestock herders, fisher folk and other marginal communities would be most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change, while they themselves would have contributed very little to emissions. Even within a country like India, climate change is gradually revealing how inequitable the future will be. The section of the population which can afford air travel will also be the segment of the population which has an energy lifestyle comparable to the west, and is therefore most responsible for climate change.

Paradoxically, they are also the section which will be least impacted by climate change. Poorer people who can’t afford energy intensive lifestyles instead will have to face the brunt of climate change, and will be forced to adapt or perish. Is it equitable to ask these segments of the population to alter their lifestyles, which are already low carbon intensive, while they are going to suffer greatly because of no fault of theirs? It is crucial in future to maintain equity in society, and to protect those communities that are least equipped to adaptation to the impacts. Creating livelihood opportunities for vulnerable segments of the population who have been impacted, displaced and traumatized, and helping them during this period, would go a long way in preserving equitable development in our society.


Clean development or cool development?

A few days back, I had the opportunity to visit a large cement factory in Andhra Pradesh for a stakeholders meeting. The cement factory was in beginning stages of installing a heat recovery power project of 9 MW capacity, and was soliciting CDM financing for the coal and CO2 emissions offset because of the heat used as the energy source as a substitute for coal. The factory already had a 15 MW coal based captive power plant (where energy generated is normally supplied entirely to the factory in question, as opposed to a conventional power plant where power is supplied into the grid) to meet its energy needs, in addition to drawing 30 MW from the regional grid. It was planning to use the additional power generated from the heat recovering power project to reduce dependence on the grid supplied power. The concept of using hot gases for power generation, instead of venting them, causing acute changes in the microclimate, is undoubtedly admirable and ingenious when first thought of. However, what struck me as interesting in this context was how vigorously the company in question was courting CDM financing, and how this reflected what was happening across India. 

Now, I have my reservations regarding the efficacy of CDM and the other market based mechanisms of emissions reductions. I feel viewing emissions reductions as a business opportunity is akin to making a mockery of the gravity of climate change. However, while several Annex 1 parties may be accused of displaying reluctance, no such allegation can be leveled against India and Indian companies in particular. Indian companies are actively pursuing CDM projects, in many instances unilaterally putting forward a detailed project proposal to the CDM Executive Board before even courting an Annex 1 partner to sell the CERs to. Indian CDM projects are also extremely varied in nature. According to an independent review by the Institute of Global Environmental Strategies, a leading Japanese environmental research agency, Indian CDM projects straddle the entire strata of possible CDM collaboration areas, from heat recovery projects in cement plants, to HFC destruction units. This suggests not just the willingness of industry as a whole in embracing cleaner development, but also the heterogeneous nature of industry where emissions reductions are possible. While it is definitely commendable that India has taken up leadership in courting CDM financing, with over 300 projects accounting for nearly a third of all CDM projects, why can’t India take up leadership in voluntarily reducing emissions?

When India is displaying such willingness and even progressive interest in CDM financed emission reduction projects, why do we have to sit back and wait for the calamity to be upon us before we have to act? Why can’t we install emission reduction technologies in our industries by ourselves? Why do we have to help an Annex 1 party economically meet its insignificant Kyoto targets? If India is to be regarded seriously as an emerging global power, we cannot risk this blatant contradiction in our climate policy. We must begin emissions reduction domestically and must initiate the transition to a low carbon society, in accordance with our commitments to sustainable and equitable development. Coming back to the CDM project in the cement factory in question, the management is currently in the process of preparing a Project Design Document (PDD), a requirement for consulting a Designated Operational Entity (DOE) and for authorization from the CDM Executive Board. I have no doubt that the once approved, the project will reduce emissions and bring cleaner development alternatives to industry, but will it be effective enough in the fight against climate change? All this is still to be seen…

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A Vision for Sustainability–an Antidote for the Climate Crisis?

A few months back I had the opportunity to attend the International Conference on Environment Education, a major UN conference supported by the GoI and attended by more than a thousand delegates from around the world. As the title suggests, the conference concerned itself with Environment Education, or precisely, Education for Sustainable Development, a fundamentally transformed version of the former, which dealt with incorporating the values and principles of sustainability into education, in order to achieve the goals of sustainable development. Not surprisingly, a term that captured the same wavelength as ‘education’, or ‘sustainable development’, was ‘climate change’.  



The conference deliberated over different ways in which climate change could potentially challenge sustainable development worldwide. This got me thinking of the narrow pathway of development that we have managed to drive ourselves into, one that is challenged by depleting natural resources and is compounded by the impending climate catastrophe. If development has to be sustained, it would undoubtedly have to take into consideration the various challenges posed by climate change. Now, it is clear that certain powerful regimes and self proclaimed global sentries prefer to pretend that the climate crisis was anything but. Wiser counsel however, helped in no small measure by a near global consensus in the scientific community and reams of vindicating data, shows us that the climate crisis is real, and that this is something that development and planning initiatives have to contend with.  



Fortunately for us, the goals of sustainable development, we have been told, have already been eloquently laid out in the form of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are a set of 8 targets to be achieved globally before 2015, and deal with challenges confronting humanity, such as poverty, education, health care, and loss of biodiversity. Achieve these before 2015 without compromising each other, and we can assure ourselves that we are on the right track of development. Unfortunately, climate change is putting a real spanner in the works, even for the MDGs! As can be imagined, just about every MDG is affected to a varying degree and intensity by climate change. Development which does not resolve these afflictions, it is said, is unsustainable, and therefore, undesirable. It is only a logical conclusion that if we have to develop sustainably, it is absolutely necessary that we tackle climate change first.  

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