24 December 2009

Action Stations!

By: Kaavya Nag

Two years of promises and hope ended in major disappointment as we watched world leaders – the biggest muscle-flexers at that – pushing for a greenwash, poorly drafted Copenhagen Accord, to which not a single country could be held accountable for its actions.

The world was expecting something not unlike what we see in the movies as a Copenhagen Outcome - a happy end to a bad patch in history – a kalyug of sorts. But let’s face it: what we have is the Copenhagen Accord – a document that makes no promises on emission reduction targets in the mid or long term (the one thing the planet badly needed).

Nevertheless, that is what we have. It might not be as good as “what could have been”, or “what could have emerged out of the Long-term Cooperative Action process” of the UN Climate Convention. But it is admittedly better than a failure of talks. And yes, it is better than having a deal in which the (now) second largest emitter of greenhouse gases refuses to accept its fair share of responsibility for the sake of protecting its sovereignty or for reasons best known to it.

For now, the existence of the Accord means we have work to do. It is time to invest in re-pushing for all countries to convert a modified Copenhagen Accord into a legally binding and fair outcome by Mexico City 2010. It is time to push all major economies to pledge ambitious targets into Annex I and II of the Copenhagen Accord by 31st January 2010.
Instead of ourselves beginning a blame-game analyses and explaining to the world what we think went wrong, it is time to ‘adjust maadi’ and move on from here. Let us push for ambition from now on, rather than wishing for what could have been.

Why would we be so willing to settle for such a bad deal so easily? Simply because we would be naïve to think that the Copenhagen Accord will be retracted. And to think that us fighting over points of order and history, and what should have come out, will help combat global climate change.

We need the forward-look and proactive civil society engagement on this, and as soon as possible. 

22 December 2009

Making a big deal out of a bad deal

By: Kaavya Nag

Nations of the world had a small window of opportunity to zero-in on a deal that would begin taking serious steps towards preventing dangerous climate change. Admittedly, the decisions would not have been easy to take, nor to follow through. But certainly, taking those hard decisions would have been the right thing to do.

Never before has there been such large-scale political willingness to act on climate change. And thanks to the Danish Presidency, never before had 112 heads of state come to a climate conference to lock-in some serious ambition. But that opportunity was lost because leaders managed to cook the climate soup and evaporate all ambition.

If only you peruse the Copenhagen Accord, you will see the glaring absence of two things crucial to a strong deal – numbers and strong legal terms.

Copenhagen Accord: What it says and [doesn't say]
Deep cuts in global emissions to limit temperature rise to 2°C [Targets for emission cuts, mid-term and long-term global goals]
Peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible [Peaking year (even if only an ideal number)]
Enhanced action on adaptation (focus on small island states, Africa & least developed countries) [Mechanisms for action on adaptation]
Industrialised countries to implement (individually or jointly) economy-wide emission targets for 2020 [Details on who does how much, proportion of offsets, level of compulsion (legal or not) for targets and finances]
Developing countries - implement mitigation actions – communicated through National Communications every two years [For major economies no required deviation from BAU, details on national MRV procedures]
Scaled-up, new and additional financing and improved access to finance. Focus on mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer, capacity building and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). 30 billion USD fast-start financing for 2010-12, and 100 billion USD per year by 2020, particularly through a Green Climate Fund through a variety of sources.
Assess implementation of this Accord by 2015 [Proportion from public financing, who gives how much, how to convert pledges into action, mode of disbursing finance]

Leaders will defend the Accord saying it was the one saving grace of Copenhagen. It was the reason the talks did not collapse. The UN will try too. They are undoubtedly in serious denial. And if they think they will achieve much in Mexico City in 2010, they are sadly mistaken. That is, unless they give their negotiators some strong mandates for the planet and not their individual countries.

Yes, the Copenhagen Accord is a start. And yes, it can become something solid – once numbers and strong legal language come in, and once it becomes legally binding. But that is possible if and only if environmental integrity is preserved even in its most starved form. The Copenhagen Accord was simply not enough. It pales in comparison to what the science requires (it can in fact, almost assure us of a 3 degree Celsius world). It does not even ensure low-lying island states of their survival beyond 2050 or thereabouts, and at its core, it is by no means ethically sound - it cares two paisa for the planet.

The blame-game has begun, and while that is not a fruitful exercise, I am most tempted to ask all leaders who drafted that agreement – what were you thinking? 

07 December 2009

Here comes Hopen-Copenhagen!

By: Kaavya Nag

The Fifteenth Conference of Parties is here – COP15 – in Copenhagen. The outcome itself is to be a political statement – way below initial expectations. But it can still be fair, ambitious, equitable and all of the other things it once promised. While we await the start of the opening ceremony, at which the Danish Prime Minsiter Lars Lokke Rasmussen is due to speak, one cannot but help reflect on the week gone by and the rapid pace of developments back home in India.
Jairam Ramesh visited Beijing at the express request of China, to meet with other developing country giants and sign on to a counter proposal for a draft political statement, now called the BASIC draft. Soon after, he spoke in the Lok Sabha and later in the Rajya Sabha, announcing that India too would take on voluntary, unilateral and non-legally binding emission cuts. The proposal is to reduce India’s carbon intensity by 20 to 25 percent by 2020, and includes mandatory fuel efficiency standards and building codes to help make that reduction. Considering India’s historic position and unwillingness to put forward any targets or numbers, this is a watershed development of sorts. And the timing could not have been better. India was, by the time of the BASIC meeting (other than South Africa), the only key player in the negotiations to have refrained from putting forth any ‘intent of action’ statements on the table.
Jairam Ramesh’s proposal in the Lok Sabha, last Thursday, was not met with a walkout, but with concerted discussion about climate change and what it means for India. While many members of Parliament asked for India to clarify what its stand would be at Copenhagen, and were clear on developed countries acting first and fastest, the discussion indicated that climate change was on the minds of many MPs, and that many were ready for change. The Minister’s good fortune did not however, carry through to the Rajya Sabha, where opposition party members led by Arun Jaitley did stage a walkout, termed the current proposal as an ‘abandoning’ India’s historical position, and accused the government of unilaterally changing India’s position. While Jairam Ramesh and India have made it repeatedly clear that they will at no cost take on legally binding emission cuts, and there is ‘no dilution in our stand’, the BJP called the unilateral emission cut a ‘bad strategy’.
Some delegates of the Indian negotiating team also showed dissent at this announcement, and have not arrived in Copenhagen as yet. They include Ambassador Dasgupta and ex-environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh. Ambassador Dasgupta said he delayed his departure in order to seek clarifications from the minister on the implications of this cut in carbon intensity. While he claimed he had no issue with the cuts in emission intensity itself, his main concern was that this was a unilateral action that demanded no reciprocity.
While that may be a point to note, the very act of developing country giants China, India, Brazil and South Africa putting forth voluntary cuts predicates reciprocity of action from developed countries even on fundamental ethical levels. And we would be wrong in saying India has as yet played all her cards. This is the first hand – and a good one to start with at that!

30 November 2009

India give us a number!

By: Kaavya Nag

A mid-October European Commission conference might have severely dampened our hopes of any flesh to a Copenhagen deal (the flesh itself is highly conditional and must be palatable to 192 plus nation states) anytime soon. Nevertheless, while ambitious hopes for Copenhagen may have come crashing down, what we do have is a political statement to be issued by end of COP – to be produced by the Danes as a possible basis for the upcoming negotiations starting December 7th.

If one thought that the political agreement would be easier to broker, fresh developments come from the BASIC quarter. Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) –through China’s initiative, have prepared a counter-draft. They now have a ten-page draft that details the ‘non-negotiables’ as far as the developing giants are concerned, that will be released in Copenhagen by China’s special envoy on climate change, Xie Zhenzua. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests rushed to Beijing to represent India at the meet held on Friday 27th, and while he admits that he had no inkling of such a draft-in-making, he is inclined to agree that the four developing giants are in full agreement with one another on the points of no negotiation. In any case, such an initiative from China shows they have taken a ‘leadership role’ in the Minister’s own words.

Amidst all the brouhaha, India’s Solar Mission – officially now okayed by Parliament - went unnoticed. Could this possibly be because India is putting forward missions (and drafts of missions) without any absolute calculations as to emission reductions that would result from such actions? Why does the Indian government fear mapping even five possible trajectories of emission growth up to 2030 and then estimating – in theory only – a deviation from business as usual if all these missions and related plans were to be implemented by then? Why, that would give us a lot more bargaining power that just releasing and tom-toming missions wouldn’t it?

One hopes India’s negotiators have this card up their sleeve. If they were to put down a number, a figure, and suggest that by implementing India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change and all other allied climate-friendly policies, India’s emissions would drop by say 20 percent below ‘Business As Usual’ by 2030, or to put it in a more convoluted way, that India’s rate of emission increase would decreased by 2.234% (completely hypothetical figures) each year in exponential fashion until 2030.

‘The number’ so to speak, need not imply taking that number into a legal agreement. It just means making things clear to the world in these nebulous times, that India too is capable of commitments and emission cuts, and is as serious if not more about climate change as the rest of the nation states.

23 November 2009

Power-ful mantras for climate change - Surya evam Gai

By: Kaavya Nag

Surya the god of light is coming nearer to getting the credit he deserves as the source of life and primary source of energy. The National Solar Mission got a nod from the Parliament on 20th November, and what’s more, the Cabinet sanctioned over 4300 crore for initial kick-off. In other power-ful news, four state-run firms will sign a joint venture to form a company that will work towards energy conservation and climate change – the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), Power Finance Corporation Ltd, Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd and Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd.

Also in the pipeline is NTPCs intention to set up solar power generation units at all its existing thermal power plants. The NTPC is the country’s largest electricity generator. What is heartening is the willingness of a thermal power corporation to move to solar power generation, even if it is in a small way. While power and coal lobbies in the United States are rather unhappy about carbon mitigation laws and shifting to lower carbon electricity and energy, here in India we have power corporations joining forces to implement massive solar ‘road maps’ and plans. What is also heartening is the fact that many of these initiatives are in tandem with the National Solar Mission – indication that change is not haphazard and ad-hoc, but somewhat planned.

Surya also happens to be the master chef – chief controller of all life. Meat eating is energy intensive -no wonder wild carnivores are at the top of the food chain but few in number. In support of rationalizing global meat-eating, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests (independent charge) has a new offer on the cards. The minister is now chanting the ‘gai-mantra’ of no-beef. He practices what he preaches, as do many Indians, needless to say. But such advocacy coming from a vegetarian Indian actually means a lot more to people around the world, and his leadership on this issue is actually getting accolades. From Pachauri to other politicians around the world, his statements have the logic of reason and the backing of a non-beef eating community.

So a key take-home is for India to start working on the Surya Mission – using the planning phase as a means to an end. But the Gai Mission is not a bad idea either. We can start working on the uber-rich and the die-if-I-don’t-eat-beef characters – there are plenty here too. But it isn’t a bad idea to preach it to the world either.

16 November 2009

While We Wait - Solar Mission Release Delayed

By: Kaavya Nag

We awaited eagerly, the launch of the National Solar mission on November 14th, as did several corporate houses, young and upcoming entrepreneurs and investors in the green business space. But we hear that the new possible release date is 19th November.

Even a recent CII green business summit held in October reflected the level of anticipation in Indian industry about the solar mission and its promised profit goodies. However, this rather secret mission’s release was delayed by a few days, as was the target year for the completion of the mission, from 2020 to 2022 – reportedly to be in sync with the 5-year plan cycles.

While citizen consultation on missions and plans seems to have become a thing of the past, even several stakeholder business houses say they have not been consulted while preparing the mission details. Consultations with businesses in the sector would have been the ideal way to get maximal industry buy-in. However, an even bigger hole in the planning process is the lack of consultation with states on the solar mission – after all, electricity and power is a state subject.

The draft of the solar mission had been approved by the PM’s council on climate change (who met again on October 26th). The official reason for delay was because Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was unavailable at the time.

In practice, the plan should have been passed by the FM long before its release. However, we hear that a key piece of financing for this mission has been dropped. Funding for the mission was to come from a cess on coal – a minor 4 paise per tonne of coal mined anywhere in the country. But the Ministry of Coal and Power objected to this surcharge. With this key financing strategy now opposed, key bureaucrats are asking how the solar mission will be funded.

Placing levies on coal mining to generate financing for solar research appears to be but a feeble attempt to address the real issue. That of subsidizing coal power, and failing to account for its environmental effects as inbuilt cost. A balm on the expensive shoulders of solar power is this small cess. But is this the best cess that could have been levied? Couldn’t a surcharge on energy production from thermal power, however small, also be incorporated into the package as a first-step towards removing subsidies from coal and oil-based power?

These are but a few chinks in the armour. A recent television interview on the forest rights Act (2006) and the glaring lack of action or even debate on it after it being passed in 2006, indicates just how famous we are for bringing in acts and rules, plans and strategies, but just how bad we can be on follow-up.

11 November 2009

Firm in their belief: Himalayan glaciers not retreating 'rapidly'

By: Kaavya Nag

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has recently released a discussion paper reviewing glacial studies and glacial retreat in India. Minister Jairam Ramesh has a clear caveat in the report that the views so expressed are not endorsed by the Union of India, and that it is only mean to ‘stimulate discussion’. Interestingly, India does not have a position on glacier retreat in the Himalayas.

Prepared ex deputy chairman of the Geological Survey of India V.K. Raina, the paper provides a summary of the literature on glacier studies so far, but its main claim to fame is that it challenges internationally accepted views that the Himalayan glaciers are receding due to climate change. It says there is little evidence for the same, and that ‘none of the glaciers under monitoring are recoding abnormal retreat’.

Data from a large proportion of the studies considered in this report indicate that glacier mass balance – a measure of the difference between melting and sublimation – is negative, and that most monitored glaciers have retreated since the earliest records. Nevertheless (and despite credible evidence from around the world and closer home - China, Nepal, Bhutan), concluding remarks suggest ‘glaciers in the Himalayas, although shrinking in volume and constantly showing a retreating front, have not in any way exhibited, especially in recent years, an abnormal annual retreat…’.

Of note also, is the fact that ‘recent years’ implies 2007-2009 – a period of time that is clearly far too short to come to such sweeping conclusions, particularly on climate-related studies.

While the report suggests that the Sonapani glacier has retreated 500 m in the last century, the Kangriz glacier has ‘practically not retreated even an inch’. These statements however, are not backed by studies, neither does the ‘even an inch’ give an indication of the exact measure. In direct contrast, photographs of these glaciers in the report clearly show significant retreat – but it might be that photographs are not sufficient evidence.

The report also suggests that while glaciers are climate indicators, they need not respond to ‘immediate climatic changes’ for if that were the case, all glaciers in the region would retreat ‘equally’. Nevertheless, elsewhere in the report, an uneven retreat pattern across nearby glaciers has been justified on the grounds of local variations.

The report omits references to key scientific literature including GSI survey and studies including Vohra (1981) on Satluj River Basin glaciers, Shukla and Siddiqui (1999) on Milam glacier, all indicating significant retreat, and other scientific including the WWF (2005) report and the ICIMOD (2007) satellite-based studies and reviews on Himalayan glaciers across India, Nepal and China. It ignores known fact that small glaciers in the Bhutan (not so far away, as one may well see), have disappeared completely.

Glacier changes are recognized as high-confident climate indicators, and even considered as evidence for climate change by the IPCC. Reports from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) indicate that measurements taken over the last century ‘clearly reveal a general shrinkage of mountain glaciers on a global scale’ (WGMS report). Despite this, this report suggests that ‘to postulate that a glacier can warn of climate changes likely to take place in the future is a big question mark’. In that case, even the IPCC might be wrong in assuming that rapid glacier retreat (even in the Himalayas) is a confident indicator of climate change!

The report awaits ‘many centuries’ of data to conclude that glacier snout movements are a result of ‘periodic climate variation’ or to make a statement that glaciers in the Himalayas are ‘retreating abnormally because of global warming’.

26 October 2009

Climate Action: India Looks Inwards and East

By: Kaavya Nag

While multilateral agreements such as the ones through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are the ideal solutions for global action on climate change, a ‘Grand Unification Theory’ on climate action that all countries agree to, is a hard ask for now.
While it is becoming increasingly clear that 192 counties are finding it rather difficult to come to a common consensus (political or legal) on climate change, there can be no excuses for inaction ‘until such time. ..’.
While India is committed to engaging ‘fully and meaningfully’ in the multilateral process, this ‘emergent’ has been stretching its wings on internal action, bilateral deals and regional cooperation – all in the short span of one month.
 India has also played host to a high-level conference on technology development and transfer – in an attempt to provide some serious international impetus to technology transfer to developing countries. This was Part 2 of the Beijing high-level conference on technology and climate change held last year.
Andar Ki Baath: Action at home awaits the release of the much talked about solar mission  - 14th November 2009  – it will provide massive impetus to installed solar capacity, nearly 20 massive gigawatts of it by 2020. To ramp up internal knowledge and information on climate change, India launched the National Network of Climate Change Assessment (INNCCA), along the lines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the pipeline is climate monitoring though ISRO and talk of implicit mitigation targets and a renewable energy law.
Bhai-Bhai: On bilateral deals India has signed an MoU with Norway, largely focusing on boosting Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) contracts in India. A US-India meet is coming up in November, with PM Singh expected to discuss climate change mitigation among a range of bilateral and multilateral issues.  
Nevertheless, one major MoU on which several details are out is the one between India and China. The two sides have agreed to a five-year India-China Partnership on Combating Climate Change. Among other things, the agreement establishes the need to strengthen and exchange views and cooperation on policy action for adaptation and mitigation, technology development, demonstration projects for emission reductions, and cooperation on capacity building.

Regional Cooperation:
Just over is the ASEAN leaders meeting, with a joint statement on climate change emphasizing common concerns on the impact on the economy and the environment, and the need to work together and with other partners closely for a successful Copenhagen climate conference.

Zooming into the sub-continent, we have the recently concluded SAARC environment ministers’ summit, with climate change and forest conservation as key focus areas. Here, ministers underlined the crucial importance of close cooperation in the run-up to COP15, and specific cooperation on adaptation, disaster rapid response measures and regional cooperation and south-south support.
This hotbed of activity undoubtedly points to the fact that the pressure to act on climate change is mounting, and that heads of state are feeling the heat on climate change. If not, why would they be so keen to move on regional and bilateral agreements when the big multilateral agreement was showing little promise or progress? In short, the pressure has worked – maybe not to the full and desired level, but certainly enough for some action.
On another note, what does all this south-south and regional cooperation do to change global geopolitics?

22 October 2009

EU Climate Finance Still At Zero Cents

By: Kaavya Nag
While civil society expectations from Copenhagen might officially be sky-high, even the executive secretary of the UNFCCC thinks a ‘fully fledged new international treaty” is not on the cards this December.

The signs are there to read and no adept Magus is needed to make us see that for now, the path may only show a slight deviation from Business As Usual (BAU). Another round of conferencing of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) in London, with UK ‘throwing everything in’ to meet the climate challenge, fell flat. The US is still not ready with an internal policy that can make domestic actions compatible with international expectations, and unless the President (or a global climate deal with the US on board) has Congressional support, the agreement will only result in positioning minus action.

With the US taking some time for internal policies to mesh with external expectations, the baton is in the European Union’s hands. EU Finance ministers met just a day ago to agree on a EU climate finance offer for Copenhagen. While murmurs indicate that no real outcome was expected here but rather at the EU Council meeting a day from now, this development in itself is reflective of a larger problem.

No negotiators, bureaucrats or even ministers seem to have the power to decide on the key sticky issues (which remain finance, targets and mitigation actions). The EU finance ministers meeting was hoping to get the EU to accept a figure of 100 billion euros starting from 2012 to help meet developing country needs. However, a number of countries including Poland wanted fast-start financing (for up to 2012) to be on a voluntary basis, and to contribute less to the EU share over time – a position that was unacceptable to the majority of EU member states. The decision on finance has now been left to heads of state at the EU Council meeting later this week.

This meeting will effectively be the last big meeting for a major block of industrialized countries to agree on a climate finance proposal. After this, the case rests with all Heads of State who will make a trip to Copenhagen in December.

Push your key ministers and Head of State to attend the Copenhagen climate negotiations. Also push them to find ambition and drive before they reach, and remember to put it on the table!

15 October 2009

Waiting for Inspiration

By: Kaavya Nag

Copenhagen-minus-two round of climate negotiations came to a close last week, on 9th October. Complicated as multilateral negotiations are, this one was particularly successful in spreading some serious despondency. This was particularly so because many big hopes had been reserved for the Bangkok talks.

As far as the negotiation process, it was hoped that a massive negotiating text would be seriously edited in the eleven days (and nights) of negotiations. As far as ambition and political will go, it was hoped that the highest level lobbying by Ban ki-Moon at the UN Secretary General’s climate summit would push political leaders to scale up their ambition, put finance on the table, and some targets to reduce industrialized country emissions for a post 2012 agreement. But also that these political statements would be converted into negotiating text.

Within a few days of the negotiations commencing, it was clear that negotiators did not have a mandate from political up-aboves to move on any of the big stumbling blocks. There was still a massive silence on the scale of finance that industrialized countries would put on the table, on the nature of the financial architecture, on their emission reduction targets up to 2012. Therefore, they did not have the mandate to cut down any text. Progress on substance was minimal, all text is still bracketed (and that means it is still to be edited) – an estimated 2500 brackets (possibly more) are said to be in the current text.

To make the waters murkier, new proposals and text continue to be put forward, when realistically speaking there is little time even to whittle down what text is already in hand. However, the nature of this process is that it is Party-driven. So Parties are allowed to make it as messy as they want to, or as neat as they prefer. New ideas on the nature of a post 2012 agreement are also on the table. Some Parties have suggested that the Kyoto Protocol be done away with (the only legally binding agreement to ensure that industrialized countries meet their commitments), and that the architecture and legal framework of Kyoto be taken into a new Copenhagen outcome. Opposing this is most developing country Parties that categorically do not want the Kyoto to die, and do not want a watered down deal in Copenhagen that does away with international legal commitments and brings down the level of ambition.

What Copenhagen holds, only December knows. Will we get a Greenwash, Failed or an Above-Expectations ambitious deal? Will there be a political declaration or a legal framework? Will the United States come on board? Will the scale of finance be announced? Will developed country Parties agree to deep cuts in emissions by 2050, without heavy dependence on offsets? Will key developing country Parties agree to ‘significant deviation from business as usual’ by 2050? Will technology transfer and capacity building be made accessible and affordable?

Should individual Parties stall domestic action until a multilateral deal gets done? If history is any precedent, countries must not wait to action their domestic plans. International finance may take many years to come, by which time enough damage will have been done to deplete state coffers significantly.

29 September 2009

Healthy internal debate on India climate stand missing

By: Kaavya Nag

The Indian high command has been gunning for a change in image and a slight shift of position on climate change. In what is internationally being acknowledged as a welcome move, minster of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh has been globe trotting and publicising India's actions and future plans on climate change.

In China he said India could benefit from Chinese collaboration on climate. Back home in India he agreed we had a long way to go. Soon after in the United States, at the UN climate summit he vociferously emphasised India was keen to be a deal-maker, and show leadership on climate issues.

Apart from speaking of  domestic plans, he publicly stated the possibility of a national bill on climate mitigation, implicit or soft targets, and the possible formation of a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority, that would direct and guide mitigation efforts and aspirational targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There has also been recent reference to making the process of reporting on mitigation cuts more transparent and accountable. These are welcome moves that show that India can be a leader in the climate debate.

However, Opposition silence on this key issue is worrying. Agreed that the UPA has a strong majority in Parliament - enough to silence any serious dissent. But amidst all this frenetic political activity, a robust dialogue on this hot issue is seriously lacking. The opposition has neither welcomed the move, nor slammed it. They only 'unofficially' or 'softly' think that politicians are undermining the 'hard-fought' stand on climate change, and that there is little political discussion or consensus before taking a decision on such vital matters.

Surely the BJP (after handling their internal crisis) and the Communists can voice their concerns at the least? Or is the future of 500 million people by 2050 not worth the effort of debating? Jairam Ramesh says internal political dialogue and consensus is an essential - it is most important that future governments carry forward the stands and positions taken now. Flip flop in 2020 is not an option clearly, so why the silence?

24 September 2009

India puts its weight behind climate deal

By: Kaavya Nag

It is possible that with all the numerous high-level international summits taking place this month, with Japan's new Hatoyama Initiative, and China's serious pledges on climate action, the international community missed out a rather important development in India changing its position on climate.

No, India hasn't yet made a complete turn around. It hasn't said it will agree to legally binding emission cuts on a deal that could be made at Copenhagen. But it has said what it has consciously refrained from even stating, in the past fifteen odd years.

The big shift is in India publicly stating that it agrees to pursue unilateral voluntary measures (no values on the table as yet) for 2020. In a move welcomed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, our environment minister Jairam Ramesh said 'we are now talking of voluntary unilateral implicitly targeted mitigation outcomes, not just actions with specific quantitative targets enshrined by law'. He also mentioned a 'per capita emission plus'.

Always one to shy away from legally binding targets, and one of the key players to push for an equitable treaty mirorring historical responsibility (necessary and key guidelines of climate negotiations today), India had probably gained the reputation of a deal-staller. Word has it that India's negotiators talk tough and have talked tough ever since the Kyoto Protocol came into action. India and China's refusal to change their negotiating position despite the need for a compromise, even after the EU's commitment to big emission cuts, has meant that Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United States would not commit to any ambition. This was clearly visible in Australia and New Zealand's caveats to cut even 10 percent emissions from 2005 levels 'on the condition...'.

China in the mean while, has quietly become the world's largest emitter, but also has the largest installed wind energy capacity, solar photovoltaic manufacturing units, and has reportedly planted twice the number of trees as compared to the rest of the world. They have also calculated their current and projected emissions, say they will peak by 2030, and have committed to participating meaningfully at the climate negotiations.
Clearly, it is time for India to bite the bit. India is now angling for a change in international perception. But patience wears thin as talk (and no action) on our National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and other domestic actions to cut emissions have remained on paper. The secretive draft of the solar mission suggests it will be released on 14th November 2009, everything else is 'proposed to be out by December'.Surely we are rather famous for Missions, Policies, Missions and Policies?

Only recently has the rhetoric changed, with the PM asking India to be a deal-maker, not a deal breaker.
The PM has spoken of a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority (NCCMA) - that will help realise implicit targets, and Jairam Ramesh has been speaking of a proposal to introduce an overarching central law that will guide the process.Opposition from the opposition is an drama we must expect once our ministers ready for the November session of Parliament. But as Jairam Ramesh says, we need to have everyone in the country on our side before we push for international commitments.

At this point in time, with a real climate crisis looming large (non-believers please see the IPCC report and anti-alarmists please read the papers), global collective cooperation is of utmost importance. This opportune moment will pass us by in a few years from now, and that would really make us 'the age of stupid'.

22 September 2009

India does more climate homework

By: Kaavya Nag

Makes 'nuanced shift' on climate position

He may not have made one bolt-from-the-blue statement that got him in trouble and on prime-time news although he may have come close. But many would agree that Jairam Ramesh, our Minister of State for Environment and Forests, has managed to keep the environment and his Ministry in the news every single day since the time he assumed office – whether owing to the introduction of new legislations, statements or interviews.

This in itself is a record for any environment minister in India till date. But Jairam Ramesh hasn’t stopped at that. He has exercised thought leadership in making the ministry more accountable, transparent and accessible, and in his efforts to bring in policies that will live on after he leaves office.

Sure enough, Mr. Paryavaran Bhavan has made his ministry a much more interesting and ‘happening’ place to be in. But intentional or not, he hasn’t stopped at that either. Right from the time UPA 2.0 took effect, Mr. Ramesh has been towing the government line on India’s position at the international climate negotiations. India has long maintained that developed nations must bear historic responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, that they must act first and fastest on the issue, and that they must pay developing nations for using up their ‘development space’, for adapting to climate change, and to buy expensive but cleaner technologies.

But August and early September saw the PM himself urging India to be more proactive in climate discussions, and for India not to be viewed as negotiation blocker. This resulted in a ‘greening the face’ of India’s negotiating profile and position. There has been a steady increase in policies that can dually benefit sustainability and emission mitigation. A slew of independent publications on India’s emission trajectory also boosts the greening move, and provides indigenous food for thought on the climate debate.

At the core of it, India’s international position has changed little. However, Ramesh accepts there is a ‘nuanced shift’ that India is ready to make, by agreeing to possibly quantify cuts in emissions into a ‘broadly indicative number’.

By a ‘nuanced shift’ Ramesh means that India is ready to set itself non-binding targets to cut carbon emissions, through the use of implicit targets – say a mandatory fuel efficiency law and building codes by 2011, or that 50% of all coal power must come from clean coal. To bring this into effect, Ramesh has proposed an overarching central legislation to help guide actions that will cut emissions. While this may well be a difficult proposition – it involves stepping on the toes of the heavyweight ministries of power, urban development and agriculture and the opposition, just to mention a few, the wily politician in Ramesh realizes that there needs to be enduring political consensus within the country which can then result in successful international agreements.

The Prime Minister has also proposed to set up a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority (NCCMA) that will assign and monitor green targets to be achieved by 2020 and after.

This slow volte-face is the first time ever that India has talked of quantifying emissions, or of making moves to reduce them. These developments are also refreshing in that one is reassured that India’s positions on climate neither are staid rhetoric nor cast in stone. They indicate that the debate is still evolving, moving towards a promising balance between adaptation and mitigation, and that this is a rather momentous achievement.

15 September 2009

Wanted! Renewable Energy Policy for India

By: Kaavya Nag

Renewable energy is today, the fastest growing energy sector in the world, with the capacity to supply half the energy needs of the world by 2050. It continues to remain a top candidate for a safe and optimal development strategy that decouples high-carbon technologies from economic growth.

Nations that can afford to invest in renewable energy unilaterally are making strong choices; several have even enacted renewable energy laws as early as 2000. India too, as a major developing economy, is taking similar strides, although not at comparable speeds. 

In recent years, India has emerged as favourable destination for renewable energy investors, and continues to introduce promising policies that will bring down the cost of renewable energy technologies, and make it on par with coal-based power in a decade or two from now.

However, a glaring gap in India’s grand renewable energy plans is the lack of a National Renewable Energy Policy, still under development through the MNRE. International trends indicate that in spite of electricity laws, countries like Germany, China, Australia and Austria for example, have renewable energy policies and laws that build stability and security that investors seek in making the required large-scale investments for renewables.

Nevertheless, particular positioning still gives India an advantage.  A latest McKinsey report suggests that 80 percent of 2030-India is yet to be built. In addition, India currently has an installed capacity of 13.2 GW of renewable energy, but at full stretch and owing to its tropical geography, has the potential of generating 90 GW of energy from renewable energy sources. The combination of geographic position and being at an initial stage of growth give India a unique opportunity to deploy low-carbon and energy efficient technologies that will strengthen the country’s energy security and leapfrog inefficient technologies. But this is an advantage we will not have by 2030 or even 2020.

So far, although steps in the right direction include policy-level, top-down drivers and soon-to-be-announced missions, we show our desire to move along the low-carbon track with a typical Indian inertia capable of flummoxing any fast-acting nation.

While the Energy Conservation Act 2001 and the Electricity Act 2003 exist for electricity and energy conservation in India, most renewable energy sources do not come under the purview of any law. To add to this glaring lack of general direction, constitutionally, electricity is a state subject. This means that rules and policies vary between states, and renewable energy promotion is left to individual states. In total, this has translated into fewer incentives for investment in the sector.

Efforts to streamline policies are already under way – the outcome of the National Action Plan on Climate Change has been a Renewable Energy Certificate Mechanism (REC) and the proposed National Renewable Portfolio Standard, both due to be released by December 2009. Both these aim for a holistic approach and integrated energy planning, while accommodating pre-existing laws and policies.

However, large-scale and ambitious development and deployment of renewable energy is only possible with government legislation, policies, and financial and other incentive mechanisms that then create and build the necessary environment for investment and business opportunities. The Indian juggernaut must move forward faster and capitalize completely on this dually beneficial opportunity.

References: 1.Handbook of Best Practices for the Successful Deployment of grid-connected Renewable Energy, distributed generation, cogeneration and combines heat power in India. USEA for APPCDC, 2008; 2. Overview of Renewable Energy potential of India. Meisen P. 2006. Global Energy Network Institute; 3.Environmental and Energy Sustainability: An approach for India. Mckinsey & Company 2009; 4. India Wind Energy Outlook 2009. Global Wind Energy Council; 5.Climate Change and India – Some Major Issues and Policy Implications. Prasad H.A.C. & Kochher J.S. 2009. Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India; 6.Identifying optimal legal frameworks for renewable energy in India. 2008. Baker & McKenzie.

11 September 2009

Climate Security: Himalayas on Thin Ice

By: Kaavya Nag

Climate change is no longer just about tackling and solving an environmental and social crisis. Nor is it just about changing the energy challenge. It is also being recognized as a challenge that carries serious implications for international peace.
With seven nations, two economic giants, mountain territory, unclear and contested borders and a fair number of ongoing disputes, the Himalayan region is a potent mix of elements already on thin ice.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), the mean annual temperature in the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayan region is expected to go up by 3.8 °C.  Will rapidly melting glaciers and permanently ice-covered regions alter high-altitude battlefields, and exacerbate conflict to even higher heights? Will global warming change the dynamics between India, China and Pakistan – the three key players in the region?

The Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau are regions with large-scale military presence, and have been marked with the sounds of war ever since India’s Independence and the formation of Pakistan in 1947, and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1949.

Whether on the Aksai Chin, the Baltoro, Siachen, Kargil, Arunachal, Sikkim, Sino-Bhutan border, Tibet, or the Karakoram, the Abode of the Gods has always been a hotly contested region. War at 14,000 feet has always been strategically too important to too many nations to give up without a serious fight.

Given the history of high-level conflict in the region, de-militarisation is out of the question in the foreseeable future. However, the Himalayas are strategically sensitive for more important reasons. Seven major rivers are fed by Himalayan glaciers - their waters feed an estimated 1 billion people. The ice that feeds them is melting fast, and this also has serious implications for glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and landslides in the region.

Access to water is likely to become a key security issue for India, China and all Himalayan states, as they try to maintain high economic growth rates and sustain large agrarian populations.

That is not all. Climate refugees are likely to be a serious issue to deal with especially in the high altitudes. High altitude disasters will become more frequent with climate change, and armed forces play an important role in providing timely aid, rescue and in rebuilding infrastructure - a role that will possibly take up a considerable portion of their time in the near future.

A report published by Indian military think tank, Institute for defense studies and analyses (IDSA) attempted to understand the geopolitical dimensions of climate change.

The Indian government has announced its willingness to cooperate with Pakistan on the issue of climate change. India has also initiated work with China on glacier research, although it is wary of ‘Chinese scientists walking all over Indian glaciers’ (read caution after 1962).

These processes mark the start of crucial trans boundary dialogues outside of border disputes that will play an important role in de-escalating overt security tension in the Himalayas and hopefully moving towards a more secure region.

Ref: Pai, N; April 2008; Indian National Interest Policy Brief.