What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change


Leave a comment

Time for India to step out of the Climate Shadow

Riddhima Yadav*

The announcement last week by the United States and China of a deal setting limits on greenhouse gases has set the ball rolling for the UN climate talks at Lima next week. But it has also done something long overdue – turned the spotlight on India. India has been under some pressure from the US and EU in the run up to the Peru talks to revise its INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions), which would push the country to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. However, India’s long-held position is that it will not sacrifice eradicating poverty to limit carbon emissions. In the words of Environment minister Prakash Javadekar, “Poverty is India’s greatest environmental challenge.”

But is this really an excuse? Not really, according to several climate campaigners and experts. “Energy poverty is no longer a justification for coal expansion,” said Ashish Fernandes of Greenpeace India. In the last five years alone, India increased its coal power capacity by 73 percent. To fuel the new plants, India plans to double domestic coal production to one billion tons a year by 2019, and boost imports, notably from Australia. Pollution from India’s coal plants — largely unregulated and unmonitored — kills up to 115,000 Indians a year, and costs India’s economy as much as $4.6 billion. India’s air is among the world’s dirtiest.

India, the world’s third highest emitter of greenhouse gases has long been hiding in the shadows of Chinese climate policies. Indian delegates have long been ardent defenders of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” – the concept that the burden of emissions reductions and financial assistance on climate change for poor countries belongs to developed countries, who have a historical responsibility.The concept has often hampered global climate negotiations, especially as some developing countries became emerging economies.Jairam Ramesh, India’s former environment minister and chief negotiator, believes it is time to rethink that approach.”Differentiation is essential but is this distinction made in a completely different era over two decades back still meaningful? Simply put, it is not,” he said.

Maybe that is why, sensing the change in global sentiment on climate change strategies, Prime Minister Modi recast the almost defunct Prime Minister’s council on climate change, seeking to reinvigorate the body ahead of a pivotal year for global talks. The council, which was set up in 2006 under the erstwhile UPA government, had not met in the past three years due to differences in the government ranks over climate policy. Aware of the global expectations, the Modi-government has also commissioned a study to assess India’s current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, the results of which will be out by December. These results, along with the internal assessments of the government, will be used to prepare India’s new voluntary targets to the international community under the new pact to be signed in 2015. Furthermore, this has been followed up by an announcement on renewable energyIndia has indicated it aimed to increase the share of renewables to at least 15 per cent of its total energy usage, up from 6 per cent currently. India also hopes to bring in nearly USD$100 billion investment in renewable energy projects and install 100GW of solar capacity.

It remains to be seen whether this announcement will be followed through with concrete action – the long standing issue with a majority of climate committments. In the run up to Paris, pressure is now building on india to take a clear stance at the UN Climate talks. The negotiations next week will be intently watched to see what India comes up with!

*Riddhima Yadav is a member of Indian Youth Climate Network


1 Comment

Nagoya Protocol Comes in Force, India Falling Apart in Implementation

Dispatches from Pyeongchang, S. Korea

Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing came in force last Sunday. It is definitely a good news, as after years of deadlock on the issues of environment and sustainability, we have a new substantial global norm to facilitate environmental governance. At a very basic level the objective of the protocol is to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from utilization of genetic resources and traditional knowledge. Now a framework is in place which ensures that genetic resources of countries and communities are not used without consent. When the foundations of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) were laid, developed countries desired conservation agenda at the top, while developing countries wanted sustainable use of biodiversity for their material progress to be priority. In the juggernaut of various interests Convention on Biological Diversity succeeded in balancing at-least the demand of developing countries.

To ratify the protocol, parties need to have a domestic regulatory framework which can be either in the form of legislation. The legislation further creates a regulatory body or the task of access and benefit sharing is allocated to the relevant existing department. Bringing out legislation is not mandatory. There needs to be a relevant body with a job profile of implementation of norms related to access and benefit sharing.

The protocol also acknowledges the role played by indigenous and local communities in sustainable harvest of genetic resources and their knowledge (traditional knowledge) of its handling. The protocol enforces the sharing of monetary and non-monetary benefits with them after the sustainable usage of genetic resources.

India definitely needs a round of applause for hosting COP-11, in Hyderabad, which brought out the road map for ratification of Nagoya Protocol by more than 50 parties (participant countries) of CBD. Let me make one thing very clear, it’s the efforts of previous government which bore fruits in the regime of new government. We don’t need to congratulate either Mr. Narendra Modi or Prakash Javadekar.

India’s role in ratification of protocol need to be appreciated, but the fact is that India also has shown tremendous hypocrisy to execute the same at home in India. National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) was created in 2003 much before the formulation of protocol with the similar objectives. Sadly, the NBA has done more harm to environment and losses to the biological resources of the country go un-estimated. There are not many case studies of sharing of benefits arising after from utilization of genetic resources and traditional knowledge with indigenous and local communities in India. NBA prefers to keep the money and other benefits in its own pockets.

The appointment of chairman of authority has also been in controversy. Government of India prefers arrogant bureaucrats over the professionals who have done considerable work in biodiversity conservation. The result is in front of all the parties attending COP12 at Pyeongchang. The current head of National Biodiversity Authority can be found tasting food and beer in different restaurants and bars or organizing receptions where ironically “beef” is served, instead of attending working group meetings, except when he is asked to chair the plenary sessions. His statements as chair constitute nothing more than hollow sermons on eco-friendliness of Indian culture. The phrases like ‘Vasudev Katumbakkam’ are being over used and later abused. Adding to his profile, last year he used inappropriate language when the youth delegation was making intervention at the inter-sessional meeting of parties in Montreal.

Government of India did its best in ensuring mandated number of ratifications, but failed to enforce the norms at home. The other environment protection and forest rights laws are facing the fire; their wings will be flipped in coming months. In the near future, NBA which is already a feeble body has similar night-mares on its way.

Getting back to global norm, it is good that countries after decades of negotiations have something substantial in hand to monitor the access and usage of genetic resources. They have to be very careful in making sure that utilization of resources is not done for wrongful purposes. Now they also have a chance to come up with a stronger mandate of conserving flora and fauna. The benefits availed from ABS protocol can be helpful in doing the same. Keeping fingers crossed!

Disclaimer and confession: I’ve always been asked about the reasons of being too cynical regarding India’s role in global environmental governance. Let me clear the air once for all. Indian leadership is very good in quoting ancient texts and informing the world about greatness and green-ness of Indian culture, religion and society. Their actions at home stand the opposite to what they generally state in global forums. This doesn’t make me and others very hopeful at all.


Leave a comment

How The Last Week Turned Out To Be One Of The Saddest Weeks In The Environmental History Of India

Mr. Modi’s recent speech, which received a standing ovation from the Indian delegation in a largely empty United Nations General assembly, is a representation of our collective ignorance. The popularly elected Prime Minister hinted that yoga is a way to mitigate climate change. One is not sure whether he was ridiculing the threat of climate change or mocking the ancient science of Yoga. This is not the first time Mr. Modi has shown his ignorance about climate change. His past statements are well documented where he declared that climate is not changing, our lifestyle is.

A request out of utter humour was posted on the Indian Youth Climate Network Page – “Our sincere requests to our ‘popular’ Prime Minister- please don’t make unnecessary linkages. Yoga is good for health but definitely not a strategy of mitigating climate change. Changing in lifestyle as you stated is needed and should start from your own very self, maybe you should learn from your counterpart in Uruguay. Too much to ask for, is it?!” received absurd responses, which were later removed by the admin.

Many of them actually made connections between yoga and climate change mitigation. According to one of the commentator, yoga helps to still the mind, and that ways we can face climate change. Most people who read it were not able to make any sense of it. It shows our collective ignorance and failure of scientific understanding.

India was founded by its makers to promote scientific understanding. Constitution starts with the declaration of ‘we the people’ and not with invocation of God or Almighty, or any particular religious or spiritual tradition. It seems that as Indians, we have missed the point altogether. We have failed to inculcate scientific values and prefer giving copies of Bhagvad Gita to everyone. While we have low understanding of science, we have become over-obsessed with technology. Let me make myself clear here – technology doesn’t always translate into science, rationale or logic. There are differences which we will not get into now.

Let’s move back to environmental governance and ignorance of the political class in India. A day before the Prime Minister’s visit to New York UN Assembly, Mr. Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change sang the old raga of ‘historical responsibility’ of emissions and just made a fool of his very own self in the UN summit on Climate Change called by Ban Ki Moon. The variability in climate will not cause natural disasters in historically responsible developed nations alone. For the weather patterns, these artificial nation state boundaries mean nothing. We all need to take firm commitments, whatever we can afford. And India has a vast potential to take shared responsibility on her shoulders. We have an opportunity to take a leap from the dirty polluting model of development. A pragmatic view is what we are lacking in our leadership. This is something which we need to remind our Environment Minister of….

The piece is originally published in Youth Ki Awaaz and is continued here.-


Leave a comment

Exposing The Hypocrisy Of Modi Government On Environmental Issues

It is highly recommended that the new government change the name of “Ministry of Environment and Forest” to “Ministry of Environment and Forest Clearances”. The interview of Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, in a news daily on 10th September is a reflection of the same. When the “honorable” minister was asked about the biggest achievement of his ministry, he proudly stated that the ministry has deleted the word ‘delay’ from its system and gives speedy approvals (to everything). What I inferred from it was that the ministry has changed its mandate from ‘environment protection’ to ‘environment clearance’ , and that is the achievement of 100 days of honeymoon.

This comes after our very own PM’s statement on climate change. According to him, it is not climate which is changing, it is humans who have changed. And for the same reason, a meagre Rs. 100 Cr. have been set aside for climate change adaptation.

Yes Mr. Prime Minister, humans have changed a lot, and through the change in their lifestyle, they have made climate far more variable than ever before. But probably our leadership is not aware of that. A day before the interview, in the same newspaper, it was mentioned that the carbon intensity of India has increased by 0.7% in 2013. None of these are good symptoms. We know that the agenda of our government is dictated by few obese merchant households, for whom, nothing matters other than profit. Still, people had some hope from the right wing, as they regularly give sermons on how ‘eco-friendliness’ is a part and parcel of our religion, culture and society.

The piece was originally published in Youth Ki Awaaz and is continued here