What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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Need for Resilient Agricultural Systems in the face of Climate Variability

Indian Youth Climate Network Policy Brief on Agriculture under UNFCCC

Background & Current Status: Agriculture contributes to and is threatened by climate change, thus jeopardizing global food security. Increasing variability in weather patterns makes agriculture one of the sectors this is most vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Smallholders, comprising approximately 500 million small farms globally, are particularly vulnerable to climate change, potentially making nearly two billion people food insecure worldwide.

Agriculture is recognized as integral part for both adaption and mitigation on climate change. Article 2 of the UNFCCC outlines as ultimate objective the need to stabilize concentration of green house gases to ‘ensure that food production is not threatened’ by climate change. Article 4.1 (c) of UNFCCC detailing the commitments of parties provides for ‘promotion and cooperation in the development of technologies, practices and processes that can mitigate emissions from the relevant sectors’, including agriculture. It also states that parties need to cooperate in preparing to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and develop and elaborate appropriate and integrated plans for agriculture amongst other things Art 4.1 (e).

At COP 13 in Bali, parties had agreed to ‘develop and elaborate cooperative and sectoral approaches and sector specific actions to implement Art. 4.1(c)’, under the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA).

The text from LWG-LCA in COP 15 in 2009 at Copenhagen was agreed to be protected. The text mentioned the need to improve the efficiency and productivity of agricultural production systems in a sustainable manner. Interests of farmers, rights of indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge practices were also recognized along with the link between agriculture and food security, adaptation and mitigation. It was also argued that agriculture sector should not become a reason for imposing trade barriers. A Work Programme on Agriculture under Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA- a technical body that advises parties to UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol on scientific, technological and methodological questions) was sought to be established.

At COP 17 in Durban (2011), parties agreed to include Agriculture as an agenda item in SBSTA, thereby, moving it from the LCA discussions. At Doha in COP 18, no agreement was reached on the work programme on agriculture and the discussions on agriculture continued under SBSTA. As SBSTA mandate is to look at scientific and technological aspects and not policy matters, it also invites reports from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) including the report by the High-Level Panel of Experts on food security and nutrition to feed into its own working and at the workshops it organizes.

Some key areas and interventions on Agriculture:

  • Developing countries have argued for emphasis on adaptation to climate change given that it will impact a majority of their population that are directly dependent on agriculture as an important source of livelihood.
  • EU is in support of a Work Programme on Agriculture that addresses mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation within one umbrella.
  • Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) argue for inclusion of agriculture in Adaptation Committee and discussions in Ad Hoc Durban Platform (ADP).
  • Coalition for Rainforest Nations have stressed on agriculture as a source of food security and livelihoods, and therefore need for greater adaptation.
  • Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean(AILAC) underlined the potential of adaptation efforts and associated co-benefits on agriculture.
  • Farmers’s NGO’s have repeatedly asked for work programme on agriculture under SBSTA.

At Bonn in June 2014, SBSTA agreed to consider the development of early warning systems and contingency plans in relation to extreme weather events; assessment of vulnerability and risk of agricultural systems in relation to different climate change scenarios; identification of adaptation measures; and identification and assessment of agricultural practices and technologies to enhance productivity in a sustainable manner, food security and resilience (FCCC/SBSTA/2014/L.14) at the SBSTA 42 /44 inter-sessional discussions. [1]

Developed countries continue to stress on the need to develop the work programme which addresses adaptation and mitigation together,it is still under discussion.

Some key areas that need added focus:

  • As UNFCCC seeks experts reports and feedback from FAO and CFS on its discussions on agriculture, SBSTA needs to analyse how it can ensure greater coherence on agricultural policies while at the same time avoid high transaction costs that are associated with duplication of efforts.
  • SBSTA’s workshops can be used as a forum to foster greater dialogue on contentious issues with an aim to arrive at policies that are necessary for an equitable, food secure, sustainable, and humane farming future in the face of climate change.
  • As the scientific and technical body, SBSTA should identify research and exchanges that are necessary to fulfill these goals.

The Way Forward: For the deal between and after Paris, it has become important to ensure that climate policies encompassing agriculture include considerations and safeguards that protect and promote food security, biodiversity, equitable access to resources, the right to food, animal welfare, and the rights of indigenous peoples and local populations, while promoting poverty reduction and climate adaptation. Given the extreme vulnerability of small farmers and producers, policies need to promote biodiverse, resilient agricultural systems that achieve social and gender equity and are led by small producers. Depending on the contextual requirement, systems should be developed, demonstrated, tested, and implemented, so as to transform farming which is environmentally, economically, or socially unsustainable into farming that improves ecosystem health, communities, and cultures – even in the face of a changing climate.

Prepared by Supriya Singh after consultation with Indian Youth Climate Network members.

[1]Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Vol. 12 No. 598, pp 15.


Who will Arise to the Climate Challenge?

\"Youth Want Hard Caps on Emissions from Industrialized Countries!\" Bali Climate Chnage Talks, December 2007Youth: comprising 48% of the global population, or roughly 3 billion people. It is our future that was at the negotiating table in Bali last December at the UN Climate Change Conference. Yet we the youth had no say about our very own future that according to some has already been burned away by the generations preceding us. It is important to note that the so called “developing countries,” where more youth are coming from simply because of demographic advantage and where more people directly depend on their natural resources for day to day survival, have more to lose from our changing climate than those in the industrialized nations. It is ok to sit back and not be phased by it if you are not sensing the change that is already evident around us. But to those youth of South Asia, where more than a billion people depend on an increasingly erratic monsoon and where the lives of hundreds of millions depends directly on waters sourced from the retreating glaciers of the Himalayas, we must arise to address this looming crisis of global proportions and unimaginable local implications.

When I embarked on my journey to Bali this last December with the US youth delegation (yes, youth representatives of the world’s largest emitter of green house gases), I was looking forward to bridging the voices of youth from the global North with those of the global South. Being an Indian citizen, it was a rather unique opportunity to be in the middle of one of the biggest road-blocks to the success of the negotiations: the as of yet irreconcilable US vs. rapidly industrializing country view on the “common but differentiated responsibility” for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, I found myself to be the only Indian youth present (and one of only a few from all of South Asia) at the historic talks which were supposed to define how negotiations would take shape in the post 2012 world. With this in mind, I helped form an Asian Youth Caucus on the sidelines of the informal “International Youth Delegation” which was dominated by well organized and well informed youth from Canada, Australia and the United States. In an effort to get increased participation from youth from the global South and give a more holistic angle to the youth perspective, it was apparent that we would need an unofficial Asian youth caucus which would help us share stories and ideas in the Asian context. Being the only Indian youth—I aimed to bring in the stories of and plug in the voices of youth from South Asia in this pan-Asian network.

The start of the conference was filled with high energy and high hopes—all of which turned into frustration in the second week. Recent polls in the US have revealed that approximately 80% of the population would now like to see firm action on climate change. Within the last year we saw major youth movements across the US in the form of the “Step It Up” campaign, and more recently, the largest public gathering on climate change, “Power Shift,” which saw nearly 6,000 youth from nearly every congressional district in the US converge on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Why then one would ask, is there a disconnect between the current administration and what the majority of Americans really want? The US negotiators in Bali asked of us whether we had the votes within the US to demand of them to make stronger commitment at the international negotiations (because it is the administration in power that dictates international policy). Thus the goal of our delegation was clear: go back to the US and mobilize the masses to take action at the polls—which we hope will happen in the coming elections. Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that change will only come with the spreading of awareness.

Meanwhile my interaction with the Indian officials can be summed up by sharing one simple interaction: upon my telling one of the negotiators that I was an Indian youth representative, he simply replied, “the youth? . . . Shouldn’t they have the same views as their elders?” This is one of the fundamental problems right now. The problem of climate change is so complex that politicians must realize that it goes well beyond the games they play. Its ecological implications are so far reaching that it is a problem that will cross-cut generations and be magnified for our generation. Youth of India, a young nation, must have their voices heard by politicians who are debating our very future. A nation at the cross-roads, while we must demand climate equity at an international level, we must also demand that we do not go down the pathway of the industrialized nations before we too find ourselves in a hydrocarbon trap.

Asian Youth Caucus, UN Climate Change Talks, Bali, IndonesiaSo where do we begin? There is hardly any debate amongst us youth here in India right now regarding climate change. Yet there are signs of the change all around us. Go to the rural areas and ask the struggling farmers whether they have noticed a change in the weather patterns within the past 10 or more years and the answer is always yes. Look to your cities—are they too choked with fumes from the growing number of cars in the back drop of a rapidly expanding concrete jungle with decreasing green cover? Make the connections and see where our country is headed. Some will argue of poverty and education being bigger priorities for our growing nation. Others will point at the US and the industrialized nations claiming they should take action, not us. While this is true, won’t our abject poverty make us even more vulnerable to the changing climate? Do we sit by and watch our own house burn? Shouldn’t we as Indians redefine the concept of “development” which we always associate with the West? Where do we begin? Perhaps we should start by discussing it in an Indian context and eventually establish an “Indian Youth Charter on Climate Change.” I hope that this all too important dialog will begin before it is too late.

Before the Bali conference, I never dreamed that a process on which the world’s fate rests so heavily could be so complicated and so cumbersome to the point that all sense of urgency is lost in the labyrinthine process itself. I have never been so disappointed with the international political process. We did leave Bali with a victory of sorts with the US conceding to the need for deep emissions cuts. The youth present at the conference had made a stand in the final hours of the harrowing debate and we believe that our voices were heard. It is with this hope and our attempts to get official stake holder status with the UNFCCC (Framework Convention on Climate Change) that I am more determined now than ever before to become a part of this dialog and to make change happen from the bottom up. As youth from India, a country whose role in the process is becoming increasingly apparent, we must make our voices and our presence felt not just at the national but international level. Climate change is the biggest challenge any generation has had to face in the history of the planet and how we address it will define the fate of all humanity. Who then is ready to take up this climate challenge?

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Ultra Mega Power Project at Mundra

Coal Deposits of India MapThe time has come to worship the black rocks beneath our soil. India needs approximately 160,000 megawatts of electricity in the coming decade to be able to sustain its phenomenal growth rate. Conveniently enough, we have one of the largest coal reserves in the world. Unfortunately Indian coal is not of good quality as it has a high ash content.  Much of our coal fields are also under developed (perhaps we should be thankful for this as these resources lie beneath our dwindling forests and tiger habitats) which makes us import from places like South Africa and Australia. That aside we know that coal will continue to play a major role in India’s economic growth and development for the coming decades. And as the government tries to rapidly electrify the entire nation by 2012 (as currently 500 million people are without access to electricity in rural areas) the need for power supply expansion is obvious. Add to that the fact that every urban center experiences power outages affecting business and agriculture both it is not surprising that we are seeing the approval of finances for Tata’s 4,000 Megawatt “Ultra Mega” Power Project at Mundra port in Gujarat.

The estimated cost of this project is $4.2 billion and the International Finance Corporation, part of the  financing wing of the World bank is footing $450 million of that (Rs. 1,800 crore). This in conjunction with the Asian Development Bank ($450 million), Korean ECA ($800 million), “local banks” ($1.5 billion), and “an equity component” of $1 billion. The beneficiaries are expected to be the industrial and agricultural users along with 1.6 crore domestic households. The juice will be zapped through power lines into five states in western and northern India. Just imagine the gap between demand and supply this will fill! Or will it? Perhaps demand will never meet up with supply as the Indian middle class grows along with their ambitions to own more ACs, refrigerators, and electronic gadgets. Never mind that people in villages are still struggling to have electricity to read. The truth is that there is a very serious climate injustice at play here.  Can India continue to just justify the need for more power in the name of the 500 million without access when an “electrified village” equates to just 10% of the households in the village having access to the grid?  Meanwhile the demand in the urban areas continues to soar…

Will the electricity really reach the rural poor? Will the poor even be able to afford electricity at time when we are seeing a restructuring of the power system to reduce transmission and distribution costs (which have been as high as 50% in many places and only now begun to come down in states like Rajasthan and a few others)?

It is said that super critical technology is being implemented in the construction of this power plant (theCoal laden train first of which will be operational by 2011 and the other units plugging into the grid in installments of every 4 months). This will make the coal power plants 40% more energy efficient at turning the black mineral into energy than the average power plant in India is currently able to manage. Also, it has already been estimated that the plant will emit 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. The IEA stated at a side event in Bali last December highlighting the importance of China and India in the emerging energy scenario that for serious cut backs on global green house gas emissions, by 2012 we could no longer build any more thermal power plants that emit any CO2. Everything from that point on would need to be zero-emission and from there on a gradual reduction in emission from overall power generation as the global economy transitioned into renewables. But does this leave enough time and space for rapidly emerging economies (not to mention the least developed countries LDCs) to get cheap energy to grow and bring millions out of poverty? Who will finance zero emission coal plants or the transition into a completely zero-carbon growth path?


Incredible !ndia not Inclined to Tackle Climate Change?

DTC BUS, DelhiI enjoy taking the bus to work. For a 40 minute commute it costs me Rs. 7 (US$ 0.18) instead of Rs. 50 if I choose to take an auto-rickshaw. But today as the bus sat still for 40 minutes in the middle of the traffic choked road, I looked longingly at the High Capicty Bus Corridor that is still under construction. It is a project that has taken a long time to get the green light for a city which is now adding 1000 cars a day to its streets. The availability of credit has made it easier for the burgeoning middle class of India to buy more goods and one of the things that is on the top of many peoples’ list is the car. At this point in time it looks as if India is all set to embrace the car culture. With more money going into roads, parking spaces, construction of more flyovers and underpasses to decongest traffic, and the imminent arrival of India’s version of the Model-T, a $2,500 car built by India’s Tata Motors.

COP 13, Bali, Indonesia, December 2007:

“It is strange that India has been labeled as a major emitter, when we are not, we are simply a large country with a big population,” stated Minister of State of Environment & Forests, Meena at the side event hosted by the Indian delegation during the Bali conference. Yes, it’s true: India is a country of approximately 1.03 billion people (and rising) and still nearly 500 million of its citizens are living in the darkness. Nearly 700 million of its citizens depend on non-conventional fuels like biomass (dung and wood) for their energy needs. When the primary concern of the government is to electrify the entire nation by 2012, we know that the energy will be coming from coal-fed thermal power plants. In fact, India plans on building 150 of such plants within the next 5 years with China not far ahead at 200. When an audience member innocently asked what India could do to reduce emissions, he was replied with, “I am shocked that you would ask such a question after what you have heard here during our presentation.” Being an Indian citizen and at the same time a resident of the world’s largest emitter, the United States, I was having a hard time reconciling the need for India to grow and reduce emissions when the country is already on a pathway of development that the industrialized nations have laid.

Amidst the global debate on the role and inclusion of developing nations with regards to climate change, what should the role of a nation like India, clearly at the crossroads, be? Historically it can be said that India has forged its own path of “non-alignment” and not being confined to any camp with regards to international negotiations. We here in India pride ourselves for being trend setters, not followers. Yet with the question of climate still looming heavily on everyone’s mind and with the last minute high flying drama witnessed in Bali involving India, one wonders whether the country is actually going to take some bold initiatives that will set it apart.

In the past, India has argued for the right of rising economies to ecological space to grow in India ranks 5th globally in terms of installed wind energy capacitythis climate constrained world. The reason being the accumulated emissions of the industrialization phase of the presently developed nations. But this is not a question of a zero-sum game because the damage has been done and its not about who should be “allowed to pollute” and who shouldn’t. Granted, India has a lot more catching up to do, this is only the case for its rural populace who will need energy for development and to climb out of dire poverty. But here in lies India’s strength: should India choose to, it can go about developing a low-carbon pathway for development of its rural citizens. In doing so, it would not only leapfrog the unsustainable carbon based economy, but pave the road map for a new development paradigm for the rest of the world to follow. The Clean Development Mechanism was supposed to help in this low-carbon transition, but it has not done so. It is mired with corruption and the funding of technology that is not wholly appropriate to make the entire leap. Funders do not want to fund the really expensive projects that would really help in the transition of these economies. Funding and CDM flaws are only half the problem. Continue reading