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Home > Business > Business Headline > Report

Our chances against climate change

Sunita Narain | February 13, 2007 02:15 IST
Last Updated: February 13, 2007 02:16 IST

Now that the jury is in on the very real and imminent threat of climate change, we must focus on what needs to be done. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change establishes that warming is evident in terms of increases in global air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising sea levels. All that was predicted and feared is coming true in our lifetime.

It is also clear that we are the most vulnerable. Recent studies done in the Himalayas by Indian scientists confirm that our glaciers are receding at rates higher than the natural cycles of change. This would, in turn, mean that our northern rivers, fed as they are by glacier melt, would first see floods and then shortages of freshwater flows. We will also see more heat waves, more extreme precipitation events -- floods -- and loss of crop productivity.

The global cry is that India and China must join in cutting emissions. George Bush and his ilk have always argued that the Kyoto Protocol is fundamentally flawed because it excludes big polluters like China or India. Now, even our very own Davos-returned glitterati are saying that it will be churlish for us to argue that we need ecological space to grow.

In all this, our government is lost. It knows that greenhouse gas emissions are linked to economic growth. This is why the rich world has found it difficult to substantially cut and restructure its economies. Therefore, it finds comfort in ostrich-like behaviour -- don't fuss about climate change; deny or at least play down its impact on us; don't do anything that will rock the boat or force scrutiny on our emissions, so critical for our growth. Simultaneously play the Clean Development Mechanism game, which is benefiting a few industrialists but not leading to climate change.

But this will not work. The challenge of climate change puts the onus on us to demand much more than the pusillanimous actions that the world is prepared to give.

  • We must be loud (and strident) in demanding deep cuts in emissions from the rich world. We must put forward the best science that shows adverse impacts on us, our economies and people, to explain the costs of the rich world's emissions on particularly the world's poor.
  • We must use our good offices and bad ones to insist that the US and Australia take on emission reductions. We must walk out of the dirty deal we have signed with these countries, innocuously called the Asia Pacific Partnership, designed to destroy the multilateral agreement on climate change.
  • We must be willing to engage in climate reduction targets. Not by taking on commitments, but by re-designing the CDM for effective action. We should examine sectors in our own economy where we can make use of clean technologies and reduced cost of fuel -- from power to public transport to energy-intensive sectors like steel or cement. We should benchmark the existing technology and the cost of where we can go, with the most energy efficient technology in the world. We should demand that this be paid for so that we do not make investments that will make the world more insecure.
  • We should create an internal entitlement system at the national level. The fact is that the rich are overusing their share of the climate quota. Investments in low carbon technologies must be used to provide alternative energy and economic options for the poor, who under-use their share of the global commons and provide us the 'space' to exhale.

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