What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change


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A Freedom Past Due

The following is an address at the Youth Summit segment of the Renewable Energy India Expo 2008 held in Pragati Maidan in New Delhi on August 23, 2008.


Kahi saalon pehale, humne, badi mushkil se, ek azadi payi thi.  Aur indino hum ek nayi azadi chahte hain.

There comes a time in our lives when we have to take a stand for something.  Every generation is defined by some large event or movement.  Ours is a unique case in that the event is something that has gained momentum with time with no clear victims and perpetrators.  The damage caused till date and that which awaits us is on such a scale that to begin to comprehend it may leave you feeling helpless and in despair.  We know the root problem and there is tension in the understanding for the need of  a groundswell movement that will not only define us as a generation, but decide the fate of humanity.

There has been a lot of talk about freedom at this expo.  Someone mentioned a “quit oil movement” and the Honorable Minister of MNRE also spoke from the heart about doing more than just business here.  There is an apparent need to turn renewable energy into a movement.  Let us go back to the “stroke of the midnight hour” and the tryst we had once made with destiny.  Let us renew our pledge not only to ourselves but to the still larger cause of humanity.  For this time, as the world slowly awakens, India must reignite its ingenuity and its drive for freedom to rid ourselves of the burden of foreign energy sources and those that will make the planet play dearly.

We as a nation stand at the crossroads of not only defining our own developmental future but the ecological future of the entire planet.  Climate change is a simple call for humanity to unite and as youth we make up nearly 48% of the global population.  In India with nearly 3/4ths of the population being below the age of 30, we ARE youth.  It is our future that is on the line and we must get engaged in the debate.  Youth around the world are uniting for the cause.  They are vying for a seat as official stake holders (alongside the World Bank, the IMF and many civil society organizations) at the UNFCCC, the international body attempting to frame the next global deal to address this crucial matter.  In Bali when the road map for this next global deal was unveiled there was no youth representation from India.  A country who is coming under greater scrutiny for its current stand on the matter, and which is majority youth must see to it that its youth are found there.

The Indian Youth Climate Network was born out of this idea and with the belief that youth needed a platform to discuss and debate the issue of climate change in an attempt to drive consensus on the need to take action on the matter here in India.  We can take our economy to new heights by pushing for green jobs.  We can push for a cleaner, brighter future by engaging the government in policy.  We can demand climate justice in the international forum but ensure that we are having it here at home as well. This is an andolan to beat all andolans as there is no time to lose.  If we lose this one, we may not be around to have any more andolans.  Recently a close friend of mine in the climate movement broke down and cried.  Her words shook me:  “I think what makes me sad is that I may not live to see the successful end of climate change.”  I think those of us who are in their 20s know that grave danger lies ahead and that the least our generation can do is to take considerable steps to ensure that those younger than us can have a glimmer of hope.

The winds of change have started blowing.  Over 150 youth and young professionals from across the country gathered in Hyderabad on the Infosys campus to draft the national youth action plan on climate change and the overarching Indian youth Declaration on climate change.  The principals in this vision is what we as youth are advocating for and we want all sectors in society to take these commitments to ensure a future of hope for us.   We want the government and industry to know that the youth have arrived at last.  We are here to pave the way for green jobs but we will need enlightened corporations to come forward.  We are here to take up civic duties and hunt for solutions but we will need the support of enlightened leadership in the government.  We are here to give a voice to the voiceless and lend a hand to those who feel alone in the dark about how to take action.  Join us and become an agent of change today!


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IYSoCC Just the Beginning

From debate paralleling UN climate negotiations to Mr. Narayana Murthy’s address to the youth and from discussion of India’s emissions targets to staying up till 3am discussing the future youth want to build: the Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change was a milestone for India’s youth movement on climate change.

IYSoCC Participants in front of the Charminar in Hyderabad city

IYSoCC Participants in front of the Charminar in Hyderabad city

The aim of the summit was to come out with a youth declaration on climate change to unite the individuals and organizations that have a stake in climate change – which is everyone! The summit also aimed to create the framework that would then move on to produce the India’s Youth Action Plan on Climate Change, climate policy that will be proposed to the government over the next 6-8 months. The summit was organized by the Friendship Foundation, Global Citizens for Sustainable Development, Nature & Biological Sciences Society, the Indian Youth Climate Network, and hosted by Infosys Technologies Limited at their Gachibowli campus.

It was agreed that “young people have power” as mentioned by guest speaker Bittu Sahgal, founder of Sanctuary Magazine, who went on to say it was time for youth to use it to their advantage. Deepa Gupta, co-founder of the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN), said, “There are so many young people working on this issue, and we won’t be listened to as individuals or as a small group of people, but mass united as the youth of India: we cannot be ignored. India has about 700 million under the age of 35. How can they not be represented in the decisions, when they are the ones that will be impacted the most by climate change?” This outlined the aim of IYCN, who have grown from a reach of 3 to over 200,000 people within 4 months of the inception of the youth movement.

Mr. Narayana Murthy, co-founder, non-executive Chairman and Chief Mentor of Infosys Technologies Limited, addressed the Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change delegates. He encouraged all of the delegates to walk the talk, “I have always believed that the most powerful instrument that a leader has is leadership by example.” He further proved this by describing his sustainable living practices, including bathing with only half a bucket of water every day for the past 40 years.

Participants agreed that India needs to act urgently, commit to emissions reduction targets and renewable energy targets. They also agreed our actions need to be based on an international target of 350ppm concentration of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. This was outlined by Mr. Will Bates from 350.org, as being the maximum safe upper limit for a safe and stable climate.

There was lots of discussion including a future India powered 100% renewable energy, international taxes to high carbon emitters, an independent GHG regulatory authority. There was also discussion on mandatory emissions reporting, all metropolitan roofs having rainwater harvesting systems by 2012 and adapting to the projected 125 million climate refugees in a business as usual scenario.

Youth presented on the climate impacts in their area, with representation ranging from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan to Meghalaya. They committed to actions in their states from organizing renewable energy expos, working with schools and colleges, lobbying their local government to implementing rural energy projects, organizing solar powered rock concerts and participating in the international climate negotiations.

The launch included all delegates from Hyderabad and AP signing on to the Hyderabad Climate Alliance Pledge, agreeing that they “understand that climate change is an impending global catastrophe… and believe that Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh will be particularly susceptible… and commit to contribute in earnest to mitigating climate change and helping the people and natural environment of Hyderabad to adapt.”

Other guest speakers included, Mr. Nitin Desai, former Under Secretary General of the United Nations; Vandana Shiva, an eminent physicist, environmental activist, author and the founder of the Navdanya Institute; Amala Akkinani, film star and founder of the Blue Cross of Hyderabad, Gaurav Gupta from the Climate Project India, Dr Rajamani, Former Chief Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI, and speakers from CSM, Oxfam, Greenpeace and Sierra Club.

Other quotes:

Narayana Murthy

“We have a population of 650 to 700 million people under the age of 30. If we can mobilize this force, we will have enormous power for change to address climate change.”

Dr Rajamani:

“In your own group wherever you’re live, make the change”

“I think you’re on the ball, on the move, all the best”

Amala Akkinani

“I may not be a climate expert, but I am a concerned citizen. I love my planet; it is my only home.”

Bittu Sehgal

“Young people have power, and it is time to use it to your advantage.”

“If a lot do a little, a lot gets done.”

“If your house is on fire, you can’t go downstairs and have a debate on who started the fire and who is responsible to put it out. You all need to get some water and put it out.”

Ms. Farida Tampal

“Genetic diversity in our food crops means that we will be protected from a single climatic disaster.”

Natasha Chandy of Greenpeace India

“If we need to fight climate change, we – tomorrow’s future – need to create a revolution today. IYSoCC is just the beginning.”


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IYCN Meets Infosys Chairman & As Important: Each Other!

The third day of Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change may have been a torrential downpour, but it was no damper on the mood of the participants, who had another incredible day of discussions, including a discussion with the former Chairman and Founder of Infosys Technologies Limited, one of the world’s largest IT companies (90,000 employees!) which has been the generous host of the summit. Participants also had a chance to get to know each other a lot more during state breakout sessions, runs through the rain, and heated debates about how best to address climate equity.

Narayana Murty, Founder, Chairman & Mentor of Infosys with IYSoCC delegates supporting climate action and 350 ppm!
Narayana Murty, Founder, Chairman & Mentor of Infosys with IYSoCC delegates supporting climate action and 350 ppm!

The day began with a presentation by Gaurav Gupta of The Climate Project – India, which called for the youth to evaluate some of the hardest moral issues with regards to who should be bearing the costs of climate change adaptation and mitigation in countries like India. While India is suffering the largest impacts of climate change and is one of the world’s largest emitters of climate change, it has one of the lowest per capita levels of greenhouse gas emissions and must be allowed to develop to a higher level of per capita emissions, as developed nations must decrease their per capita and absolute emissions drastically. He also said that just as industrialized nations should be taxed based on their carbon emissions today, they should also be taxed for historical emissions, as the wealth of Europe and the United States is built on years of carbon emissions for which they were not charged.

The morning’s presentations also included presentations by Tapati Ghosh of Center for Social Markets and Brikesh Singh from Greenpeace India. Ms. Ghosh spoke about CSM’s projects to raise awareness about climate change, including the City Dialogues on Climate Change and Climate Challenge India, which received an award at the United Nations Climate Conference in Bali in 2007 as one of the world’s top five climate programs. Ms. Ghosh said, “Climate Challenge India seeks to build a new climate of hope and opportunity on climate change.” Brikesh Singh of Greenpeace India spoke about Greenpeace’s initiatives for grassroots action on climate change, and said, “If we need to fight climate change, we – tomorrow’s future – need to create a revolution today. IYSoCC is just the beginning.” Anugraha John and Digu Arachamy, both members of IYCN and organizers of IYSoCC spoke about climate change and impacts on water and agriculture, respectively.

Mr. Narayana Murthy, co-founder, non-executive Chairman and Chief Mentor of Infosys Technologies Limited, spoke to the Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change delegates this afternoon about climate change and the power of youth to make a change. He encouraged all of the delegates to lead through their own examples, to walk the talk with regards to conservation of resources. “I have always believed that the most powerful instrument that a leader has is leadership by example.” He was very supportive of the motives and actions of the Indian Youth Climate Network, and said, “We have a population of 650 to 700 million people under the age of 30. If we can mobilize this force, we will have enormous power for change to address climate change.” He also told us that he only uses half a bucket of water each day to bathe, putting water conservation into action.

Youth from around the country discussed impacts in their own states, ranging from loss of glaciers and decreased tourism due to decreased snowfall in Himachal Pradesh, reduction in fruit production in Kashmir, to droughts and farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. They also spoke about their solutions for their regions, including statewise support for subsidies on renewables, mandatory solar water heating and rainwater harvesting, and better educational campaigns on climate solutions. The most exciting part, of course, was the commitment made by individuals and by groups to take action when they do return home – to turn the words of the week into actions. The team from Delhi each committed to speaking at five schools or colleges to spread the message, and to meet in two weeks to discuss how to move the Delhi Charter on Climate Change into action.

Representatives from Bangalore agreed to compile a database of all organizations working on climate and environment in Karnataka and have a meeting on August 23 to unite them. In Hyderabad, groups committed to tree plantations. Many committed to share information and organize events for Project 350, an international grassroots movement to raise the number of 350 ppm as the international target for emissions. This has been identified as the only safe level of carbon emissions that will allow for a stable future climate, and is the base of international actions leading up to an international agreement for climate policy in Copenhagen at the United Nations climate negotiations in 2009.

In the afternoon, a group of international youth organizers spoke about their experiences internationally. Deepa Gupta told of direct actions that were organized in Australia, including chaining activists to trees to prevent being cut down and the Youth Climate Action Camp which included hundreds of youth lying on railway tracks to prevent coal trains from reaching a new coal plant. Two students from Nepal spoke about the impacts of climate change in Nepal and the international youth movement’s actions there. Representatives from the United States spoke about the shift from fear-based to hope-based climate action and the campus based movements that spread across the country, including Nathan Wyeth from Sierra Student Coalition and Will Bates from Project 350. In particular, Mr. Bates highlighted the effectiveness of national days of actions, including Step it Up 2007, in which 1400 communities and campuses across the country in all 50 states held events to call for 80 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2050.

The official sessions ended with a painting session, with delegates painting canvases depicting their thoughts on climate change, impacts and solution that OxFam India will be bringing to this year’s international climate negotiations. The day ended with passionate discussions of climate equity and how best to address historical emissions, including questioning how colonial impacts, deforestation and land use change, and development pathways could be incorporated into such a tax.

Tomorrow is the final day of the Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change, in which the Youth Declaration will be finalized after a few more working groups.


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Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change: Day 2

This morning, the events at the second day of the India Youth Summit on Climate Change began by a presentation by Bittu Sehgal, founder of Sanctuary Magazine, renowned author, and environmentalist, spoke about the importance of the Summit and the IYCN in India. “Young people have power,” he said, “and it is time to use it to your advantage.” One of his major messages was that we all need to take action in our own lives, actions small and large, to make a difference. He said, “If a lot do a little, a lot gets done.”
He also discussed climate equity, the sense that those who are most responsible for the emissions leading to climate change are not the ones who will be feeling the most of the impacts of the changes. He said that climate equity is not only true between nations but within the nation itself. However, he encouraged that we get past the debate on climate equity to the discussion of unified action. He said, “If your house is on fire, you cant go downstairs and have a debate on who started the fire and who is responsible to put it out. You need to get some water and put it out.” While the West may not be taking action fast enough to mitigate climate impacts, this is not a reason for India to be hesitating on climate action, as well.


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Indian Youth Summit on Climate: Day 1

Today in Hyderabad was a momentous occasion, as the city is hosting the nation’s first youth summit on climate change, organized by the Indian Youth Climate Network and its partners, hosted by Infosys in Gachibowli. The Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change is bringing together more than 150 youth from across the nation, representing more than fifteen states of India, to discuss climate change and identify a common youth vision for climate action on mitigation and adaptation.

Today’s inaugural session of the Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change began with a presentation by Mr. Nitin Desai, former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, who spoke about the importance of youth coming together to discuss and address climate change. He emphasized that there was a complete scientific consensus on the issue of climate change being caused by human activities, and that we all needed to unite to address the issue.

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Visions for the Future

Vision of young people is simple – we want to enjoy a stable climate that our parents grandparents have enjoyed, one without hundreds and thousands of refugees, resource scarcity, and natural disasters.

 

The IPCC has stated that to give us a 50% chance of preventing two degrees warming we will require global emissions to be stabilized at 450ppm. Now, even venture capitalists would agree that 50% chance of return isn’t a worthwhile investment. Imagine the loss of this investment resulting in the destruction of our planet. My vision for the long term is that India makes to the 350ppm target, which gives us a strong chance at preventing runaway climate change. Clean technology will need a very strong presence to make this vision reality.

  

My vision of the next 12 months, which will progress beyond that, is somewhat Gandhi-an.

 

The Indian attitude to climate change is changing and it is going to heavily impact the cleantech market. What we’re seeing now, with the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) as a great example is that people have an increasing awareness of climate change in both the urban and rural communities of India. Climate change more than anything is an issue of humanity. When it comes to times of crisis humans often band together. India’s fight for independence is an epic example. Climate change is bringing the global community, and will bring India together. It was not luck that allowed IYCN to expand from 3 to over 300 individual members, harbour more than 10 member groups and have the reach to over 205,000 young Indians nation wide. It is not luck that has allowed IYCN to achieve the support of globally rooted organisations such as Infosys, Greenpeace, Reva, WWF and media houses such as NDTV, times of India, the Hindustan times and the Hindu within 4 months of its inception.

  

Every Indian I’ve met has hope that India will become a developed nation, will not have millions of people die each year from malnutrition disease, and natural catastrophes. We’re working so hard to build our economy, aiming for superpower status, and becoming a leader in the world in many areas, it seems somewhat ludicrous if India doesn’t take far stronger action on climate change, because if it doesn’t, the malnutrition, disease and natural catastrophes are only going to get worse. Hence I feel, like in our fight for independence, the youth & people of India will unite and take action for solutions.

 

I have 4 big visions. Firstly, an increase in consumer demand for retail & bulk energy from cleantech, Secondly, innovative cleantech transport solutions, thirdly, strong growth in rural clean tech projects, and finally, clean tech being the next IT.

 

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Rethinking 1984

Outside:  Sunny and bright.

Inside:  Dark and dingy.  

 

A world of contrast opened up before me as I stepped into that small room, with no windows and very little space to move around. My eyes fell on eleven-year old Suraj lying on the bed, his hands and legs sickly thin.  

 

All those questions that I had suddenly wanted to ask simply disappeared and a feeling of despair crept into the air.  

 

 Suraj suffers from complete Cerebral Palsy. The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. It is caused by abnormalities in those parts of the brain that control muscle movements. Cerebral Palsy has no cure but special therapeutic treatment can induce certain improvements.Children with severe cerebral palsy can never sit, stand, walk, talk or play.

The title of this article might have misled many into thinking that it is probably about some political or literary event.Instead, it is about the dreadful night of Dec 2, 1984 when about 40 tones of methyl iso cyanate (MIC) from the Union Carbide India Limited’s (UCIL) pesticide factory escaped into the air and enveloped various areas of the city of Bhopal. These areas, right outside the walls of the Union Carbide factory were inhabited by poor families who earned a living as daily wage labourers, factory and construction workers. At night, when everyone was asleep, the gas spread like wild fire causing irritation, suffocation and sudden death to about 2,000 people.  

 

 It does not make sense to explain the details of the event, as we are all aware that what Bhopal encountered was one of the worst man made disasters.What we often forgot to mention is that it is also a case of the grossest violation of human rights, environmental safety, of corporate crime and of how the poor everywhere are exploited so easily.  

 

Visiting the now abandoned UCC factory in Bhopal can teach many a lesson. The air is stale and the remaining parts of the heavy machinery continue to rot. The icing remains the chemical slush on the ground. Mr. T.K. Chauhan, a former supervisor with one of the departments of the factory took us around and explained to us the names of the chemicals. I honestly cannot recollect their precise names. The only thing I remember from what he said is the fact that the chemicals were highly hazardous with the potential to kill.  

 

 Had children like Suraj been considered a rare case in these bastees, we would not have been so worried. However the truth is, ever since the incident, there has been an increase in the number of such children being born here, many of them with severe cerebral palsy, mental retardation and Down syndrome. Children born without such deformities suffer from illnesses such as chest pain, eye irritation, weaknesses, headaches, reproductive problems, skin problems, cancer and even immunological changes…pains that could last a lifetime.  

 

 The Bhopal tragedy has multiplied over the decades. The people now suffer mostly from water contamination. The chemicals have seeped underground and reacted with the ground water. The water is yellowish at times and people often say that by drinking it, they experience an unexplainable sensation in which they feel that their throat is on fire.

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