Category: Development

India announces Panel to "study" global warming

The Hindu News Update Service

Warning that the threat of climate change was real, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said future of people will be at peril if they do not change their lifestyles.

Singh’s warning came on a day when he constituted a high level advisory group to help the government take pro-active measures to deal with global warming.

“The threat of climate change is real and unless we alter our lifestyles and pursue a sustainable model of development, our future will be at peril”, he said in a message on the occasion of World Environment Day.

So, what exactly is the Indian position on climate change, something that threatens its coastlines, will put entire villages under water in the Ganga delta, screw around with the monsoon, and accelerate glacier melting in the Himalayas (among many other effects?)

Here’s India’s position from the talks with Brazil last week…

“We are willing to work in partnership in this process to cut emissions but we cannot accept equal responsibility (for the global mess caused by the industrialised nations),” an Indian official said.

The country’s top environmental official, Pradipto Ghosh, said yesterday that “legally mandated measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are likely to have significant adverse effects on the GDP growth of developing countries, including India”.

Yes, obviously. The world is in desperate need of a framework to make development and poverty alleviation happen without burning too much coal. But, as long as the leader of the free world vacillates, obfuscates and procrastinates, not much will happen.

Monsoon no longer determines India's economic fate?

The Indian Express has a rather giddy article about monsoons and the economy. It was an article of faith growing up that if/when the monsoon failed on a particular year, the country’s economy would suffer greatly. Apparently, this is not true any more.

Monsoon grip on India’s economy weakens

The early arrival of India’s annual monsoon promises good crops and incomes for millions of farmers but economists say the rains no longer hold such a sway over Asia’s third-largest economy as they used to in the past.

It is true that agricultural now contributes to 22% of the economy as opposed to 38% in 1980. But, this kind of economic cheerleading is foolish. As the article itself admits, 700 million people live off farming related activities. India’s irrigation infrastructure is poor. The crop growing cycles are based primarily on the monsoon rains, their timing, the rain volumes during certain months, etc. You really think that an event that adversely affects 700 million people won’t devastate large swathes of the country?

Economists place way too emphasis on single macro variables. The relevant variable here is 700 milion!

Indian workers to get safety net

This is great news, as long as the program is well administered and transparent (usual caveat that accompanies any new policy announced by the Indian government).

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Social security for Indian poor

The Indian government has announced an ambitious social security scheme which is aimed at benefiting about 390 million poor, non-unionised workers. Once passed by parliament, the scheme will provide the workers with life insurance and disability protection.

Under the new scheme, the non-unionised, casual worker will be entitled to life insurance and health and disability benefits by contributing just one rupee (one cent) a day.

The government says it wants to help the under-privileged

The government and employers will also contribute an equal amount. Those earning less than 6,500 rupees ($160) annually will be designated as living below the poverty line, and their one-rupee share will be paid for by the federal government.

It is estimated that the government will need $22.2bn to implement the scheme.

Assuming a purchasing power exchange rate of approximately 14 for India (year 2000 value), this poverty rate works out to approximatey $1.25 per day, a little more generous than the world bank’s dollar a day PPP adjusted figure, but not really. I would guess that the poor would need a little more help, but it is a start, and a good first attempt to get some kind of safety net for most of the Indian workforce.

More depressing water news from India

Climate change is a factor that will exacerbate water shortages. But the main culprits are over-exploitation, unplanned development, pollution and crazy dam building.

The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum

In the years to come the northern plains, heavily dependent on the Ganga, are likely to face severe water scarcity. Together with the onslaught of industrial and sewage pollutants, the river’s fate stands more or less sealed. “Among the categories dead, dying and threatened, I would put the Ganga in the dying category,” says WWF Programme Director Sejal Worah. The other heavyweight to join in the list from the Indian subcontinent is the mighty Indus. The Indus, too, has been the victim of climate change, water extraction and infrastructure development. “In all, poor planning and inadequate protection of natural means have ensured that the world population can no longer assume that water is going to flow forever,” WWF says, adding that the world’s water suppliers—rivers-on-every-continent are dying, threatening severe water shortage in the future.

I think I will go out and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day, enough bad news!

Jeffrey Sachs on climate change induced water shortages

Depressing reading for a Sunday morning. He does not offer too many solutions, but it will take a lot of local work to mitigate these disasters. Of course, I can’t see the US or Europe offering asylum to climate change refugees!

Climate Change Refugees: Scientific American

Human-induced climate and hydrological change is likely to make many parts of the world uninhabitable, or at least uneconomic. Over the course of a few decades, if not sooner, hundreds of millions of people may be compelled to relocate because of environmental pressures.

To a significant extent, water will be the most important determinant of these population movements. Dramatic alterations in the relation between water and society will be widespread, as emphasized in the new report from Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These shifts may include rising sea levels, stronger tropical cyclones, the loss of soil moisture under higher temperatures, more intense precipitation and flooding, more frequent droughts, the melting of glaciers and the changing seasonality of snowmelt.

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Indian Parliament Discusses Climate Change

India stresses on Kyoto standards-India-The Times of India

The discussion on global warming in Parliament will end with the statement of environment minister A Raja, possibly on Monday. He is bound to restate the country’s position on climate change in the international arena — that countries must bear “a common but differentiated responsibility” for climate change, a phrase that is the central pin of the Kyoto Protocol.

De-jargonised, it means, while every country is adding to the problem, there are some that are more responsible than others, and should, therefore, bear the burden and costs of cleaning up more than the smaller culprits

More highlights…

The US, between 1950-2003, emitted 10 times more carbon dioxide than India did. Europe emitted 8.5 times more. Yet US and Australia, two of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (which asks developed countries to reduce their emissions) on the pretext that developing countries like India and China are not undertaking emission cuts.

Worse still, if one looks at per capita emissions from different countries, which is a more equitable way of calculating emissions if one was to go by the principle that each person has as much right to the atmosphere as another, then India ranks a mere 120 compared to US which ranks 6 and Australia 10 on the culprits’ list. This is taking the emission levels of 2003.

Well, they are right, and they are wrong too. The developed world has a lot to more to cut back on and should make the bulk of the cuts. But India and China also need to grow using current state of the art knowledge, not using the 1950s coal intensive, energy inefficient model of increasing supply without paying attention to demand. We have also come to realize that IPCC reports, due to their consensual nature, are conservative. So, they will tend to understate the effects of climate change and overstate the costs. It may not be as expensive in India and China as long as attention is being paid to hw the infrastructure is being developed.

China takes most of UN clean energy funds

Clean Power That Reaps a Whirlwind – New York Times

That program, the Clean Development Mechanism, has become a kind of Robin Hood, raising billions of dollars from rich countries and transferring them to poor countries to curb the emission of global warming gases. The biggest beneficiary is no longer so poor: China, with $1.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, received three-fifths of the money last year. And as a result, some of the poorest countries are being left out.

Scientists increasingly worry about the emissions from developing countries, which may contribute to global environmental problems even sooner than previously expected. China is expected to pass the United States this year or next to become the world’s largest emitter of global warming gases.

The controversy is that China, India and Brazil together are gobbling up close to 80% of the UN Clean Development Mechanism Funds. What is the CDM?

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol allowing industrialized countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment (so-called Annex 1 countries) to invest in emission reducing projects in developing countries as an alternative to what is generally considered more costly emission reductions in their own countries.

In theory, the CDM allows for a drastic reduction of costs for the industrialised countries, while achieving the same amount of emission reductions as without the CDM. However, critics have long argued that emission reductions under the CDM may be fictive, and in early 2007 the CDM came under fire for paying €4.6 billion for destruction of HFC gases while according to a study this would cost only €100 million if funded by development agencies.

Source wikipedia.
The Kyoto protocol was supposed to be a starting point for further negotiations. Unfortunately, the U.S pulled out and put negotiations towards a better worldwide mechanism on the backburner.

Back to the issue at hand? This program is supposed to help countries that are expanding their energy use fast to develop clean sources of energy. India and China are both developing at breakneck pace, and every bit of wind energy that goes in there is one less Megawatt from coal. Yes, the money is not going to Africa, but Africa is not developing infrastructure at that pace (the reasons for that have filled many books!). This program is not meant to foster development, it is meant to facilitate clean development wherever development occurs. So, if China is developing the fastest, it has equal rights to access these funds to put in a wind energy infrastructure.

If you want China and India to stop using these funds and use some of their own money to develop clean energy, you have to redesign the program to include a rider that takes into account the affluence of the country. The more money a country has, the less it gets from the CDM, or it has to atleast pony up a bigger share. You also have to put in the infrastructure in poorer countries that can take advantage of these funds. Without a power distribution infrastructure, or a functioning government or bureaucracy, how do you expect a poor country in Africa to take advantage of a complicated credits based funding program?

Development is complicated stuff, and distortions like these happen all the time. When the Kyoto protocol was negotiated, China was not rich, now it has a little more money. Development situations are fluid and demand flexibility in action, and constant monitoring. If the world’s richest country does not participate, and actively trashes the UN continuously, old and imperfect agreements stay in power even longer. U.S disavowal of the Kyoto protocol has the effect of making the protocol’s distortions even stronger and delaying action to fix them.

Bhutan to pay for others climate sins

Bhutan is a small country nestled in the Himalayas, breathtakingly beautiful and “quaint”. Unfortunately, it’s about to be hit by a truck!

Reuters AlertNet – FEATURE-Bhutan to pay for others climate sins

The retreat of Bhutan’s glaciers presents an even more formidable and fundamental challenge to a nation of around 600,000 people, nearly 80 percent of whom live by farming.

Bhutan’s rivers sustain not only the country’s farmers, but also the country’s main industry and export earner — hydro-electric power, mostly sold to neighbouring India.

For a few years, Bhutan’s farmers and its hydro power plants might have more summer melt water than they can use. One day, though, the glaciers may be gone, and the “white gold” upon which the economy depends may dry up.

The threat led the government’s National Environment Commission to a stark conclusion.

“Not only human lives and livelihoods are at risk, but the very backbone of the nation’s economy is at the mercy of climate change hazards,” it wrote in a recent report.

Scientists admit they have little solid data on how Bhutan’s climate is already changing, but say weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable.

Well, as I keep saying, Americans and Europeans will be incovenienced by global climate change, Asians and Africans will die. I don’t have an answer, though, which is depressing on this gray and cloudy Friday morning…

Why India is a Prominent Global Warming Sceptic

I grew up in Chennai, proudly known as the automotive capital of India and home to Standard Motors. While it makes me very happy to see Chennai back on the automotive map, it also points me to the fact that India needs to be involved in the long-term reduction of heat-trapping emissions. This is not going to help…

BBC NEWS | Business | India eyes 25 million automotive jobs

India’s labour intensive car industry has become a tremendous job creator and as such a crucial driver of economic growth.

Already, some 10 million people are working in factories across India – making cars and motorcycles, tractors and trucks – or in sales and service centres.

And their numbers are set to swell.

By 2016, the automotive industry should have created employment for 25 million people in India, according to government predictions, set out in its Automotive Mission Plan.

I realize that India has a loooooooooooooong way to go before it catches up with the US and the rest of the developed world as far as per capita heat-trapping emissions are concerned. I also admit that infrastructure development, job creation, manufacturing prowess, etc., are critical for India in order to mitigate its soul crushingly large poverty and development issues. But, by putting so much emphasis on conventional car technology, and putting so many more CO2 emitting monsters on the road, India is putting itself in a position of playing the development vs. environment game.

Is it necessary that India and China tread the same path as the U.S and Europe? Does India have to make and use cars that are built using technology developed prior to our knowledge of global warming? The same company that gets cautious praise from the Union of Concerned Scientists for its “leadership” role in global warming will turn around and build factories in India that carry the status quo forward for another 30 years. When you’re starting from the foundation, and you know that the plans provided to you will lead to your house crumbling in 20 years, would you use the plans anyway because your contractor provides you with no alternative? The logical answer seems to be no, but is this process logic driven, or enforced by the existing power structure?

The vehicle industry is entrenched in the US and therefore, resistant to change. It is understandable, not optimal, not desirable, shortsighted, etc., but understandable. Change requires effort, and a lot of the time, the effort is motivated by external factors, such as strict regulation. Without these external factors, it is very easy to keep chugging along merrily.

But, does India have to make the same mistakes? Does India have a choice here? I am afraid not. The pressure to build infrastructure quickly leads India to seek foreign investment and the investment will only come in the way of companies like Ford. And Ford will do exactly what it needs to do to make money in the short term (apparently, they’re not very good at that either!).

What is the answer? The developed countries have to pass legislation that pretty much forces the car companies’ hand. Strict increases in fuel economy standards, tightening of loopholes, and strict enforcement are all required. As this UCS report shows, fuel efficiency improvements of up to 40% are possible using run of the mill technology (as in, no hybrids, no electrics, nothing). But this is not sufficient. While the US market is focused enough that the highest regulation (California) pretty much drives the market, will car companies simply make a set of third world cars and a set of first world cars?

There’s clearly another piece to the puzzle, encouraging technology transfer of the most carbon efficient technologies to emerging markets so that they can build infrastructure correctly, using current knowledge instead of following the only blueprint currently available to them. Yes, this hits upon intellectual property issues at times, but when your village is being submerged by the sea, intellectual property needs to take a back seat. This technology transfer needs to happen either through incentives (tax breaks, non-profit/UN funding), or disincentives (carbon taxes, etc.). the Kyoto Protocol does have some technology transfer programs built in, but without the participation of the US, the protocol is not going to work.

Do I see any of this happening? Not really, so I guess we’re stuck with recycled global warming denialism like this one from one of India’s prominent columnists.

Almost as soon as the Kyoto Protocol on global warming came into effect on February 15, Kashmir suffered the highest snowfall in three decades with over 150 killed, and Mumbai recorded the lowest temperature in 40 years. Had temperatures been the highest for decades, newspapers would have declared this was proof of global warming. But whenever temperatures drop, the press keeps quiet.

Yes, the country that produces great intellectuals has come down to this. But, this is the prevailing wind in India. As a country, it has swallowed the American line on development being at odds with the environment. As a country, it is poised to greatly increase its heat-trapping emissions and fight vigorously, any efforts to restrict its emissions. India is right in most ways, its per capita energy consumption is miniscule. It already only uses half the energy per dollar of GDP that the US uses (of course, this is at the expense of quality of life for millions). So, any attempts at pointing fingers at China and India are irresponsible. But, that is the past. Looking forward, every country needs to use the most efficient technologies possible, and this Ford factory driven development model ain’t gonna work.

I leave you with the energy intensity chart…

Most random use of global warming as an excuse

Anaheim council OKs Disney-adjacent housing development – Los Angeles Times

In a new argument Tuesday, Disney officials provided city officials with an inches-thick packet asserting that the residential project would exacerbate global warming because of the traffic it would generate.

It is nice when Disney expresses concern about global warming, but why???

Over the strong objections of Disney and dozens of tourist officials, the Anaheim City Council voted 3-2 early this morning to approve a controversial residential project in the city’s resort district.

The six-hour public hearing, which began Tuesday night and spilled into this morning, was the council’s second attempt to settle the dispute that had lingered for nearly a year.

About 150 resort workers, many from Disney, attended the meeting in support of the development, some wearing stickers that read “Yes in Mickey’s Back Yard” (YIMBY). The dozen employees remaining at the meeting cheered when the project was approved.

Ah, I get it, they don’t want people working at Disney living near Disney!! So, go ahead, use global warming as an excuse! If it were not disgustingly hypocritical, it would be funny.