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Home > Business > Business Headline > Commodities

Climate change and its impact on India

E C Thomas, Commodity Online | June 05, 2007 10:29 IST

Climate change will make monsoons unpredictable; as a result, rain-fed wheat cultivation in South Asia will suffer in a big way and the total cereal production will go down.

Industrial development is important for economic growth, employment generation and improvement in the quality of life.

However, industrial activities without proper precautionary measures for environmental protection are known to cause pollution and associated problems. If ecological and environmental criteria are forsaken, "industrialise and perish" will be the nature's retort.

Now, there is a global consensus about the threat posed by the climate change. The disagreement is only, on how to go about altering human activities that unleash greenhouse gases, fuelling global warming.

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the latest scientific assessment of the impact of global warming on human, animal and plant life. The culprit is greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These are accumulating to unprecedented levels in the atmosphere as a result of profligate burning of fossil fuels, industrial processes, farming activities and changing land use.

The greenhouse gases act like a blanket around the earth, trapping too much of the heat that would otherwise have escaped into space.

The IPCC is a body of 2500 scientists that brings out reports, considered the last word on the Science of Climate Change. "Warming of the Climate System is unequivocal", says the IPCC in its latest report, pointing to the increased global, air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow, and ice and rising sea levels.

If the introduction of these greenhouse gases continued to soar, global temperature could rise up by 2.40C to 6.40 C by the end of the century, with far-reaching consequences for the climate, warned the IPCC. The report has given fresh impetus to finding solutions to the global warming problem.

The summit meeting of the Group of Eight Industrialised countries (G8) to be held in June in Germany is expected to launch new initiatives for collective action by both rich nations and fast growing developing countries to combat climate change.

The report provides hope that concerted action can make a real difference in the next quarter century. The panel is convinced that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can be pegged at relatively safe levels, with measures that will not affect GDP growth.

It is little surprise that the panel found that owing to human activity, gas emissions, primarily CO2 , rose by 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004. What is of great interest to policymakers is the actionable part of the report, which addresses emissions by sectors such as energy producers, transport, buildings, land use, agriculture, and forestry.

Much of that challenge lies in implementing carbon capture and storage technologies in the energy supply sector, which in the past three and half decades has been responsible for a 145 per cent increase in gas emissions.

Indian Impact
Climate change will make monsoons unpredictable. As a result, rain-fed wheat cultivation in South Asia will suffer in a big way. Total cereal production will go down. The crop yield per hectare will be hit badly, causing food insecurity and loss of livelihood.

The rising levels of the sea in the coastal areas will damage nursery areas for fisheries, causing coastal erosion and flooding.

The Arctic regions, Sub-Saharan Africa, small islands and Asian mega deltas, including the Ganga and Brahmaputra, will be affected most.

Changes in climate around the globe are expected to trigger a steep fall in the production of cereals, says R K Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC. He estimated that a rise of 0.5 degree celsius in winter tempratures could cause a 0.45 tonne per hectare fall in India's wheat production. The average per hectare production in India is 2.6 tonnes.

Worse still, Pachauri said, total agricultural land will shrink and the available land may not remain suitable for the present crops for too long. Farmers have to explore options of changing crops suitable to weather. He also pointed out that climatic changes could lead to major food security issues for a country like India.

The report also predicts huge coastal erosion due to a rise in sea levels of about 40 cm resulting from faster melting of glaciers in the Himalayan and Hindukush ranges. It can affect half-a-million people in India because of excessive flooding in coastal areas and also can increase the salinity of ground water in the Sunderbans and surface water in coastal areas.

India needs to sustain an 8 to 10 per cent economic growth rate, over the next 25 years, if it is to eradicate poverty and meet its human development goals, according to a 2006 report on an integrated energy policy prepared by an expert committee of the Planning Commission. Consequently, the country needed at the very least to increase its primary energy supply three or four -fold over the 2003-04 level.

India's economic growth would "necessarily involve increase in (greenhouse gas) emissions from the current extremely low levels." Any constraints on such emissions by India, whether direct, by way of emission targets, or indirect would reduce growth rates, the report stated. However, the report also added, "India should be willing to contain her (greenhouse gas) emissions as long as she is compensated for the additional cost involved."

In his Budget speech this year, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram had promised the appointment of an expert committee 'to study the impact of climate change on India and identify the measures that we may have to take in the future'. The Union government has recently constituted the committee, headed by R Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Adviser to the government.

Indian Stand
India has been arguing at all climate negotiations that though it is among the top 10 emitters of carbon dioxide, the per capita emission is still one-sixth of the global average. Further, it has managed an 8 per cent growth with only a 3.7 per cent growth in energy consumption.

India may oppose any move to seek its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and will ask the developed world to transfer Intellectual Property Rights with the clean technologies.

The Indian Constitution on a sensitive provision in Article 48-A states, "The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country." This is a fundamental obligation of the state since its violation has fatal implications. Article 51A (g) creates a fundamental duty on every individual to obey the mandate of environment and ecology.

India needs to chart out a roadmap for itself in the light of the report on climate change. Climate change can be mitigated in many ways, such as improving the efficiency of energy - intensive devices, vehicles and buildings, all of which involve direct and indirect gas emissions. Developing countries like India must adopt new energy - efficient technologies.

Fuel - efficient vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and affordable and safe public transport need policy support in the form of lower taxes and promotion of usage. The government can mandate that buildings integrate green technologies such as solar photovoltaic systems, which are particularly relevant in a country with plentiful sunlight.

The energy efficiency of end user equipment can be ensured through appropriate tax brakes and certification systems. The improved cooking stoves and high efficiency lighting, heating and cooling devices are available even today.

What they need is promotion.

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