Sunday, July 26, 2009


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.

“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.
Eli had previously dealt with the per capita emissions argument but in a recent lecture at Bunny State, he pointed out some home truths:

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.

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.
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.

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.


sidd said...

I think you meant 'Gandhi' perhaps ?

Now let me play the devil's advocate

1) the developed nations have pumped the majority of fossil carbon into the air and as a direct result enjoy a standard of living far superior to the populace of the developing world. Now they realize they have screwed up the world quite badly and they propose that the developing world cut back on fossil emissions, while they do not demonstrate the political will to do the same at home. "First pass Waxman-Markey, and then we shall see."

2)Bangladesh will be half gone, sparking a forced migration on the scale of the Partition of Pakistan and India, and Mongolia will have a coastline by the next century. It is naive to imagine that the central planners in New Delhi and Beijing are unaware of this. "Tell us something we don't know."

which leads to

3)limiting fossil carbon will come with a price. Will the West agree to meaningful technology transfer,oh, lets say, opensourcing the patents and research from Monsanto, Conagra and DuPont on drought resistant GMO's ? Or turning over the patents on advanced battery technologies ? or carbon fiber spinners for windmill blades ? or manufacturing dry process polymorphic silicon on mylar ? "If you wish us to adopt low emission lifestyles, then turn over the knowledge enabling us to do so."

The Indian and Chinese negotiators are not stupid, and quite cynical. What they are saying, is "Sweeten the deal. Throw us a bone, so we can justify our position to our billion plus awaiting entrance to the New Consumer Utopia hawked for so long by the acolytes of the Chicago school."

EliRabett said...

Not necessarily disagreeing about the posturing position, but pointing out that it might not be the best way to negotiate and that such a strategy as you (and earlier Eli) think that everyone is pursuing guarantees that at best the outcome is minimal. India's problem is that it obviously is the most threatened large country. What is inconvenient to some, difficult for others, is life threatening for India. Thus it MUST take the lead

Horatio Algeranon said...

The countries which take the lead in all this -- eg, transitioning to a sustainable economy based on non-fossil-fuel energy sources -- are undoubtedly going to become the economic leaders and powerhouses of the future as well.

The others are going to be relegated to the dust bin of history.

Based on our performance so far, Horatio is not hopeful about the prospects for the US in the latter regard.

We have so much scientific and engineering talent in this country and so much money for R$D -- to say nothing of the markets to make it happen -- but Horatio fears that we will be left in the dust largely because of those who say (for whatever reason) that "We can't do it"

...because "it will break the bank", "it's not feasible", "it will hurt ExxonMobil [the poor]", yada, yada, yada

badisti said...

India and China account for (roughly)
37% of the world's population...if
their emissions ramp up to the level
required in order for them to achieve
"westernization" on political time
frames then we're looking at 500 ppm
of CO2 much sooner than in any
free-marketeers wildest wet dream...

I can't help remembering Hudson and
Burke from Aliens:

Hudson: That's it man, game over man, game over! What the f*** are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?
Burke: Maybe we could build a fire, sing a couple of songs, huh? Why don't we try that?

sidd said...

Mr. Rabett, if you have not already seen this, you might be amused by Monbiot's post, " Pulling Yourself Off the Ground By Your Whiskers", which makes the argument that the G8 summit commits to the developed nations cutting current fossil carbon emissions by 40% whereas the developing nations would cut by 60%

(I do not fully agree with the argument, but he has a point about outsourcing mitigation...)

Steve Bloom said...

IMHO India is negotiating quite seriously behind closed doors. The denialist bluster is for domestic consumption. Expect a final deal to be accompanied by U.S. and Chinese acnowledgements of India's great importance.

Until quite recently Brazil was singing more or less the same tune but has now shifted to a strongly cooperative key. This appears to be the result of recent climate events that gave them the idea that they're vulnerable to disaster even sooner than India (which is probably three or four decades away from really big trouble unless the monsoon does something abrupt). Brazilian precipitation patterns have become sharply erratic in the recent past.

Anonymous said...

Reducing emissions is hard when population is increasing. India has actually contributed to her coming catastrophe. They are not as innocent as they pretend. The population bomb is known since decades. And they did nothing. And nothing. Now it's a couple 100 million people more awaiting and contributing to disaster.


Sortition said...

The idea that India can or should "lead" by cutting its own meager per capita emissions is absurd. The posturing is purely on the side of the Westerners who pretend that there is some reason for them not to stop spewing their waste into the atmosphere. Demands on India are simply idiotic excuses. Compliance with those demands would simply be the forerunner of more idiotic excuse making.

If India is the victim of disasters caused by Western pollution then it is India who should be making demands. If the polluters refuse to mend their ways and to offer compensation, some nuclear sabers could be rattled.

EliRabett said...

Indignation will get no one anywhere, especially India. The world is a mean tough place.

Sortition said...

So - you assert - the mean and tough players in this world, who would be unmoved by "indignation", would, on the other hand, be brought around to stop feeding their carbon cravings by the sight of poor emaciated India tightening its carbon belt around its pathetically narrow frame.

The wonders of Realpolitik never cease.

llewelly said...

"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."

Realistically, this means the Himalayan glaciers will disappear soon. Even if CO2 emissions come to a dead
halt today, extant CO2 levels will keep the climate warming at near present rates for at least another 30
years, and probably longer.

Strong action can give people more time to prepare, but (non-polar) glaciers cannot be saved. (Though further, more
severe disasters can be prevented.)

EliRabett said...

Takes away a lot of their posturing room and with public pressure it could be more than enough. See Ghandi and MLK

Sortition said...

The contradiction between your two last comments is so explicit, it would be difficult to explicate it any further. I would add, though, that it is the acceptance of immoral and illogical positions such as the one you present in your post that endows Western governments with much of their "posturing room".

Sanket said...

If my house is on fire, I will first do my best to douse it. Only then will I try to ascertain if others are responsible for the fire and demand compensation from them.

Similarly, as an Indian, I expect the government to do more to cut emissions.I think it is better to be poor and live rather than perish in an attempt to be rich.

Sortition said...


Trying to smother the fire with your bare feet makes very little sense when your neighbor keeps spraying your house with gasoline.

Unknown said...

I think it's the duty of the west to at the very least, help India help itself. Give us some technology know how and let us create clean energy in an affordable manner. Without that, cutting carbon emissions will hurt a poor country more than any other.

India might feel it's better to face the music of climate change which will affect everyone rather than get screwed much more directly by restricting or even cutting down on its development.

But from what I hear, countries like the US aren't even willing to open source their technologies so that India can at least make a compromise. What is to be done now?