Deccan Chronicle

Climate Change: Clouds over India

Deccan Chronicle| amit s. upadhye

Published on: November 26, 2015 | Updated on: Invalid date

A recent study shows that India will be the second worst affected country due to climate change

A recent study shows that India will be the second worst affected country due to climate change

A recent study shows that India will be the second worst affected country due to climate change

India is all set to demand its space in carbon equity and push for the ‘polluters pay’ in the upcoming Paris Climate Convention. Scientists deliberate that it’s time that India takes a lead role in convincing the West about its requirement and at the same time ensure ‘low-Carbon’ development at the local level. Amit S. Upadhye reports on the challenges that India may go through in the upcoming summit.

For the last two years, the farmers in the coastal region of Karnataka are complaining about losing the yield due to rise in water levels which are directly caused by rise in sea levels. Experts say that it’s not an isolated case but a number of places are facing this problem pertaining to the changing climate.

A recent study shows that India will be the second worst affected country due to climate change after Bangladesh. In the last one decade both the frequency and severity of floods and droughts is going up steadily. Be it floods in Uttarakhand, Leh, Jammu Kashmir these extreme weather events which are occurring at a regular basis are testimony that the climate change is here and it’s real.

Joydeep Gupta, Director of India Climate Dialogue notes that scientists cannot ascribe each individual extreme weather events to climate change, but they (scientists) have very clearly said the floods and droughts will be more frequent and severe in the years to come which are being caused due to increased temperatures.

"In the upcoming Paris summit India must push for its carbon space, but at the same time the country cannot afford to wait and see what is happening. Studies already hint that India is one of the most vulnerable countries of climate change. The states have a larger and important role when it comes to tackling with the effects of changing climate. Be it flash floods or drought, the states must ensure that adaptation measures are taken. The country already has National Action Plan for climate change and the state too must move in this direction," Mr Joydeep says.

Mr Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of Centre for Science and Environment and head of the industry and environment programme warns that it’s the poor who will be affected the most in the effects of climate change.

"No doubt India should ask for the rightful carbon space, but at the same time the country should demand the pay for damages caused by the developed countries. Agriculture and fisheries will be the first to be affected due to climate change. We must demand financial aid for adaptation and loss due to changing temperatures," he says.

Mr Bhushan adds that the states must start adapting to the changing weather conditions that are caused due to increased temperatures. "The states must develop plants keeping in mind the agricultural, water and forest sectors which are the most vulnerable for the changing temperatures globally. Developing Action Plan to ensure low-carbon development is essential and we must start taking steps in working towards energy efficiency and developing mass transport systems in urban areas to ensure India adapts with the changing global scenario," he adds.

What is Global WarMing?

Planet earth is getting warmer because of human activity, as we are producing huge quantities of green house gases (GHG’s) which is making the atmospheric layer thicker, resulting in more infra red waves from the sun getting trapped, instead of getting reflected back into space.

Oceans cover 71% of planet earth. 90% of the extra heat trapped by manmade global warming goes into the ocean – they have been heating at a rate of around 0.5 to 1 watt of energy per square meter over the past decade, and amassing more than 2 X 1023 joules of energy — the equivalent of roughly five Hiroshima bombs exploding every second — since 1990.

Warmer oceans affect weather patterns and cause more powerful storms and sea level rise. As water gets warmer, it takes up more space. Each drop of water only expands by a little bit, but when you multiply this expansion over the entire depth of the ocean, it all adds up and causes sea level to rise. Sea level is also rising because melting glaciers and ice sheets are adding more water to the oceans.

The more devastating effects of warmer oceans is that it causes more powerful storms. Storms gain energy from warm oceans. So what may start off like a small storm system intensifies to become a large more powerful storm, if the path of the storm has warm oceans. Hurricane Sandy that struck the North East of the United States of America in 2012, Typhoon Haiyan that struck Philippines in 2013, and more recently Super Typhoon Koppu in Philippines and Hurricane Patricia in Mexico are all examples of the phenomenon.  So here is the connection between climate change and the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

How India is tackling climate change:

  • National Action Plan on Climate Change
  • Eight national missions to integrate multi-pronged, long-term strategies for achieving India’s key goals for Climate Change
  • Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission: Enable deployment of 100,000 MW of solar power by 2022
  • National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency: Promote end-use demand side management with strategies and technologies for cost  
  • Clean India Mission - Swachh Bharat Abhiyan
  • National campaign covering 4041 statutory towns to clean India’s streets, roads and infrastructure
  • National Mission for Clean Ganga:  Coordinated effort to clean the Ganga River Basin, India’s largest river
  • Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth: Outlined India’s plan for reducing emissions intensity by 20-25% between 2005 and 2020
  • National Mission for a Green India
  • Develop adaptation and mitigation measures to enhance carbon sinks in sustainably managed forest and ecosystems

Q&A with C.B. Ramkumar, Climate Expert: India has taken a leadership stance

Q: With Paris Climate Summit round the corner what are your concerns when it comes to reducing the carbon emissions in India?
A: India has taken a leadership stance and made a huge INDC commitment. The challenge will now be to see this through. My first concern is what measures and mechanisms will be put in place that will be enough to measure the carbon emissions cuts in a transparent manner that will be internationally accepted. This is not just a concern for India, but for most countries in the world. My second concern is how effectively India will be able to hold back the coal lobby. We all know that there is a very strong lobby, and they will not allow for too much of their stakes to be cut back. It will be interesting to see how they react and the back office steps they take to stall the efforts. My third concern is the present political mood in the country. I hope that all political parties stand together in this, and not see this as a BJP government policy – if that happens, it will be tragic. Some issues like sustainable development and climate change have to be beyond party politics, and I hope that the political parties have the necessary maturity and foresight.

Q:  What are the factors in India that are causing higher amount of carbon emissions and how they can be regulated?
A: About 300 million people in India do not have electricity. Add to this another 300 million who do not get electricity when they need it. For example in rural India, farmers who depend on bore wells for irrigation need 3 phase electricity during the day, but often they get 3 phase electricity in the middle of the night, when industries do not need it. So more than half of India either do not have electricity or do not get it when they need it. This puts a massive need to generate electricity by any means. Coal is the easiest fuel to use, so its use is rampant, causing high carbon emissions. It is so difficult to regulate this, as the nation needs electricity, as we all know that electricity is a huge development enabler for a household. Having said this, I believe that there are smaller carbon emitters, but when we club them together, they can become major contributors to carbon emissions. I call these low hanging fruit that I hope the government will start to focus on, or empower and mandate not-for-profit NGO’s to focus on. There are sectors that burn massive amount of fossil fuels like diesel to generate electricity that is disproportionate to the value these sectors add to the overall economy. For example every hospitality establishment (hotels) in this country uses diesel generators in the name of extending uninterrupted power for their patrons. These establishments make enough margins to enable them to move to renewable energy over a period of time. The way to regulate the hospitality industry is to introduce legislation to stop them from burning fossil fuels, and then giving them enough time – 4-6 years to switch to renewable completely. The same holds true for ships that come into Indian ports. They are known to burn heavy oil (that is even more polluting than diesel) for their generators while in port. They are banned from doing so in ports like Singapore and Gothenberg. The way to regulate ships in ports is again through legislation and then encouraging ports to set up off shore windmills to generate clean electricity that they supply to ships at a price. India needs innovative solutions, and I believe that as a nation we are intelligent enough to come up with these solutions.

Q:  Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi has said he won't stand in way of climate change proposals. What does that mean for India?
A:  Mr Modi’s support and stand on climate change is well known from when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. In his book, ‘Convenient Action", he talks about how "Sustainability is ultimately a moral issue since it involves the protection of interests of our future generations." So he is known to be a great supporter of sustainability, as he understands the fundamental issues that surround climate change and sustainable technologies. I also think he has smelt the opportunity for India when it comes to taking a lead in the climate change discussions. With the ambitious INDC numbers from India, effectively he has ensured that the world has to listen to India. Today we have the UN Chief Ban Ki Moon also appreciate India by saying "I believe it indicates the seriousness with which India is confronting the challenges of climate change". All this has ensured that India will have a loud voice for itself and on behalf of the developing nations in the Paris discussions. It will also ensure that post Paris the government will be able to act decisively to cut carbon emissions, especially when it concerns the coal industry in India. This will be a tough battle for even the Modi government as this lobby is more powerful than any government. Keeping the politics of coal aside, one point that India will be lobbying for is access to technologies to cut emissions that the country needs. For example we need technology to make our coal based electricity generating plants more efficient and less carbon emitting. We need access to cutting edge solar cell technology, and battery storage technology. All this is expensive technology protected by complicated IP laws. Cutting through this and getting access to technology will be a big boost for India and indeed for other developing nations too.

 Q:  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "India will be a challenge’. What do make of this statement and is India really a challenge when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases?
A: Yes, India will be a challenge. As a nation we need to balance our development imperatives with cutting back on emissions. Until now the only model for development that the world has seen, has been development at the expense of the environment, by increasing carbon emissions. Industries need to burn fossil fuels to produce goods, and electricity companies need to burn coal to produce electricity to a nation starved of electricity, and all this is a necessary evil for development. Add to this we have two thirds of rural households that are dependent on fire wood for cooking. So we have our challenges. All developed nations and China demonstrated that development will negatively impact the environment. Now we have a chance to demonstrate that development can happen without a cost to the environment. And this is possible, as renewable energy technology has grown rapidly, and costs have come down exponentially. All this will help us develop without a cost to the environment. The only question now is if we will have the political will to follow this path diligently.



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