What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change


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High Heels

Chhaya Vani Namchu 

“Can the subaltern speak?”

Many years ago, I read this essay by Gayatri Spivak as part of my undergraduate syllabus. I cannot recollect too much detail about it now, but 7-8 years down the line, what has stuck with me through the years is its title.

Today, I work as a researcher on climate change and its impacts on mountain communities, and specifically women in these communities. Sometimes I feel the pressure to provide academic and statistical information which I feel, although fair to research, reduces the people I interview to data and objects. But work is work and I understand that even my research will eventually help communities in the long term (I hope).

When carrying out fieldwork in my study site, I come across stories which may be considered too simple for the academic discourse, but which can be thought provoking nonetheless. One of my field sites in Kalimpong, a beautiful community village, is affected by erratic rainfall that leads to massive landslides and floods that eventually end up blocking communities during monsoons, effects that can in part be attributed to climate change.

Predominantly a Lepcha village, the route to this village is through chor batos. The village has no infrastructure and has several streams that need to be crossed through bridges constructed using locally available bamboo by the local residents. There are about 3-5 such bridges. I visited the village in the dry season when there was no water, rain or flooding.

The indigenous communities of the mountains are very resilient and independent, as opposed to the larger perception (and rightly so) around them facing hardships such as commuting, accessing drinking water, walking hours through rough terrain to get to the nearest school, etc. It’s true that these communities are marginalized, economically as well as educationally, and face multiple hardships, but this is only one side to them. They undertake many initiatives by themselves that involve working together as a community, and aren’t the (usually expected) rescue projects.

Coming back to my field trip to this village. I had set out with an agenda as part of my job to interview and draw information on the changes in the climate experienced by the indigenous Lepcha women through questions such as:

  • What variations in temperature and rainfall have you noticed?
  • How has it changed your cropping pattern?
  • What are the challenges faced during monsoons?
  • Have you noticed other climatic changes?

And so on..

On one such day after I got done with the more formal interview, and as I was retiring my notebook to my bag and getting ready to leave, I got into an informal chat with these women. We discussed the weather, the village, and the walk back to town. Small talk. I shared my fear of shaky wobbly bridges with them while dreading the journey that lay ahead of me. And just then, a woman well into her forties, who was also very vocal in my group discussion, spoke in agreement with me. Her solidarity with my fear was heartening mostly because of the story she narrated next, and the jolly-as-ever casual tone that she took.bridge

She said that the bridge indeed made life very uncomfortable for them. Sometime back, she set out on her way to the weekly Saturday market to Kalimpong town, wearing a pair of high heels as she usually does. As she was crossing the bamboo bridges, her heel got stuck between two bamboo logs. She added, in between bouts of laughter, that she was extremely embarrassed. There she was, all dressed up, sitting on the bridge, trying to get her heels out of the space in between the bamboo logs. Even though she didn’t want to be seen by anyone in that rather hilarious situation, she found it extremely funny herself. Just a minor glitch in the mundane order of the day.

This incident was very interesting to me. Most of us would wear trekking shoes and trekking clothes to visit such areas. But what is trekking and hiking to us is their daily route and daily life. The above narrative shows that this life is as normal to them as is dressing up to catch drinks at Hauz Khas village for so many of us city people. And although places like these require help in policies and infrastructure, I hope that in the discourse on Mountains, the resilient women are not treated as rescue projects alone.

This brings me back to Spivak’s- Can the subaltern speak?- that communities and especially women are not subaltern objects, and that if we really had to talk to them and listen to them without a set of questions- what would they say?

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Time is Up, Time is Now

Shradha Shreejaya

Like every 8th of March, we rise this year in 2018 with an official theme of ‘Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives’. This is a reminder for our movement and people on the original ‘revolutionary’ and ‘left’ origins of women’s day back in the early 1900s (until it became adopted by United Nations in 1975), and the reality of present day where every week we lose a woman environment, human rights defender to ‘development’ ambitions.

In the current climate politics of the world, where we are delaying justice to the most affected communities and negotiations lost in translation, hope and action come from the grassroots women leading the way for a just transition. Attempts of ‘pinkwashing’ by corporations and jargon agencies are trivializing the intent of strong movements by confining women’s roles in climate action to merely ‘cooking stove interventions’ and gender inclusive ‘colours’ or ‘text’, whereas the demands for real solutions are sidelined.

So what are we talking about when we talk about a ‘gender just’ climate agreement this Women’s Day – ensure just and equitable transition[1] of the economy and employment that safeguards environment, thus truly transforming women’s lives.  As we progress into the UNFCCC intersessionals in May, women and gender movements urge governments to take action and honor their promise for gender equality.

To be fair and equitable, this transition must also challenge the gendered-division of labour, which places women in often low waged, insecure and informal subsistence and service industries. This just and equitable transition should challenge the foundations of paid labour so that both paid and unpaid care and domestic work, mostly assumed by women, is valued and redistributed.

The climate crisis persists when private interests and profits matter more than the respect of human rights or the conservation of the Earth and the environment. We need energy and resource democracy, where local people, particularly women, are able to make decisions over the use of local resources and the best way to fulfil their needs. The fight against climate change cannot be impeded by commercial interests[2].

Women’s rights are human rights. Without safeguarding the climate agenda and agreements within the human rights charter and progressing on the commitment towards Loss and Damages, we will continue to fail the activists losing their communities and lives to the crisis.

So this year when we rise, let it be in remembrance of everyone who has risked, fought and lost their lives to keep us moving forward towards a just world that ensures a fair future for all.

 

[1] Women and Gender Constituency key demands 2017

[2] Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development’s Feminist Fossil Fuel Free Future (5F) vision statement


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The Long Road to Ratification: India Signs Paris Climate Agreemen

This article was originally published by the Center for Global Development.

By Kartikeya Singh and Jennifer Richmond

Since the start of international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), India helped lead the global South in demanding its rightful share of the global carbon budget, while simultaneously wagging a finger at the developed world for creating and exacerbating the climate problem. India has struggled to do so while accounting for the fact that unabated climate change will continue to inflict devastating impacts on the Indian people, especially those who are poorest and most vulnerable. Yet on October 2, India signaled its serious commitment to climate action by ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, which is the most promising international climate agreement since the hailed success of the Montreal Protocol agreement from 1987.

India’s ratification will shrink the remaining margin needed for the agreement to enter into force. A total of 55 countries, who produce at least 55 percent of global emissions, is required for the agreement to take effect. Currently, 61 parties have ratified, accounting for 47.79 percent of emissions. India adds another 4.1 percent of emissions, bringing the total to 62 parties and 51.89 percent of emissions.

Dashboard 2

 

Changing discourse and the road ahead

The road to ratification has not been easy for a country of over one billion people, nearly 400 million of whom lack access to reliable electricity and over 20 percent of the country lives under the poverty line ($1.90/day). The timeline here highlights major milestones in India’s domestic and foreign climate-related energy policies. A closer examination of these markers reveals a struggle between ideologies and ground realities.

Historically, India has sought compensation from industrialized countries who exploited cheap, carbon-intensive expansion at the expense of the global South’s opportunities for growth. But in an increasingly hot world where India’s summer heat waves are reaching inhospitable temperatures, continuing to pursue a stalwart position on climate action would not even be self-serving at this point. In May of this year, the state of Rajasthan recorded India’s highest temperature ever: 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit. A recent study projected that parts of South Asia and North Africa are experiencing temperature increases at a rate that may make certain areas uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century. This is exacerbated by other major stressors attributed to climate change, such assea-level risedesertification, and increasing mortality due to industrial air pollution.

Balancing climate action with growth continues to present a challenge for India’s leadership. Gaining access to energy is key to unlocking economic growth, essential for tackling India’s poverty. India has vast coal reserves and will continue to tap into them to connect millions of citizens to the grid, but the Modi government also aims to increase its mix of renewables to meet 40 percent of the country’s electricity demand by 2030. This makes sense given that India is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the US (excluding the EU) and is projected to continue growing steadily with a current economic growth rate of 7.5 percent. Ultimately, India’s political will to emerge as a responsible superpower and mounting pressures to abate the worst impacts of a shifting climate have reshaped its posture as a leader in international climate negotiations.

Domestic policy action

India’s educated middle class is rapidly expanding and will require millions of new jobs, nudging the government to create employment opportunities while ensuring secure energy in the context of a climate-constrained world. The Modi government has announced several national missions that promote greater energy security by developing more renewables at scale. India has also realized its potential to save energy, especially among its fleet of coal-fired power plants. India’s energy efficiency programs and the desire to foster a business environment that supports low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles, could make it a leader in both these sectors.

Partnerships for progress

India’s proposed actions to address climate change through a web of policies at the national and subnational levels may serve as a blueprint for nations interested in driving clean energy innovations. However, the country cannot do it alone. India has acknowledged that it will need the help of partner countries to achieve its ambitious energy goals. Rather than developing independent agendas, multilateral development institutions and bilateral partnerships should aim to help India meet its impressive targets. Simultaneously, to make these partnerships productive, India should be more transparent about its progress on achieving its targets. India’s commitment to ratify the Paris Climate agreement sends a strong message, but the leadership’s determination to pull off such a comprehensive and long-term effort demands successively concerted action over the next several years.


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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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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