23 July 2010

Rig the Climate

By: Viva Kermani 

The climate denial lobby is beginning to look really silly. It creates loonies out of people -the most recent one - Lord Monckton - who claims that climate change, is a conspiracy, a new flag of the left and rebukes the very idea of global warming.

For someone who has no training in science whatsoever to discount the IPCC s body of some 800 scientists, he is irresponsible and certifiable. The science is now loud and clear - warming of the earth is unequivocal and there is no doubt that much of the change in climate is due to human induced action.

Scientists at NASA-GISS have confirmed that the first six months of 2010 have set a global temperature record. But I am not going to write about the vicissitudes of climate change of my generation or the politics that world leaders has been engaged in over the last decade to try to solve the climate crisis or what is the planet we are leaving behind. It has been about 2 decades since the Earth Summit in Rio and we are still struggling for an agreement to protect our planet and its ecosystems, its forest, water tables, atmosphere, oceans and mountains.

In the last 50 years or so millions have been spent in UN conventions, declarations and pledges for environmental protection. While we may have failed the earth in the last 100 years or so – there were some who paid it glorious tribute 5000 years ago. The best tribute ever paid to the environment can be found in the Vedas.
The Vedas are considered the most sacred books for Hindus. The word Veda means “wisdom”. There are 4 Vedas .The Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda , a collection of hymns ,are the most ancient of all Hindu texts, probably about 5000 years old but codified much later.This is concerned with the worship of gods that are largely personifications of the powers of nature. The Rig Veda contains the most popular mantra , the Gayatri mantra. I don’t know any Indian who does not know the Gayatri Mantra – it’s the mother of all mantras.

Aum Bhoor Bhuwah Swaha

Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasaya Dheemahi

Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat

There are various interpretations of this simple mantra - I do not wish to go into the existential meaning of this mantra, its metaphor or its esoteric meaning.I am no expert in Sankrit or ancient texts. Not at all and cannot even remotely claim to be. But this much I know -when I do a word to word break down of the Gayatri Mantra it is telling me something – a prayer to the "giver of light and life" - the sun (savitur). Its power remains unchallenged and unrivalled. It is not only the Rig Veda that pays tribute to nature.

There are 63 mantras of Atharva Veda (12.1.1. to 12.1.63) pertain to Hymns to the Earth, which glorifies Mother Earth. The Rig Veda regards trees and plants as possessing healing properties. Tree planting is considered a religious duty.

So ecology is not a modern day science that was started in Europe. Its root can be found in our ancient texts and its modern day manifestation in the Chipko Movement that began in the early 70’s in the Garwhal – where villagers formed a human chain and hugged trees marked to be cut down for the development of a sports equipment factory. Since then, the movement has grown as a ecological movement. So while world leaders break their heads over complex documents on carbon emissions,legal frameworks,binding targets,offsetting, de-forestation and afforestation, Indian Rishis understood this 5000 years ago but instead,chose to express it through beautiful, 4 line hymns - that are still chanted today.

08 July 2010

Take note: climate is warming but weather is variable

By: Kaavya Nag

Do you sometimes feel, like I do right now, that unless people are convinced 'beyond reasonable doubt' that the climate is indeed changing, no amount of scientific fact is going to make Mohammed go to the mountain? 
Why has it become so convenient to confuse weather and climate?

The 2009 cold wave in Europe and some parts of North America was all it took to bring down the average confidence in the threat of climate change.

"If its so cold, how can the climate change"?

Unfortunately, even scientists have to get defensive about their positions, reiterating that global temperatures (the planet as a whole) continue to rise, 'regardless of the fact that some parts of the United States are now experiencing an atypically cold weather'.

Now that there is a heat wave in the United States and North America (July 8th 2010), climate change has 're-become' the culprit for the extreme temperatures. 

But for how long will this heat-wave remain in public memory?
Obama might make impassioned statements defending climate change; Ban ki-Moon might do so too. Scientists may come out in the defense of other fellow scientists, and US Government scientists might try to take a dig at climate skeptics. But these are not the real 'convincers'.

Opinion is shaped by reading (or listening or watching) the same convincing (need not mean true) arguments again and again. And if every second newspaper article says 'yes we have soaring temperatures, but ...', or,'yes there is a cold wave, so don't you see ...?', what would you believe? 

At the least, you would start doubting that climate change is real.
I ask why well educated individuals writing in the public domain make it so easy to blinker themselves to some fundamental differences between weather and climate. Focusing on short periods of time to prove that global warming is not occurring is a misuse of the definition of climate, as much as it is a misleading way to use statistics.

29 June 2010

Equity versus atmospheric carbon space

By: Kaavya Nag

For as long as countries have come together to talk about climate change and what to do about it, one of the core issues of debate has been how to apportion the responsibility of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, in a fair and equitable manner.

The inheritance of this carbon-dioxide burden, is not equal among countries. Historically, some are more responsible than others. The issue of who will do how much, and in what proportion to their historical resposibilities (called 'Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) in climate jargon), has become an issue without whose resolution a solution to climate change is not likely. 
India has historically hardlined for this CBDR principle (as have most developing countries), but has stuck to a per-capita approach to emissions.The arguement has long been that the per capita emissions of an average Indian are much lower than even the global average, and that India and Indians therefore, have the 'right to develop' (since development implies an increase in emissions). 

Recently however, there has been some independent thinking from scientists and academicians within India, asking for a reasessment of the per capita approach. Key scientific associations involved in the debate are the Delhi Science Forum (DSF) and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). These and other organisations including the Centre for Policy and Resarch, have been pushing the Indian government to look at a slightly different approach to emissions, considering the rapid rate with which India's emissions are growing.

In this context, TISS has come out with a model that reallocates the available 'carbon space' of the atmosphere while ensuring that the total sum of emissions does not exceed the estimated dangerous limit. The model has been constructed based on a realistic evaluation of the current occupation of carbon space by countries. 

The report indicates that many developing countries have not utilised their full proportion of 'available' carbon space (subject to industrialised countries that currently use up that space making it available for countries like India), which is close to 17% of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by 2050, while carbon space is around 4 %.

Admitted, India needs to develop in order to alleviate poverty, raise standards of living and increase capacity to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. But can it do so while making a conscious effort to move towards a low-carbon economy, and not utilise its full quota of future carbon space?

01 June 2010

From markets with love

By: Viva Kermani

The carbon super market may just get another goodie!
At the Carbon Expo, carbon traders are discussing the launch of the Green Bond or International Carbon Bond. Like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)  that pays developing countries to reduce  GHG emissions , the Green Bond will do just the same.

To the uninitiated, the CDM is the principal tool for engaging with developing countries on mitigation policy. This allows developed country governments and companies to meet emissions reduction targets in part by purchasing certified emissions reduction credits (CERs) which they receive in return for financing projects in developing countries which reduce emissions. This is also known as “offsetting”.

India and China are the leading countries in CDM projects but recently China has over taken India. While India entered the CDM market in 2003, the size of projects is small – largely driven by  mid-sized companies. However this could change, should some of the Indian Public Sector Units chose to enter the carbon markets.
 Like some  bonds, including Daniel Craig, this is also hot .And here is why.                                    
Unlike the CDM process where there is a lengthy review process, with the Green Bond, the money is paid up front by investors and the returns guaranteed to the investor. The Investor then would be free to trade the bonds in international market. 

And here is the sweet spot.It would be like a sovereign debt.So if the project fails and there is no reduction in emissions,the investor is protected as the bond is backed by the World Bank or some such financial institution.

So if you want to make some quick bucks, watch this space and keep in touch with your investment banker - he is very likely to sell you the bond and not the sun.

21 May 2010

Of banana peels and popcorn

By: Viva Kermani

About two weeks ago, I met Peo and Satoko Ekberg.
Peo is from Sweden - a country that is fueling ahead to be the world's first oil-free country by 2020.This is without increasing its nuclear energy capabilities.I would call this ambition, to a point of being far fetched.,but Sweden seems to be on its way. From 70% energy from oil in 1975, today only 30% of its energy comes from oil.

So are the 9 million Swedes committed to this idea. Is it really possible to break the oil dependency and still run a first world country efficiently? From what Peo tells me, yes.

 Buses run on banana peels and kitchen waste, elevators are solar powered, taxis ferry you on coffee wastes collected from coffee shops. The capital, Stockholm, has reduced its household wastes by 97% - a big part of the garbage is  recycled into energy to power homes and transport. Public  transport in Stockholm now runs  a 100 % on bio-energy. The list goes on.

So I asked Peo, what does the city smell like with all this garbage in buses, taxis and cars?  Oh ! Fresh pop corn.

So next time you get a whiff of fresh pop corn, remind yourself that you may not be  in a cinema house watching  “An Inconvenient Truth”  but you are probably in Sweden, on a bus, going to  watch Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata”

19 May 2010

Here comes Christiana

By: Viva Kermani

In my mind this could have been breaking news.

Christiana is from Costa Rica, a developing country, and is a woman. A great combo. And if you did not know, Costa Rica is well on its way to becoming the first carbon neutral country by 2020. We finally have a woman who will head a traditional old boys club. So there. She is not your usual suspect in the least. She has the perfect CV to qualify for the job and having been around and part of the international negotiations since 1995 she knows the climate politics machinery all too well. She is a well recognised International leader on strategies to address global climate change .Nothing really could have denied her the job .

There is hope by the South that she will from time to time where the hat of the LDCs, the OASIS, the developing countries .Something that her predecessor was accused of not doing enough of. The voice of the most vulnerable will at last be heard and there will be action!

But this is what I am thinking.

Carbon trading, Clean Development Mechanisms, REDD,REDD Plus, Carbon Tax, Kyoto Protocol, COP 15 and even COP16 ,Bali Action Plan, Emission trading, Carbon pricing, will not solve the problem . And sadly neither will Christiana.

18 May 2010

Spill Baby Spill

By: Viva Kermani

A very predictable header but after going drill baby drill, this is what happened at British Petroleum s “ultra” Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. About 70,000 barrels of oil a day (and still counting) are being spilled into the ocean since April 20, 2010. The drilling was really “ultra deep”. The worry is not so much about when the spilling will be contained but where the oil will land up.

With no end in sight, the blame game has begun among the 3 actors. The project is owned by BP. Transocean owns the rig and has leased it to BP till 2013 and Halliburton, the oilfield services company, did the cement work to cap the well.

The impacts have not even begun to be considered. The toxic compounds in oil are known human carcinogens and hydrocarbons are particularly relevant if inhaled or ingested –for both humans and animal. For birds, the timing could not be worse. They are breeding and nesting and especially vulnerable in many of the places where the oil could come ashore. Nothing short of a catastrophe.
It will ruin for years to come the abode of the resident seabirds, waders, waterfowls, heron, pelicans, oystercatchers, migratory birds (swallows, buntings) that use the Gulf Wetlands as a stopover. With waters and coastal regions already feeling the impact of the oil spill, these birds could be at risk. It will totally disrupt migratory patterns and could result in mutations of certain species. Short-lived species such as shrimp or crabs may disappear in the region. The fishing industry in the area will pay its price.

While I am no expert on oil -from rigs to spills, this much I know. That when you get ultra greedy, you ultra dig and recovering will be ultra costly.

So my message for British Petroleum is this.

Drop that hubris .Admit that there are better forms of energy that we deserve.
And if this is not the right moment to improve your energy mix, you deserve to stay at the “bottom of the barrel”

16 May 2010

Summertime and the fish are not jumpin

By: Viva Kermani

While mercury soars across the sub continent, parts of the wettest state, Kerala, suffers from drought. This is unusual for God s own country. It is also unusual for the garden city, Bangalore, to touch 38 degrees centigrade. It is unusual that there are no glaciers in the summer months, even 40 km around Srinagar's east-side mountains. While Rajasthan is known for its desert heat, it is unusual that many of its districts are experiencing about 6 degree centigrade temperature increase.

But this is not about an unbearable summer where everything and everyone seems to wilt away and there is general listlessness. This is really about some myths and reality.

The myth is that climate has always changed so this is normal. The reality is that the climate is changing at a speed like never before.
The myth is that we can wait. The reality is that we have no time.
The myth is that climate change action is costly. The reality is that inaction will cost us more.
The myth is that money grows on trees . The reality is that it actually does.
The myth is that we can change – the reality is that we can t change fast enough.

MoEF must not die

By: Viva Kermani

I have to give it to him.

Jairam Ramesh is the best Environment Minister India has had. And I am saying this as he completes his very first year in office. So for someone who said that this was a ministry he was least expecting to head, Jairam has done rather well. 

The list of his hits is long.

For once, we have an environmentalist leading the Environment Ministry. We have someone who comes with independent thinking – and this is like music to my ears !
Starting with transparency, public consultation on bt Brinjal, cancelling projects that were given bogus environmental clearances ,creating a proper, user friendly website for the Ministry, knowing the difference between REDD and REDD Plus, getting rid of retired bureaucrats who have been negotiating India’s future , efforts to ramp up India’s mitigation efforts on climate change, Jairam Ramesh needs applause.

I don’t want to get into all the details of his accomplishment and neither do I want to get into his boo-boos, but what strikes me is the courage of his conviction, his willingness to fight to the end, his determination to change a corrupt ministry and to cleaning up the mess that he inherited.

Jairam Ramesh is clearly one of the Pet Shop boys and with good reason .While he is certainly no puppy, his pedigree, his penchant for strategy and independent thinking, surely makes him the leader of the pack.
If he goes, MOEF will go back to being on its death bed and will languish. We will then continue to degrade our forest, continue to classify forest as wastelands, only to be given away to mining giants, we will once again create a ministry of collusion and corruption in the name of development.
So yes, Jairam Ramesh must stay put.
For a change I can chant - the right man in the right job .And with no intention of sounding clich├ęd, I also believe he is the right man in the wrong party. And with that thought, I think I smiled

14 May 2010

Why we need Mr. Paryavaran Bhavan (Jairam Ramesh)

By: Kaavya Nag

Is it that we never expected to see someone, that too a political someone like Jairam Ramesh, take the reins of his new job, hit the ground running, show such corporate-style efficiency and competence, and be so clued-in about the whole thing?

Not in our dictionary of expectations: Ability to be efficient, ability to 'see my point of view', be a Blackberry-modern thinker.

Unstated fact: we credit them with little intelligence, expect them to turn a deaf ear to issues they should care about (which includes what we care about).

But let’s face it, Ramesh is a capable and well-connected politician with a mission, one entrusted to him by the PM. 

Said Dr Singh: “India has not caused the problem of global warming. But try and make sure that India is part of the solution. Be constructive; be proactive”

Ramesh could well have taken his role in international climate politics extra-seriously, and remain the de-facto Indian ambassador for climate change. But he carries out his domestic (and real job-profile) duties with the same amount of rigour.
Ramesh has pushed for setting a framework in place – whether on policies, systems of operation or regulations. Things that will last even after he is gone from the post. One of the first things he did, to show his commitment to transparency, was to change the wooden doors of his office to glass. (If I were an under-the-table-dealings minister who took his place, would I be unable to re-install the wooden doors or what!)

So while we may disagree with some of the policies he pushes for, or with the way in which some policies have turned out, we cannot question his integrity.
Despite his wrong-place (when in China) and inappropriate statements on an issue that did not concern his ministry (it did the Home Ministry), or his many vocal statements in the past concerning environmental issues (India will win the Nobel Prize for dirt and filth if there was one, locking horns with transport minister Kamal Nath over environment clearances), he continues to do his job as environment minister with considerable efficacy. (Pray why is an environment minister (no lesser rank mind you), asking legitimate questions about environment clearances frowned upon for asking them?)

In our defense (and there are gaping holes in it), no previous environment minister has set the precedent for such efficacious and even prolific productivity. 

Citizen consultations (what’s that?) on BT Brinjal, follow-up actions (!) regarding cancellation of environmental clearance (really?), inviting comments (inviting comments – are you sure?) on ToR for Elephant Task Force, sector-specific EIA manuals that will provide users and other stakeholders greater clarity about the environmental clearance project (again, really?), a paperless National CDM Authority (not bad), pollution indices for major industrial clusters…

All of the above and many more, all on a website that is updated as fast as a private news-channel (transparency again).

We didn't expect this much yaar! That, really, is our defense.

So even if you sensationalise the man’s many foot-in-mouth statements, and dull some of the sheen on his productivity by saying not all of the output was beneficial, admit that India has never had such a capable, intelligent and go-getter environment minister. None have been as approachable or responsive, and none have been as committed to ‘doing the job’. And none have been as cool.

Never before has the environment ministry and minister made as many headlines or environment and environment issues got so much national coverage. If not a Nobel Prize we can certainly ask for a Limca record for maximum headlines from an environment ministry.

To poke more holes in our defense, Jaago Re! This is the 21st century, and we need to expect our netas to deliver on more counts than 12th standard pass, no criminal records and Lok Sabha attendance (in a white Ambi).

At the end of the day, we need Ramesh just where he is, and definitely not outside the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

07 May 2010

BEE's masterstroke: Bachat Lamp Yojana

By: Kaavya Nag

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency has pitched for and bagged the world's largest carbon credit project - the Bachat Lamp Yojana . The BLY aims to prevent 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, and make CFL bulbs cheap enough for 400 million energy inefficient incandescent bulbs to be replaced.

Thomas Edison's first full-scale test of the incandescent bulb in 1879 lasted 13.5 hours. It was one of the first successful experiments to commercialise the light bulb. Over a hundred and thirty years down the road, the modern version, with a tungsten filament in place of the carbon filament that Edison and others first experimented with, is just as inefficient as its ancestral prototypes. Poultry farms across India use it to heat their coops -  not surprisingly - because roughly 90 percent of the power it consumes is emitted as heat.

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency estimates that there are over 400 million light points in India using incandescent lights (ICLs). Replacing these ICLs can potentially reduce over 6000 MW in electricity demand. 

That metric is just what the Bureau of Energy Efficiency's aims to get at. But it aims to overcome the cost barriers to CFLs - currently priced between Rs. 80 and 130, by subsidising it through a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project, and making CFLs available at Rs 15 per bulb. The subsidy to consumers will be met through financial investors lending the upfront finance to electricity distribution companies (DISCOMs), who can then sell CFL bulbs at the decided rate. Investors will make back their investment when they sell carbon credits in international carbon markets, either to countries who have to meet their UN targets, or to interested companies in Europe.

The BEE masterstroke is that individual state governments or power companies will not have to register each of their projects under the UN's CDM system (a long-drawn out process). Unfortunately, there is no law in India that is phasing out ICLs, unlike some other countries, and this is a barrier to implementation. The BLY scheme will mostly amount to a 'demonstration', although it will definitely amount to a lot of energy and emissions saving. But the BEE hopes that by 2012 (by which time the project comes to a close), there will be more willing domestic consumers, increased scale of operation, and lowered retail costs to CFLs.

20 April 2010

India & China: The Renewable Energy 'Outsourcees'?

By: Kaavya Nag

News reports coming out of the United States suggest that India and China are 'stealing' US solar jobs - what with companies halting manufacture of solar panel components in America. In this capitalistic global economy, profits mean too much for private companies to have nationalistic or altruistic bottom-lines. So if BP solar made a purely business decision by halting production in the US while opening manufacturing plants in India and China, then such a move should come as no surprise.

Agreed - such news is alarming, because it gets one thinking this could well be the precursor to another outsourcing blitzkrieg. But blaming third-world eager beaver private players for snatching away US skilled and semi-skilled jobs may not be a completely fair diagnosis.

Any student of history will know that an explanation for present-day happenings could well lie in the past. So simply pointing a convenient finger at India and China for taking away what is not theirs, may not be an objective enough analysis.

China's first-mover advantage

Long before the phrase 'low-carbon' became uber-cool, China had enacted (in 2006) a series of laws and policies that would push the country's renewable energy mix up to 15 percent. What this effectively did, was to create the space for clean-energy businesses to thrive in the settings of a booming national economy.

In this capitalistic world, and one in which China fought for no caps on trading in other sectors, developed countries were justifiably peeved with the Chinese government's active policy of creating unfair market barriers for foreign firms hoping to get a slice China's profit pie.

But we have to give it to China - they had the foresight and the stubborn will to enforce their policies. We also cannot claim that their renewable energy boom came in 2010 - everyone had seen it coming since 2008. China has now become the fastest growing wind-energy market, the world's largest producer of wind turbines, and is home to Suntech, the world's largest producer of solar photovoltaics by volume.

The elephant moves pre-Copenhagen

India has awoken late - just pre-Copenhagen. But in the short (by Indian standards) span of one year, missions have been approved and budgets allocated to respective ministries and agencies. The juggernaut has been set in motion, and will move faster in two years from now - at least for solar energy production and energy efficiency.

Also heartening is the knowledge that our leaders know that they need to capitalise on the time they have now, and on the world's opinion of India.

Domestic moves towards renewable energy in the energy mix and a lower-carbon economy will obviously have desired and beneficial side-effects. Those could even multiply with South-South cooperation - if the camaraderie between Brazil, South Africa, China, Russia and India develops the way it has in the past six months. 

US inaction post-Copenhagen

The US Climate Bill bore the promise of change. To the world, a first-step commitment to tackle climate change, to potential job-seekers in the US, clean-energy jobs, to potential entrepreneurs, the promise of a booming business. But is has been so late in coming, that one cannot blame other first and fast-movers for seizing the opportunity first.

When every nation wants to be a 'deal maker' and everybody wants to 'be the change', opportunity can be created, capitalised on, taken, and lost, but it cannot be 'stolen'.

07 April 2010

India before the low-carbon tipping point

By: Kaavya Nag
Renewable energy is now in fashion in India, and one of its biggest promoters is the government. That is undoubtedly a good thing, because so as far as reach goes, they beat anyone else. What with the power to make policies, issue policy directives, enact bills and create directed programmes such as the Remote Village Electrification Programme.

Apart from policy and programme related actions, the Union government has taken it upon itself to green the Parliament House, and to push for all government buildings to install solar panels on their premises. Then there is the very likely possibility of solar electricity getting subsidised by 30 percent for those who wish to install solar panels on their rooftops (grid connected). If states back this with more subsidy, home owners could get a total of 50 percent subsidy on power generation from solar panels.
A proposal by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to mandate all mobile service providers to to get their power from solar panels rather than from diesel, could translate into a saving of 5 million tonnes of CO2 annually, and about 2 billion litres of diesel each year.
All of these initiatives are either part of or tie into, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM).

New Delhi, courtesy the Commonwealth Games has taken it upon itself to go greener. The Thyagaraja Stadium will be run on solar energy for the period of the games, following which the power it generates will go to the grid. Naveen Patnaik, Orissa's CM has pushed through rural electrification using solar power, for 3000 remote villages across the state. The Punjab government in collaboration with US companies are all set to create a network of solar power plants that are expected to generate 1000 MW of solar power.

Then there are the private and the public-private players. BHEL wants to re-enter the wind turbine manufacturing market. Suzlon just landed a massive deal to produce wind turbines for a company in Gujarat.

The list of announcements and projects in the pipeline goes on. Although India is a big country, the thought that comes to mind is, are we on the path to a game-changer? Are we at that tipping point that Malcom Gladwell so expertly enumerates in his book with the same title? Arguably India is a big country with a billion plus people, and clearly, we are still far from that tipping point. But just to preempt some thought, are the 'settings' right for us to get there there and beyond?

The government is trying to tweak settings across the board - the JNNSM and the NMEEE are two examples. Even hard core 'developmentalists' would agree that a move towards energy sources that ensure energy security are in any nation's best interests. And we have no dearth of people and networks who can potentially create a meme so powerful that it spreads like a virus.

So here's to a new hope and a new tipping point!

18 March 2010

Why the State is key to a real green jobs market

By: Kaavya Nag

The pre and aftermath of Copenhagen has undoubtedly been the heightening of interest in the key words: green jobs (among others of course). However, the excitement and buzz around the notion of a low-carbon job, runs ahead of the actual creation of a successful 'green job' market.

Success is relative, but a real green job market would be one that fuels the clean energy economy. And for that, we need a pre-planned change in the policy climate. One that fuels a clean energy economy and takes green jobs along with that growth curve.

We don't need targets just for the National Solar Mission, we need a bigger vision. We need a thought-space in India's national climate policy, on how to use this opportunity to create green jobs (not just jobs). We need the people deciding national policies to pen down the pathways by which the country will get green jobs fuel clean growth, and for clean growth fuel green jobs. That will be the real game-changer.

If not, it is likely that a green job will remain a 'green MBA', a LEEDs certified green building consultant, and a carbon analyst. And clearly, only some buildings will be green, not all. In addition, the words 'green job' will continue to give the impression that such work automatically brings you below-par a normal job vis-a-vis the pay scale or career prospect path, possibly because you tend to associate the word green with non-profit.

If we want green jobs to deliver to their true potential, an electrician in a retrofit company, a public transport employee and an engineer in a wind energy company won't be the only ones holding a green job. Even the plain old investment banker, librarian and local salesman should fit the bill. 

While the librarian and salesman are currently idealistic green jobbers, they are not unreachable Utopian goals.We can get to Stage I of green jobbing the country by getting the State to create demand for green jobbers, and focus on capacity building though green skill training. Focus on the industries and development that can scale-up green jobs. A good start would be the energy efficiency, renewable energy and agriculture sectors. Green skill training does not create a 'green certified' mechanic, rather it incorporates additional new technology and methods training into existing curricula.

To get to Stage II, we need policy reforms that will create the regulatory environment and give the impetus for low-carbon growth. Including mandatory industry standards in product supply chains and life cycles, operations and maintenance. That is what will move green jobs into the 'open sea' of competition, and make many more jobs green than they currently are.

08 March 2010

And the colour of the 2010-11 Union Budget is...

By: Kaavya Nag

Pranab Mukherjee's Union Budget of 2010-11 proposes an initial step forward in India's transition to clean energy and lower emissions. In his budget speech he said 'while we must ensure that the principle of 'polluter pays' remains the basic guiding criteria for pollution management, we must also give a positive thrust to development of clean energy'. And so the budget aims to give that thrust to clean energy through a series of initiatives: higher outlays, tax and customs breaks (some continued from 2009-10), and a clean energy fund.

Note however the government target of adding 78,000 MW of power by 2012. For this, and in keeping with Planning Commission recommendations, Pranab Mukherjee announced the government's plan to accord the highest priority to capacity addition in the Power Sector. Plan allocation has been doubled from 2,230 crore last year to 5,130 crore this year. The eventual aim of such capacity addition is to get power to the 500 million Indians who currently have no access to electricity. However, the means to that end are currently through increased production of coal and of supercritical thermal power plants.

After a wait of nearly two years, the pet mission of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) - the Jawharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) has gotten its first allowance. Accordingly, the outlay of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE)'s has nearly doubled: from 620 crore (USD 135 million) in 2009-10 to 1000 crore (USD  218 million) in 2010-11. Another major proportion of money for the NSM is expected to come from a clean energy cess on coal (both domestic and imported) - at Rs 50 (USD 1) per tonne. This money, will be channeled through the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) - designated for funding research and innovative projects in clean energy technologies.

This coal cess is expected to generate 3250 crore in 2010-11. For sure, inflow to the NCEF is bound to increase as coal consumption rises in the country year on year (as it has been over the past few years), and is expected to be able to generate millions for the NCEF.

The second NAPCC pet mission - the yet-to-be-announced National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE) - is second in line. While mission details are not out as yet (but rumoured to be launched on 1 April 2010), money-before-plan seems to be the approach for this mission. Nevertheless, energy conservation gets143.94 crore, and the Bureau of Energy Energy Efficiency (BEE) gets 66.92 crore.

These provisions as well as a boost to the renewable energy sector through a cut on excise duty for electric vehicle parts, wind turbines, LED lights and CFL lights promises growth in these sectors. LED lights, wind turbine components and solar cycle rickshaws get reduction in excise duty. Small hydro, solar and micro power projects in Ladakh (J&K) get 500 crore.

However, there is as yet no concerted strategy for India - one that lays out India's plans for changing its renewable energy mix by (for example) 30 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2025, and 60 percent by 2050. These is as yet no plan that will help realise India's voluntary commitment to the international community - of 20-25% reduction of emission intensity by 2020.

Business as usual is likely to be the growth trend: with coal continuing to make up a major proportion of the energy mix of the country in the near future.

So despite a partial roll-back of fossil-fuel subsidies and an increase in taxation on motor vehicles, a clean energy fund funded by dirty energy is rather similar to nature conservation grants coming from petroleum and mining companies. Much like the old Hindi saying 'Ek hath se lo, ek hath se do'. (Give something away with one hand and take an equivalent amount back with the other).

Disclaimer: admitted - funds must start somehow and somewhere. For now, what better than levy a charge on coal. Therefore, by no means does one trash the fund itself, nor its intent. One just questions the point of having a source that you eventually, and ideally want to contain.

The colour of the budget is pale green.

24 February 2010

Tell the truth about climate change

By: Kaavya Nag

Media reporting on climate: Effective in clouding perspectives, but to what effect?

Ever since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change retracted a statement saying that Himalayan glaciers are 'likely to melt by 2035', speculation in the media has been rife as to whether the Himalayas are melting at all. Anyone with some capacity of reason would realise that the number (2035) was not as important as worldwide observations that corroborate the 'widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades, which are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century'. 

This clearly goes to show that glaciers around the world are retreating. If by some magical force or chance of probability, Himalayan glaciers remain immune to such effects, we still need tremendous investment in Himalayan glacier research to tell us that very fact. The fact remains that there are woefully few studies on Himalayan glaciers - particularly those published in international peer-reviewed journals, to come to the conclusion that there is little, no, or all reason to worry.

The IPCC on January 20th officially acknowldeged that this 2035 number was based on 'poorly substantiated rates of recession for the disappearance of Himalyan glaciers'. While there is little doubt that the IPCC comes under the scanner for failing to implementing scientific best practice in preparing its own reports, the ramifications of that point are 'outside the scope of this article'.

Media-created super-hype - of Himalayan glaciers not melting by 2035' gives the average reader who has no initiation into the methods of scientific process, nor the gift of deciphering scientific jargon (sometimes superbly complicated and often undecipherable), the opinion that there is little to worry about as far an Himalayan glaciers are concerned.

But the fact remains that studies about the state of Himalayan glaciers are woefully inadequate. Even mountain research organisations such as ICIMOD repeatedly bring up the issue. Nepal and Bhutan wouldn't cry hoarse about something they are not threatened by or not experiencing (read glacier lake outburst floods).
But the fact remains that media persons reporting on sensitive and highly scientific issues such as climate change must be 'initiated' enough to understand what scientists are trying to say through their publications. 
Admittedly scientists are not a communicative lot when it comes to their findings - they publish their reports but do not publish a common man's decoded version of the same. In their defense, they are often constrained by the ethics of science, of remaining objective about their findings. 

The constrained nature of scientific expression must literally 'get the goat' of a media culture that depends on controversies and immedeate conclusions to get the necessary eyeballs. But this, more than anything, increases media responsibilty levels. It demands that the media understand the importance of objectivity in science as much as the ramifications of raking up enough dust to create a storm - one that makes everyone forget the reason for the harangue in the first place. 

Through the entire month of raging controversy, how many voices of reason did we hear? How many were more concerned about what future steps needed to be taken in order to gain a better understanding of the Himalayan ecosystem and its glaciers? The answer is there to all to see. Not even governments raised a voice.
Instead, media was rife with scientists vindicating themselves, ministers defending their pet 'grey literature' and unsubstantiated reports, and general IPCC-bashing. What's more, it was a field day (month or more) for climate sceptics (more on that in a separate article), and a black month for those of us who know that climate change is a reality we must now come to terms with.

11 January 2010

This Indian New Year: sweet news on climate action

By: Kaavya Nag
Yugadi marks the beginning of a new year in the Deccan regions of India: ‘yuga’ means era and ‘adi’ means new beginning. While the day that marks Yugadi is still a few months away, India’s new engagement to the Copenhagen Accord and with climate change has begun this January.

To mark the new year, in typical Bevu-Bella (Neem and Jaggery) style (although certainly not intentional) India is preparing a bitter-sweet offering for climate change – one that symbolizes life’s highs and lows.
The bella news first - the announcement of a planning commission body that will draw out a detailed roadmap for the implementation of India’s carbon intensity reduction plans. The group has till April to finalise its report, and will present its report in September. Drawing heavily from representatives of the public and private sector including Deepak Puri of Moser Baer and Tulsi Tanti of Suzlon, the report aims to be the foundation of India’s low carbon strategy.

Sweeter bella news second – PM Manmohan Singh, at the launch of the Solar Mission today said India should aspire to have Solar Valleys, along the lines of Silicon Valley, transforming India’s energy prospects. PM Singh said the ambitious 20,000 MW target is doable despite the costs it entails, if we ‘single-mindedly strive to achieve it as a priority national endeavour’. While some civil society bodies are skeptical of the 20,000 MW target, which might require an investment of 54 billion USD over the next twelve years, what is heartening is that the government is not yet willing to give up its ambitions.

As of now, the neem-taste is mellow – it appears that the BASIC countries are still to coordinate the pledges and proposed actions for emission reductions they will put forward before 31st January this year. On the invitation of Jairam Ramesh, BASIC country ministers are due to meet in the third week of this month – and one only hopes that they do not shy away from putting out their targets, and do so without the fear of these pledges being converted into international commitments in the future.

May this year be filled with more good news!!!!