Eli has been asked to respond to recent posturing by various Indian officials and non-officials about their government climate change policy.
AS THE visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listened, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh on Sunday made an apparent gesture of his anger over the ‘pressure’ exerted by the rich nations at the recent Major Economies Forum in Italy to force India into agreeing to a 2 degree C cap — one that has received much flak back here and also led to speculations over a difference of opinion between the foreign and environment ministries over the contentious issue of climate change. It means despite being one of the countries with the lowest per capita emissions, India would still need to work towards emission reductions to ensure the global temperatures do not increase beyond 2 degrees above 1990 levels even though the developed countries, the biggest emitters, have refused to agree to 40 per cent reductions by 2020, to match the cuts.Eli had previously dealt with the per capita emissions argument but in a recent lecture at Bunny State, he pointed out some home truths:
“Even with 8-9 per cent GDP growth every year for the next decade or two, our per capita emissions will be well below that of developed country averages. There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions. As if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours,” Ramesh said in an obvious reference to Clinton while making his opening remarks at the ITC Green Building event at Gurgaon.
To our Indian friends it is my sad duty to point out that among the great civilizations India will be hit first and hardest by climate change, if not within my lifetime which grows short, certainly within the next three decades. As the IPCC WPII group pointed out
Himalayan glaciers cover about three million hectares or 17% of the mountain area as compared to 2.2% in the Swiss Alps. They form the largest body of ice outside the polar caps and are the source of water for the innumerable rivers that flow across the Indo-Gangetic plains. Himalayan glacial snowfields store about 12,000 km3 of freshwater. About 15,000 Himalayan glaciers form a unique reservoir which supports perennial rivers such as the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra which, in turn, are the lifeline of millions of people in South Asian countries (Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh). The Gangetic basin alone is home to 500 million people, about 10% of the total human population in the region.When that happens, not only will Indians beyond counting suffer, starve and die in disasters worse than the worst famines of the past centuries, but the basis of their religion, beliefs and civilization will become a seasonal chimera. Food and water sent as aid from the outside will at best sustain a small remnant. Can the Indian government survive such a disaster? Likely not. Nor will Indian society be able to withstand. It will wither and die on the sere ground of the Ganga valley and those who temporized today will be cursed forever.
Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005). The receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be attributed primarily to the global warming due to increase in anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases. The relatively high population density near these glaciers and consequent deforestation and land-use changes have also adversely affected these glaciers. The 30.2 km long Gangotri glacier has been receding alarmingly in recent years (Figure 10.6). Between 1842 and 1935, the glacier was receding at an average of 7.3 m every year; the average rate of recession between 1985 and 2001 is about 23 m per year (Hasnain, 2002). The current trends of glacial melts suggest that the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra and other rivers that criss-cross the northern Indian plain could likely become seasonal rivers in the near future as a consequence of climate change and could likely affect the economies in the region.
India has three choices. It can do nothing to meet the threat, concentrating on business as usual and increasing emissions. It can posture about energy equity as a negotiating position, ensuring that not enough will be done as the inevitable half a loaf results in most of the disaster, or it can lead by example. India, in short, by searching out ways to decrease forcings, not only of CO2, but of black carbon, and of land use changes can, by demonstrating a great heart and leading by example in the spirit of Ghandi, can bring others along.
Already we see many in the developing world who would do nothing because China and India will not do everything. If India leads, can China not follow, and if India and China lead, the world must and will change.
India is between a very hard rock and a harder hard place. It cannot do nothing. It must do a lot
Let us now reason together about what actions India must take to continue developing and avoid calamity in twenty years. There are some obvious things that can be done. Solar and wind power, for example are well suited to a country where there is no existing electrical distribution network to huge numbers of villages where many live. Improved cooking stoves coupled with digestion of animal wastes currently used for cooking to yield cleaner burning fuel and fertilizers are places where research can make an almost immediate contribution. But we must take care not to rob the livelihoods of those who currently gather and supply the fuel nor neglect the value of improving the health of those who use the fuel. India has recognized the importance of land use changes in holding back global warming, and here too, the developed world can and must help. This will not be simple, but it is necessary.