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.