Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It Has Been Getting Too Hot Out Here

For one who has been following the climate politics (with minimal carbon footprint) ever since a young Indian Kartikeya Singh accompanied Kapil Sibal to Bali precisely 2 years back, it has been getting too hot in the recent build-up to Copenhagen. Despite speculations and a series of international political meets, the Climate Change Conference began on the 7th to the accompaniment of plenty of drama and hoopla. Albeit, I have been doing my fair share of writing, reading, crafting, planning, mentoring, observing and discussing just about everything ….. from climate possibilities, youth movements to grass-root activism, this historic meet is something I have always been skeptical about.

So just when the ball got rolling and our Indian media set about catching up on all the geo-politics on the eve of the Copenhagen Climate meet, I decided to take a brief hiatus. Call it an overkill from climatic exposure or a pseudo-pleasure from observing what our suddenly climate savvy media have to say about the climate politics emerging. Whatever, I find I have been enjoying myself thoroughly.

For instance, take this.

According to James Fahn,

The most important delegation at the climate change conference in Copenhagen….. will be a group of 40 journalists traveling from the developing world who will come to cover the summit, and what it means for their countries.”Of all the fatuous theories and suppositions surrounding climate change, this one beats others hands down.

I wonder what all those at 350.org, IYCN and Greenpeace (to name a few) have to say to this claim. After all, it is these guys who have been labouring for so long to educate people about climate change and taken pains to retrofit the media. I have seen them giving up on personal leaves, social networking and free time, not to forget spending moneys for campaigns when sponsors were scarce.

While the media celebrates an all-expenses paid trip to Copenhagen to write what is in the first place handed out as an official press release, skeptics and climate warriors are going all overboard with their climate evaluations and conjectures.

And then, there are the ever-increasing James Hansen baiters (and may their tribe increase…. does make for interesting reads on rainy mornings), whose goals in life are to stop the eco warriors from doing their job.

To believe that dumping 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year would have no impact is a form of collective insanity.” Agreed.

The same scientologist has a wondeful take in his Climate Change and Jesus in a Burnt Toast., dissecting the purloined emails from the recent Climategate scandal to give us a “behind-the-stage look at a few Scientists Gone Wild”.

Indeed, in the run-up to this December historical meet of nations, it has been a mad, mad world out there, email leaks notwithstanding.

While King's College London psychiatrists have recently published a meta-study of how the many side effects of rising temperatures can really harsh your mental mellow, to say the least; one of our very own earnest climate activists lists reasons why she will wear the ‘bindi’ to the COP 15.

The techies have not been lagging either. Google has used the opportunity to put on show a new technology prototype at the Climate Conference. using the cloud computing technology to detect deforestation, areas and rate.

Whereas ESRI initiated an online “Spatial Roundtable” highlighting the value of GIS in carbon accounting and environmental sustainability. It does not need second-guessing why this begins right amidst the Copenhagen talks.

As the debate gets hotter, with an overwhelming sense of urgency to establish global policies for carbon emissions reduction, the geo-politic observer in me cannot but help ruminating over two things.

One, the total carbon footprint courtesy all those climate stewards, activists, politicians and journalists, who have invaded Copenhagen. Albeit, one must admit, the former have their rationale. As history reveals, no concrete decision or action is possible without a Gandhian AND an aggressive stance (as adopted by the likes of Dr. Glen Barry of Ecological Internet) acting concurrently.

The politicians and journos however could have contributed to reducing their footprint courtesy technology, as in online video conferencing. As anyway what you will find as reportage (barring for some good analytics) will be transcripts and press releases reproduced in toto.

Two, after all is said and done, it comes down to “money” and “political power” (a.k.a. lobbying). So at the end, your guess is as good as mine, whether money that developed and polluting countries will most certainly end up paying to the developing emerging economies ….. is indeed going to reduce carbon emissions.!

As a climate conference skeptic, I am not really keeping my fingers crossed..

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why India needs to link Rainfall to Climate Change

Indians have long since felt the effects of the capricious monsoons. However, it is only in the recent years that the predictions of weather departments have gone haywire, with every year ushering in novel situations that have no precedence for study and analysis. While monsoons are getting widely spread over the months June to September since last year, flooding in arid or minimal rainfall zones are becoming increasingly frequent. Does this mean climate change has already affected the weather and rainfall pattern in India? Seems so.

A study released by Purdue University earlier this year has explicitly mentioned that climate change could influence monsoon patterns with reduced summer precipitation, delay in the onset of rains and longer gaps between rainy periods.

As Dr Vibha Dhawan of The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, says,

"We need to accept now that climate change is something that is bound to happen.”

"Not just high temperatures but fluctuating temperatures. Not just drought but also floods."

An expert at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre has attributed the recent South India floods to climate change. The recent flooding in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is portentuous of the times to come. As climate change accelerates, so will the unpredictability and intensity of the rainfall patterns, as is evident from the 600 % higher than normal rainfall in the driest river basin of the country.

Climate Change, essentially the domino effect of rapid industrialisation, is today a reality. It has already arrived in India A natural upshot of global warming, climate change has been visible in the marked shift in weather patterns in the past few years. Unpredictable monsoons, extreme climate conditions, increase in natural disasters, rise in sea levels and crop failures are some of the obvious impacts of climate change being felt here, besides emerging changes in glacier advances or retreats of the Himalayas.

One may recall the atypical case of Rajasthan, a historically drought-prone and arid State. If the floods of Barmer district in 2006 was a bolt from the blue, the situation in 2007 was worse when Rajasthan witnessed an unprecedented 2 month long flooding in five of its districts. Yet again, in August 2008, incessant rains led to the breach of the Jaswant Sagar Dam.

Contrarily, the North-Eastern States of Assam, whose lush green forests once owed allegiance to heavy downpour almost half the year, have been fraught with dry weather in various regions since 2004, while facing widespread flooding of Brahmaputra and intermittent flash flooding from breaching of embankments.

On the one hand the Himalayan river systems draining into the Ganga river basin are dying out, on the other hand glacier melting has resulted in recurrent flooding of Yamuna and Brahmaputra rivers. It is a disaster, waiting to happen, as the impact will be felt on human survival, agriculture, infrastructure, forest cover, hydel power and the general economy.

Then again, the village of Basahi village in Bihar has become a victim of climate change. Increased run-off from the mountain glaciers in Tibet and Nepal has meant consequent breach of the Budhigandhak river every year. Villagers think fixing the river embankment is the solution. Little do they know that the heavy floods are a visible sign of a climate flux. The monsoons they once welcomed is now viewed with trepidation, as it gets heavier and relentless every successive year.

In particular, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim are facing the heat of climate change the most. The effects of climate transmutation are more pronounced in these mountainous regions because of their fragile ecosystems. The melt-down of glaciers is already flooding river valleys. Flash floods are becoming the order of the day. Paradoxically, the prolonged drought conditions at other times of the year, are giving rise to a serious concern about water management, a hitherto unknown issue in this water-rich region. It is inevitable that such shifts in the environmental and geophysical attribute of this Himalayan region have a non-reversal impact on land-use patterns and crop production.

In such a situation, the continued construction of hydro-electric projects are worsening the imbalances that have already set in.

The livelihood of the people of India and the economy itself, largely depends upon the agriculture, forestry, wetlands and fisheries. The monsoon rains influence the land-usage, which is grossly dependant upon water-based eco-systems. Vagaries of rainfall patterns and changes in water cycle are also directly related to water borne diseases.

All of this indicates the immediate need to redress the problem of unpredictable rainfall and chalk up surrogate options to insure farmers against drought-like or flood conditions. Government needs to work closely with local movements and NGOs to seek possible solutions. While unpredicatability of rainfall needs to be linked to climate change in order to take suitable measures, appropriate water usage policies and regulations are increasingly required. The snail-paced 2 % growth in agricultural sector needs a fillip and impact of such disastrous floods and droughts lessened.

Water usage is extremely important in this traditionally agro-based economy. Otherwise very soon not only is India in danger of losing its capacity as one the highest wheat and rice providers, amongst others, but also pave the way for multinationals tol take over agricultural land from suicide-committing farmers, going the Mexico way !

Posted at INDIA WATER PORTAL at Sangeeta Deogawanka's Blog

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Indian approach to Climate Change

Unlike the rest of the self-righteous developed world that is more occupied with finger-pointing at less developed nations than examining its own defaulting positions of large carbon emitting status, India has been adopting a pragmatic approach.

The Indian minister in charge, Jairam Ramesh not only acknowledges the serious problems brought about by climate change in India, but has also approached the entire climate issue with a three-pronged tactic.

Recognising that climate change has of recent times transmuted from the geo-political to the political in the global arena, Mr Ramesh has tackled the ongoing climate discussions with suave diplomacy that will perhaps be a trend-setter in both international and national climate scenario.

First, even while acknowledging the need for India to take concrete steps in conjunction with developing nations, Mr Ramesh has stressed that India has two requirements for Copenhagen. Industrialized and developed rich nations must consent to steep cuts in carbon by 2020 and also provide monetary and technical help to the developing nations to effect a pro-actve green shift. Projecting itslef as a “deal maker” in the climate conundrum, India has set the tone for a fast-paced climate negotiation , with its own constantly evolving strategies and solutions in the climate talks.

At the same time, India has historically maintained that legal limits on carbon would stunt India's economic development. Though continuing to oppose mandatory carbon limits,t by adopting a soft-line realistic 'self-imposed' approach on the domestic front, Mr Ramesh has appropriately stressed that growth and development needs prime consideration, even while maintaining fuel emission and efficiency norms.

On the third front, steps are being taken to ensure an internal follow-up of the ‘per capita plus’ approach adopted vide legislations. As Mr Ramesh said, "without a solid domestic consensus, or even domestic constituency” India could not fruitfully work on Climate change without stunting growth.

As India places a self-imposed cap on its per capita emissions, this cements its seriousness of in climate mitigation programmes.. Notwithstanding India’s assurance that even while ranked 50th in the world per capita emissions, India would stay below per capita emmissions of other nations.

The message has gone across loud and clear, that India will not accept categorically the emission standards laid down. It will work on its own internal agenda to cap emissions. This has cleared up the fog surrounding India’s stance in climate politics, labelled that of nonchalance. India’s willingness to co-operate is now an established fact with the recent commitments made by Mr Ramesh on several global platforms.

While the U.S. is moving ahead with its climate laws at a frenzied pace on the eve of the Copenhagen Climate Meet, India herself has moved ahead with tangible reforms set to be laid down in the proposed Congress-led UPA legislation within the fortnight. It will log NAMOs, or Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Outcomes as coined by Mr Ramesh.. This legislation proposes accountability on the part of Governments towards maintenance of fuel efficiency standards. It draws inspiration from the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management regulations that make it mandatory on the part of governments to adhere to pre-set fiscal norms.

An additional provision of an external audit opening up the country’s mitigation programmes to international monitoring or even laying itself open to an annual UN sponsored review as proposed, is not entirely laudable. For this would put India in the delicate position of being answerable to external forces, compounding its already vulnerable status of a fast-developing nation that is walking the tightrope between carbon emission reduction and a historically carbon fuel based economy.

At the same time, David Victor (energy expert who researches India's Climate Change policies} believs that India will distinguish itself from nations like Mexico, Brazil and China that have mature economies and greater carbon emissions.

"The Indians need to be very careful that they are seen as a different kind of country."

Even as India is set to meet hold climate talks later this month with China climate analysts feel clubbing India with china is not on level. This fosters the impression of the two nations being equal emitters or at least functioning at similar levels. Albeit, the fact is that India emits a fifth of the carbon emissions of China, in both totality and per capita. China comprises 23% of all worldwide carbon emissions while India contributes 5%.

Mr Ramesh says in his own inimitable style,
“We (India) have to learn to conduct bilateral dialogue and negotiate multilaterally. That is what I call walking on two legs"

Minister Jairam Ramesh has some lessons for our Indian politicians. One needs more than the ability to rig elections and indulge in voter bank politics, to serve the nation’s needs best. It requires spontaneous ripostes and think-tank political game plays with constant improvisation for excellence in the international arena. For it was undoubtedly Mr. Ramesh’s initial rigidity about legalised emission caps, coupled with readiness to meet halfway and list of sustainable measures at the UN conference last month that finally clinched things! It compelled U.S. to come up with something fast and viable before December and has hopefully set in motion the wheels of a fast driven vehicle of climate solution.

The stance taken by India has been twice stressed in the past week. First, by a group of NGOs led by Greenpeace at Bangkok, formulating a draft 'Copenhagen Treaty' for Copenhagen, that bears similarities to actions drafted by India. Second, with the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change report released this week, that says reiterates India's stand,

"High-income countries also need to act quickly to reduce their carbon footprints and boost development of alternative energy sources to help tackle the problem of climate change."

As Mr Soros said,

“The problem of global warming is primarily a political problem at this point. The science is beyond dispute, but how do we achieve the objectives we all know are necessary? That is a political problem.”

If India. plays the geo-politics game shrewdly, at Copenhagen and thereafter, she may emerge the ultimate winner with a sustainable and thriving economy to her credit, with a smorgasbord of green jobs and global energy investments lined up. Despite the pessimism in the wake of the Bangkok UN talks, India can look forward to a solution which sets it apart as a sustainable low carbon emitting developing economy, balancing all its fronts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Round-off of the new U.S. Climate Legislation

After months of playing hide and go seek with the Climate and Energy Bill, the U.S. Senate Climate Bill has finally arrived. The world's biggest polluter finally got working to shape up their act with the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. Albeit, climate skeptics think that the new climate legislation introduced on September 30th barely holds any weight, falling short on various key issues. However, it can be viewed in a positive light, as a step finally taken in the right direction to slow down greenhouse emissions. So lets douse the voice of all naysayers and examine this climate legislation for what it is.

The Nuts and Bolts

The House bill formerly called the “American Clean Energy and Security Act” has now a new avtaar in the shape of the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act”.

The bill, more than 800 pages long, is typically vague in many of its particulars. Just as in the House bill, the words “climate change” and “global warming” do not appear in the title, suggesting just how politically difficult passing this climate legislation through the corridors of six committees is going to be.

The new bill calls for 20 % cuts by 2020 and a 80 % reduction by 2050. These percentages are based on reductions from 2005 emissions levels. A definite improvement, over the previous 17 % emissions target for 2020.

A key difference as suggested by the wording itself, is the inclusion of funding for nuclear power and carbon capture, with carrot like incentives for the coal companies to switch over to natural gas. It seeks to "mandate heavy investments in new job-producing, clean-energy technologies". In other words, steering investments towards cleaner technologies while raising cost implications of older, polluting fuels.

It also lays claims to “create clean energy jobs” and “achieve energy independence” while targeting “global warming pollution.” Senator Boxer emphasised the "great economic opportunity”, during a TV interview on C-Span’s 'Newsmakers' show.

If the Senators thought that the enormous green job opportunity would placate the U.S. taxpayers struggling in an already existing recession, they have a re-think here. Already fears are being voiced about jobs and cheaper energy options being outsourced. A serious implication, in view of the flagging economy.

While some like the Republican Senator Alexander fear that this would send jobs overseas (which is a positive thought for India, that I shall cover in a later post), others like Sen. James feel the only way to energy independence is “by doing what every other country in the world does, and that is, develop our own resources.” Then again, some dissenters call for “tariffs on polluting nations—such as China and India—to level the playing field and prevent jobs from heading overseas.".

It is glaringly evident that in a last-ditch effort to show itself in a good light in the wake of the Copenhagen climate meet, the U.S. legislation has gone overboard with its costly, unrealistic targets of a 20 % cut target in a 11 year time-frame, without addressing such meaningful issues as nuclear research or how the additional costs will be mitigated and passed on to manufacturers and consumers. The bill does not address how it intends to constrain carbon emissions either. The bottom line is that without the 'cap and trade' details, the Bill leaves itself open to attack from the Oil and Coal sectors and right wing radicals, thus meaningless till de facto.

The Climate and Energy Bill may have taken off on a strong note in June, but was put in the backburner for the past few months. The Obama administration was obviously reluctant to jeopardise the various opposing interests. It was perhaps India's aggressive yet constantly evolving protean stance that pushed President Obama to get something concrete going for a tangible offering at the Copenhagen table. It is to be seen whether the Bill comes through intact or gets caught up and defiled within the crossfire of a senatorial turf war.

As Daniel Weiss, director for climate strategy at the Centre for American Progress says,

"No one believes that the clean energy bill that will come out of Congress will address the threat of global warming in a single step. But we have to start.”

On a lighter side

Such has been the nail-biting climate conundrum over the past few weeks that it has inspired even the most die-hard cynics. We have homilies being evoked at random, with quotes from John Dunne being likened to the current climate change effect, "a bell that tolls for all of us".

There is the CEO Mr Kevin Tuerff, who has likened global climate negotiations to a poker game and a Grist blogger who has seen U.S.-China playing poker in his dreams.

Another eco blogger suggests

"Instead of wasting time throwing pies in peoples faces make a pie and give it to someone who needs it. And instead of making cutesie or provocative banners, use those sowing skills to teach someone how to make sustainable clothing. See my other posts on this and remember the story of the 100th monkey."

Then we have climate protesters in a fellow- sympathetic moment, with emotive statements like

"It’s an awkward position to be environmentalists working on climate change, but opposing a climate bill"!

Let alone all the crankery and tomfoolery afoot, wagers are also being laid about whether President Obama would actually make an appearance at Copenhagen …. when the time came for U.S. to deliver something concrete to the world to prove its honest intentions.

All in all, this entire climate quagmire leading up to Copenhagen shall probably remain in the minds of eco-activists, policy makers and cognizant folks for a long time to come, whether as the fiasco of the decade or the turning point for world climate graphs, we are here to see.

This shall be followed up with a mid-week update on "The Indian Approach"

Posted at INDIA WATER PORTAL as Sangeeta Deogawanka's Blog

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Will last week’s climate parley finally yield results?

The past week shall go down in climate history as the most active period in climate parley, punctuated with a frenzy of debates and compromises on the international table.

The UN Summit on Climate Change hosted by the Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon at New York on Tuesday, was to effect a push in the right direction, in the run-up to Copenhagen talks. While Obama’s verbose speech espoused all the politically correct stuff, it was more in the manner of broad outlines. The Chinese President Hu Jintao in his address to the General Assembly, mentioned the mandatory targets included in their National Climate Change Programme for reduction of energy intensity and discharge of major pollutants. However, it was India’s own Jairam Ramesh who came up with a more comprehensive and forceful mitigation proposal.

Continuing along the aggressive lines set out by India during Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s visit to India, the Minister reiterated the need for the developed world to dish out the funding and technology to combat global warming.

Some definite targets laid down by India at the UN General Assembly were:

▪ a mandatory fuel efficiency target by 2011

▪ an increased energy efficient building code to come into effect in 2012

▪ an increase in renewable energy to 20% by 2020

▪ raising tree cover to 15% by 2020

These measures were designed to reduce India's energy intensity by a further 5 to 10%.

Pointing out how the average carbon footprint in India was 1/20th of an American and 1/10th of a Briton, he reminded that India needed to grow at its targeted 8 % in order to provide electricity to its 400 million poor people.

His initiative of a "national communication" charting the progress of its green action plan, took the international climate community by surprise, as was intended by a suave and politically savvy Jairam Ramesh. For under the Kyoto protocol, only the rich countries are required to submit national declaration on climate change once in six years.

Thus by submitting an annual report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India would leave itself open to tighter global monitoring regulations of its climate policies. However, it seems that Mr. Ramesh is keen to declare India’s climate readiness in a scenario where “the international community is trying to paint India as a recalcitrant or an intransigent player”. Perhaps he hoped this would further bring pressure upon U.S. for quick, concrete commitments.

He added,

We want to be transparent to the international community, but domestically accountable to our voters

It was Japan that came up with the greatest emissions cut in carbon, around 25% from 1990 through 2020.

All in all a meeting with no tangible solutions, albeit India’s compromising stand definitely induced a re-think for U.S., as was visible in the Pittsburgh meet three days hence.

On 25th September, world leaders of the G 20 countries gathered at Pittsburgh to pledge the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

About $300 a year is spend worldwide on subsidising fuel prices by keeping the prices low vide manipulative economics, thus keeping up a continual high demand for fossil fuel in many nations. According to the Environment Law Institute, the U.S. Govt. alone provided $72 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry between 2002 and 2008, a fact that is conveniently ignored when accusing China, India and other developing nations for their dependence on fossil fuel.

This is the only somewhat unequivocal picture that emerged from the series of climate talks, though it remains to be seen how the U.S. proposes to go about implementing the same, if at all. For such a decision would impose an additional tax burden on the Amercians, an unwanted political gaffe by the Obama Government surely, in an already dismal picture of recessive economy.

As Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said, the administration and Congress

"now face many difficult choices if they choose to comply with the G-20 commitment to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies."

The final summit statement was fairly vague, without going into the specifics of how the funding gap would be met or how the larger defaulters, the developed nations, proposed to finance the transfer to clean technologies.

Britain's Gordon Brown called for a $100 billion a year commitment but we are yet to have anything from President Obama. With India firming up its commitment with visibly concrete proposals at the international forum last week, the U.S. has been backed up against the wall.

On the positive side, the promise of a boost in the green job sector in the near future and increased shift of private finance to clean energy, were some highlights we can be upbeat about. Minister Ramesh in an interview, laid out the Indian role in bare terms.

We want a fair and equitable agreement. We are conscious of our responsibilities. India is contemplating taking unilateral mitigation cuts over the next fifteen to twenty years as a part of its development process, without jeopardizing economic growth. [India is considering making such cuts] part of a domestic legislative framework."

Reminding all that

In the United Staets and the devloped world, emissions are lifestyle emissions. For us, emissions are developmental emissions.”

His punch

Change your lifestyle. You're asking us to compromise on development. You change your lifestyle and then we'll think of compromising on development.”

A timely reminder to Indians, to pursue a sustainable lifestyle, while working towards a carbon free economy.

While the meeting at Bangkok this week, with 1,500 delegates from 180 countries, is intended to reduce the 200-page draft agreement to something more explicit and manageable, it is also hoped to break the climate deadlock which the meetings of last week failed to break. Albeit, the green stoics and climate skeptics are doubtful about an agreement on issues related to technology and fund transfers, it is hoped that the talks would push U.S. towards a final chapter of resolution on time for the Copenhagen talks.

At the time of the post being uploaded, the latest news from Washington is that of John Kerry filing a Climate Change Bill in the Senate tomorrow, the 30th, with the support of Barbara Boxer. So perhaps we can still be optimistic that the week long official and informal dialogues will not pare down to zilch, if U.S. legislators indeed go ahead with reforms that correct the anomaly between clean energy investments and fossil fuel subsidies.
Summary cross posted with INDIA WATER PORTAL

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

India’s effort at breaking the stalemate in climate commitments, needs to be applauded

Last week’s strategically timed declaration by India’s Jairam Ramesh, to set numerical targets for emissions, is a coup of sorts. Coming on the heels of U.S. administration’s shelving of the much hyped Climate and Energy Bill that the world was waiting for, this not only proves that India’s commitments on the climate front are more than honourable, but also places pressure on U.S. to perform on its climate commitments.

Continuing with my stance on why India should not leave itself open to Geo-political blackmail, I applaud Minister Ramesh’s ability to rise to the situation and break the stalemate in the series of the pre-Copenhagen talks. With his agreement to set numerical targets for curbing emissions, Mr. Ramesh has scored several points in this climate econdrum. This has not only temporized the debate whether emission curbs ought to extend to developing nations as well, but has also effectively pre-empted any further allegations against India’s seemingly nonchalant attitude to standardizing emissions.

India has historically refused to be pressurized on climate change. The Indian Govt. has repeatedly reiterated its stand of refusing to kowtow to climate requirements of curbs laid down by the U.S., based on the paradigm that its per capita emissions much lower than those of the developed nations, in no way called for internationally binding cuts.

As Mr Ramesh said:
This notion that India is intransigent on mitigation is crap. We are mitigating and mitigating considerably to save our forests and our rivers. But for an international agreement, the developed world has to demonstrate its seriousness much more credibly than it has done so far.”

This also brings to the fore the mercurial disposition of the Obama administration, whose Climate and Energy legislation had been one of the prime factors for levering it to power. Even as I write this, flash mobs are barraging Obama and thousands of eco- activists are sending climate action wake-up calls to world leaders.

On the Indian front, whether the avowal to set emissions standards was devised as a sheet anchor or an eleventh hour soft option, it cannot be ignored that the Environment Ministry has put together an ambitious plan on the green and energy front, supporting its political stance.

While the details of the missions under its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) are being finalised, many other initiatives are being undertaken by the Government of India to address the issue of climate change. These are in the fields of forestry, energy efficiency, research agenda and CDM capacities vide increased budget outlays, efficiency and fuel economy standardization, research on glacial movements as well as focus on technology transfer as a core area.

Recognising the role of forests as a major carbon sink and the impact of the Himalayan glacier retreat, action has already begun on these fronts, for study and assessment of changes, besides monitoring the same and providing for offsets.

While U.S. dithers on the eve of the Copenhagen meet, efforts at damage control over the climate imbroglio continue through a series of 20-nation climate summits at Brussels, New York and later, Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen whether the initiative taken by India goads other nations to change their stiff-necked approach to emissions or coerces the Obama Governance to finally shake off its feet of clay and get to act.

Summary cross posted with INDIA WATER PORTAL

Friday, August 21, 2009

India's Groundwater Depletion: A major concern

[Credit: NASA News]
The study of underground aquifers has often revealed some amazing information. In March, 2005, a report in the Geophysical Research Letters had revealed that the Egyptian Sahara covered the world’s largest freshwater aquifers, an almost million years old rain-fed reserve. In 2006, GRACE scientists noted a widespread loss of water in parts of Africa.

However the recent GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) mission report released in the Nature journal on August 12th by the UC Irvine and NASA hydrologists, are of immediate concern. The findings conclude that groundwater beneath Northern India (Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, including Delhi) has been receding by as much as 1 foot (33 cms) every year over the past decade. Using terrestrial water-storage-change observations from the two satellites and simulated soil-water variations from a data-integrating hydrological modelling system, the findings conclude that groundwater is being consumed faster than is being naturally replenished, causing water tables to decline unremittingly in this region.

According to Science Daily,

The map shows changes in India during 2002-08, with losses in red and gains in blue, based on Grace satellite observations. The estimated rate of depletion of groundwater in north-western India is 4 cm of water / year, equivalent to a water table decline of 33 cms / year. Increases in groundwater in southern India are due to recent above-average rainfall, whereas rain in northwestern India was close to normal during the study period.

[Credit:Velicogna/UC Irvine]

The GRACE satellites are a pair of roving satellites that sense changes in the Earth’s gravity field and associated mass distribution, including water masses stored above or below the Earth’s surface. As the satellites orbit 483 kms above Earth’s surface, their positions change relative to each other in response to variations in gravitational pull. Minute changes in data are extrapolated to show the water distribution patterns.

As evidences all over the world indicate increasing groundwater depletion and changes in water supplies, the NASA sponsored GRACE is mapping groundwater supplies in regions like the central valley of California, central U.S., parts of India and the Nubian valley in Africa. With its water tracking mission, GRACE now plans to send new map data every 30 days that will give a time-variable view of the gravity profile.

Credit: Adapted from V. M. Tiwari, et al., National Geophysical Research Institute
[Sourced from ScienceNow ]

The hydrological findings of GRACE pertaining to north-western India comes in the wake of another study by V. M. Tiwari, J. Wahr and S. Swenson, that attempts to show fast depleting groundwater supplies in these parts of India.

Northern India and the surrounding areas — a 2,000-kilometer-long swath that rims the Himalayas from Pakistan to Bangladesh — are home to more than 600 million people. The region is also one of the most heavily irrigated areas in the world, says Virendra M. Tiwari, a geophysicist with the National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad, India, and coauthor of a new report to appear in an upcoming Geophysical Research Letters.

Government policies put in place in the 1960s to boost agricultural productivity nearly tripled the amount of irrigated acreage in India between 1970 and 1999. In the mid-1990s, India’s Central Ground Water Board estimated that farmers pulled more than 172 cubic kilometers of water each year from aquifers in the study region of northeastern India, southern Nepal and western Bangladesh, says Tiwari. That’s more than three times the volume of India’s largest surface reservoir. New data gleaned from gravity-measuring satellites suggest that the annual rate of extraction in that region has jumped more than 60 percent since then, Tiwari and his colleagues report.

[Source : Science news]

Though regional rate of depletion has hitherto not been mapped in detail by the Indian Ministry of Water Resources, an apt observation by Himanshu Thakkar in India Water Portal needs to be analysed in the context of the actualities of the data as presented in Science Now. As observed by Mr. Thakkar, the estimates are indeed ’exaggerated statements’ and require qualification. The hydrological picture presented in these maps are also anomalous and need to be analysed by experts in the Indian context.

Nevertheless it remains that north-western India is heavily irrigated and the vagaries of monsoon are acutely felt in this historically arid region, the reason WHY this region is being drained faster than is naturally replenished, a trend that is of grave concern.

Hydrologist Matt Rodell of this GRACE mission said,

"We don’t know the absolute volume of water in the northern Indian aquifers, but GRACE provides strong evidence that current rates of water extraction are not sustainable”.

In a paper published in Current Science on June 25th, Rana Chatterjee and Raja Ram Purohit, hydrologists at Central Ground Water Board, India, have already reported groundwater overexploitation in not just north-western and western India, but also peninsular India.

According to Dr. Raj Gupta, scientist with International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT),

"Farmers have to irrigate and that’s why they are pumping more water, mining more water”.

Mounting pressure on food supplies, unpredictable monsoons and an increased frequency and intensity in drought, calls for an urgent shift in water usage regulations, irrigation reforms and government policies.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why India should not leave itself open to Geo-political blackmail

The West needs to decide whether India is a poor country whose plentiful eating is contributing to the global food crisis or a country whose fast-paced development is a threat to global warming. Statistics are thrown about at random, telling us Indians about our carbon footprint and what we ought to do, whilst it remains that the U.S. has the largest per capita carbon footprint, with a Hummer and gas-guzzling lifestyle topping the list of world polluters.

I just happened to read Bret Stephens’ article in the Wall Street Journal of August 4th, Global Warming and the Poor :Why India and China don’t care much about climate change.

He says,

"Roughly 75% of Indians—some 800 million people—live on $2 a day or less, adjusted for purchasing power parity.”

Now I wonder, where from he got his figure, whether he is not indulging in the same figure-hustling that Mr Kofi Annan’s report on climate-change induced disasters has been accused of, by disaster trends expert Roger Pielke Jr.

In India, where lifestyles are not technology driven but sustainable and simplistic, the purchasing power of a dolar is much more than elsewhere. This doesn’t mean the average Indian is poor as because he does not posses a washing machine or a car of his own. Rather, is indicative of a traditional sustainable culture, which advocates the use of muscle-power and bicycles. In other words, what the eco-elitists are resorting to today, in order to reduce individual carbon footprint the conscpicuous way, the Indians have been doing for long.

Mr Stephens further says,

"But what about all the pollution in India and particularly China?

It is beyond comprehension why India keeps getting clubbed with China,vis-à-vis pollution. Neither is India an “oppressive Third-World” country nor as eco-ignorant as is made out to be. India’s sustainable lifestyle are a part of its Vedic inheritance rooted in community participation. It maybe true that coal has been touted as one of the largest factors for emitting polution, but India is not alone in using coal-powered plants and technlogies. The entire Western world, including the U.S. is guilty, so it is unfair to corner India on this issue. At the same time, it is a fact that India is seriously turning to alternative and renewable sources of energy.

In Mr. Stephens' own words,

"China’s pollution problems are not a function of laissez-faire policies and rampant consumerism, but of the regime’s excessive lingering control of the economy”.

The problems assailing India are not all that weird, but perhaps beyond the comprehension of the Western media and policy-makers. For India is an absolute vote-bank politics driven nation, where no local governance would be foolish enough to indulge in banning a grossly carbon-intensive activity, if it meant jeopardizing the interests of their die-hard fans. Which is anyway, not much different from the American Oil-Coal lobbying, that has more of a global ramification than our Indian regional policy reforms or lack thereof.

However, the scene is fast changing at the macro level, going by the stance taken by Jairam Ramesh and Sathya Saran, refusing to kow-tow to the American demand of capping carbon emissions, whilst the West refuses to bear their ‘historic responisbility’.

Going by the sense of outrage in the Western media and political circles at India’s arrogance at rebuttal, it seems that U.S. is in for some nail-biting times in the face of its proposed Energy and Climate Change Bill.

India is a country, where large parts of the rural country enjoy carbon negative lifestyles. The practice of using the earthen kullar and leaf plates maybe perceived as indicators of poverty but actually speak of an ancient culture’s ‘cradle-to-cradle’ sustainable far-sighted way of life. This is a country where large sections of the popultaion have historically been vegetarians with minimum food miles.

In such a scenario, where India does not carry the burden of a high ecological rucksack, it is quite right that we do not succumb to external pressures that bind us. India has a 7600 km long coastline, a rich watershed of rivers and an abundance of sunlight for energy sources. So India shall be better off shifting to these renewable energy forms and using the natural resources judicioulsy, rather than commit to measures that would restrain the pace of development and perhaps leave her open to geo-political blackmail at a later stage.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

India cannot be pressurized on Climate Change

While the U.S. Senate has opted to put the climate policy hearings on the back-burner for now, President Obama’s climate lobbying can be tracked to U.S. Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu’s visit to China and Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton’s recent call on India.

Mrs. Clinton’s recent high profile meet at Mumbai could best be described as an imbroglio of sorts. While the expressions of goodwill on the defense and nuclear sales front, meant tangible gains for both sides to the tune of $US45 billion and more, the strong stance taken by India on the climate front was a firm declaration of India’s priorities. Minister Jairam Ramesh’s refusal to accept legally binding limits on its emissions, has not gone down well with U.S., who fears that this may impede the Obama Climate legislation.

"There is simply no case for the pressure that we – who have among the lowest emissions per capita – face to actually reduce emissions." India's minister of environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, told Clinton and her visiting delegation.

"And as if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours," he added.

The latter comment alludes to last month’s cap-and-trade bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. This includes a clause to impose tariffs from 2020, on carbon-intensive imports from countries that do not reduce emissions.

In tune with President Obama’s supposition that India along with China and other developing nations will sacrifice development at the altar of climate change even as U.S. continues to be a gas-guzzling nation with the highest per capita carbon footprint, Hillary Clinton expressed optimism about an eventual climate change deal to mutual benefit.

Todd Stern, Obama’s Special Envoy on climate change, in an interview with CNN-IBN expressed the Mumbai talks were inconclusive but “have been constructive.” Does this mean the U.S. has further aces up their sleeves to arm-twist India into agreeing to their demands? Perhaps along lines of the recent trade penalty provision of the Waxman-Markey bill?

With just five months leading up to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and a divisive mandate on reductions, it is clear that Washington will exert a great deal of pressure on India, alongwith China, as major polluters in absolute if not per capita terms. Yet India’s stand has been inflexible. Industrialised nations have to put their own house in order and commit to pay developing countries to cope with climate change.

This was made clear by Dr. Manmohan Singh on the eve of the G8 summit earlier this month.

"What we are witnessing today is the consequence of over two centuries of industrial activity and high consumption lifestyles in the developed world. They have to bear this historical responsibility.”

Dr. Singh's proposal that the price of co-operation would be for industrialised countries to pay at least 0.5 per cent of their GDP to help developing nations invest in cleaner renewable sources of energy and reduce their carbon emissions, has left the Western officials stunned.

Mr Pachauri has also endorsed the stand made by Jairam Ramesh that India would not bow to pressure to accept emission reduction standards.

"I think it is a principled stand. What he (Ramesh) said is absolutely right. India cannot be pressured into taking commitments. There is no rational basis for asking India to do that," Pachauri, also the Chairman of the Noble prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told PTI in an interview.

While we must commend Minister Ramesh’s rigid stance in the face of U.S. pressure, as a fast developing country we need to move forward with our own domestic climate change policy with concrete goals. A judicious mix with strong focus on alternative renewables while phasing down the emissions in totality is a must-do. Vandana Shiva’s sustainable solutions based on diversity and environmental justice rooted in our very own traditions, does require a re-think and suitable implementation. In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether this turns out into a ‘green-trade war’ as some leading business groups and analysts fear.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ethical Consumerism at its best: A rural community sets an example with its ban on Bottled Water

“Residents of Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia have voted to ban the sale of bottled water in their rural town - probably the first in the world to do so.” [Mother Jones]

Last Wednesday, this rural Australian town 100 miles south of Sydney, made history with its near-unanimous consensus to ban the sale of bottled water. At the town meeting of 350 voters, only 2 voted against the ban. This indicates an increasing awareness of the futility of the bottled water and its drain on natural resources.

The landmark decision comes right after the State-wide ban in New South Wales, where State departments and agencies have been restrained from buying bottled water, calling it “a waste of money and natural resources”.

As people become increasingly aware of the importance of conserving potable water resources and energy, they are seeking feasible ways to green shift their conspicuous consumption habits, like that of bottled water. World-wide, we are witnessing a growing backlash against the bottled water industry.

For undoubtedly, bottled water is a redundant option today, when you take into account its high Life Cycle Assessment (L.C.A.). A one-litre bottled water requires a minimum 4 litres of water for production. At the same time it consumes energy during production (processing, bottle filling, labelling, sealing), transport and cooling. Its ecological rucksack being high, used bottles clogging landfills is another hazard.

Communities are discovering the benefits of tap water, which has always been a traditional norm in India. There is nothing to beat tap water, once properly filtered and sanitized. In a country blessed with water resources, such exemplary actions of ethical consumerism as displayed by the people of Bundanoon, would go a long way to preserve the bounty of potable water.

As for the bottled water industry, perhaps it could adopt some pro-active measures to reduce the water and carbon footprint of bottled water, as being done in the U.K.

(Cross Posted with INDIA WATER PORTAL)

Friday, July 3, 2009

The U.S. Energy and Climate Change Bull fight

It seems that India is not the only nation with the bright idea of using Climate Change as fodder for politics. One can recall how Climate Change played an important role in the election campaigns early this year, while in the U.S., it was pushing ahead with the controversial Energy Bill that formed a significant part of Obama’s campaign. And now, with the recent passing of the landmark Energy and Climate Change Bill by the Democrats in the House of Representatives, both sides of the energy debate are upping the ante politically on a war-footing. Just like our very own Indian vote-bank political manoeuvres of weakening fence-straddling politicians and tinkering with legislative drafts.

While the liberal Netroots are planning a full-fledged media battle against senators who may not vote for a liberal version of the Bill in the upcoming session at the Senate, the Democrats are jittery they will lose ground if they do not strengthen the energy bill as committed during the election campaigns. Then again, the Republicans are planning a mass media crusade with TV and Radio ads and robo-calls aimed at undermining the confidence of those Democrats who voted for the legislation, with an eye on the 2010 elections.

In this Energy Bill circus, there are also those 44 Democrats on the defensive, who voted against the Bill, thinking it was not worth the dollars needed to push through, and the oddball 8 Republicans who conversely opted to vote for the Bill.

As the war hots up, MoveOn.org, a liberal grassroots advocacy group, has sent out an email to its 5 milion members, asking whether to “turn up the heat on senators who might be tempted to side with Big Oil and Coal."

On the ringside, Greenpeace, which opposes the energy legislation for the concessions to polluting industries, has also appealed for support for legislation to end global warming.

The conservatives who voted against the Bill are obviously worried that they may have to give up their SUVs. The Liberals, are on the other hand worried about the state of the planet in 2099. It’s a sticky situation with the short-sighted Conservatives pitted against the long-sighted Liberals.

As the environmental and Oil-Coal lobbyists watch this much-hyped historical legislation with varying degrees of frenzied anticipation, it is not exactly a foregone conclusion who will emerge as winner from this fracas of Climate Change legislation fraight with polarised mandates.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Can a recycled Sewage Water Utility ever be feasible?

When I read this article on the world’s largest water recycling facility in Orange County, U.S.A., it got me wondering. Can such a water utility ever be feasible in India?

Perhaps no.

The first deterrent would be a religious recoil from the very idea. The scientific and pragmatic folks would then come to the fore with suitable pontifications. Wasn’t the Municipality water nothing other than river water recycled for drinking? Didn’t everything from dead corpses and sewage to industrial effluents constitute river water?

This would next assume political overtones, with our awfully conscientious public sentinels in the various Water, PWD and Health Departments, citing possibilities of widespread endemic diseases.

The various environmental minders would also begin an aggressive awareness campaign on the need for re-cycling sewage water. Perhaps adopt the slogan “Treat sewage water to provide every Indian with drinking water”. Various community groups would countermand this by taking to the road with placards on “What are you drinking?” and “Toilet water into Tap water?” Online and offline signature campaigns would become the order of the day. Media and photo-journalists from all over would converge here to outdo all previous shots of the quintessential Indian village woman carrying water on her head (with a barely clad child in her arms).

Researchers would come forward with their findings hitherto only published in foreign journals. Committees and sub-committees would be appointed to look into the various issues concerning recycling of sewage water. Public utilities would beg to differ on the accountability arising out of power snaps and voltage fluctuations, bound to affect the purification process.

To effectively utilize the plant capacities, a dictum would need to be made, to the effect of ‘increase your flushes per day’. What flushes? Most don’t have toilets, let alone flushes installed.

Debates would continue. Conflicts may erupt between the various public utility departments and community forums. With some parliamentary pandemonium thrown in, for the DoorDarshan viewers.

As suddenly, all controversies would die a sudden death.

A Rainwater Harvesting Ministry would be born and work in tandem with several civic departments and climatologists. It would serve to effectively utilize the plentiful Indian monsoon rains and use the run-offs from roofs and road channels to replenish the groundwater aquifers. Monetary incentives would be awarded to those with minimum usage shown on the personal water meters. Companies manufacturing vegetarian goodies would get tax holidays and those of ‘red-marked’ food stuff heavily taxed , as the latter belongs to the water-intensive sector. Multinationals would secretly laugh all the way to the bank, it is merely a matter of juggling accounts for them – after all they control all agricultural lands and food malls.

The great plan for recycling sewage water would thus be suitably squashed just as in San Diego “when the recycling issue became politicized and the public turned away from the idea of turning toilet water into tap water.”

So lets use water sparingly, re-cycle water domestically, practice rainwater harvesting, lest you are compelled to go the Orange County way.

The complete blog can be accessed at India Water Portal

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Geo-Politics of Climate Change

Ever since the Kyoto Protocol when the U.S. Congress refused to ratify the provisions, the climate roadmap has taken us through Bali and COP15, and more shows in the sidelines. Result, nada. Now however, in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit in December this year, said to be the successor treaty of the Kyoto Protocol, the scene is hotting up like never before.

Delegates from 182 nations are holding talks at Bonn, to draw the skeletal framework that shall form the basis for the hopefully decisive Copenhagen summit. How this summit has stood out from the rest? Well, for the first time the countries have texts of draft agreements to work with. Resembling multiple choice exam papers, these negotiating texts for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, present a list of possible options for these nations, ranging from very strong actions to weaker ones. Like one draft text that offers the option of carbon cuts between 25 - 40 % by 2020 and 50 - 85 % by 2050.

These are grossly minimal figures, chalked out by the International Panel on Climate Change for the U.N. Yet, the world's largest gaz-guzzlers and coal -fired power plant builders, U.S. and China, will not be able to meet even the barebone 25 % target. So what do have here?

A quagmire-like situation, where delegates from these 182 countries have parked at Bonn, lobbying their interests, negotiating terms, drafting texts to work with, all for the cause of climate change mitigation. The developing nations are banking upon the benevolent disposition of these large emitting nations. It is hoped that the historically large emitters will compensate for their deafult by paying up. Towards this the stage is set at Bonn for the finest show of geo-politics at its best.

This treaty if ever negotiated, will be the most complex ever drawn. Not merely because of the sheer scale of the problem, or the divergence in viewpoint. But for the fact, that this is a problem of a ticking clock where there is no turning back, a problem that affects all nations, and which can only be resolved to some extent through cohesiveness and climate diplomacy of unprecedented levels.

So we wait and watch from the sidelines, as the representatives try to hash out the best deal for the nation as a whole. Testing the metre of Geo-politics, at its best.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Soil not Oil": Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis

The triple whammy of energy, food and water crisis has certainly taken centre stage. All of which are the fallout of wide-reaching policies of the World Bank, local mismanagement and undoubtedly the vagaries of climate change!

The world over, advocates of change are taking to writing eco books with an unprecedented fervor..... as green writing emerges as the hottest selling item on websites and bookstores. As an avid reader of eco books I was spoilt for choice, for the span of eco writing today is indeed eclectic.

So I picked up a book by an author whom I have been admiring for the past couple of years, Vandana Shiva. She maybe written more for her trademark large bindi by the Indian media, but is much respected and admired by journos and the eco brigade the world over.

An environmental activist, a physicist and an author, Dr. Vandana Shiva, has shaken up the scientific world with her advocacy of vedic ecology and back-to-the-traditional agricultural practices. She has offered the age-old vedic practices as the ultimate answer to the current global food crisis.

Founder of the Navdanya movement, Dr Shiva has taken her theories worldwide through her many publications and discourses. Widely acclaimed for her bold and visionary analysis of the present world crisis, the author reveals how food, oil and climate are all connected, in her recent publication "Soil not Oil" [South End Press].

SOIL NOT OIL. Just like her hallmark no holds barred writing, the name of her latest book is crisp and incisive. The book dares the reader to revert to conventional agricultural practices based on environmental justice. It not only examines how industrial agriculture has become a recipe for ecological and economic disaster, but also proposes how a world beyond dependence on fossil fuels and globalization is both POSSIBLE and NECESSARY.

Unlike many books that simply highlight the issues grappling the society, this book, also offers a sustainable solution ..... based on diversity and the small scale independent farming.

The book is for everyone who takes the planet seriously. It lays out principles for feeding the planet in a socially just and environmentally sound manner with power-packed convictions. Moving beyond the present crisis, Dr. Shiva also examines how an alternative to the industrialized, globalized food system based on OIL can be created.

A powerful presentation addressing the world's most pressing problems, SOIL NOT OIL is bound to rouse the radical in every socially concerned and free-thinking individual. A must read not just for the social activist and economist, but also for the cognizance of the global citizen.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ethanol Production: Analysing the Forces at work

"Corn or Ethanol? Food or Fuel?"
An extremely inane and cliched rhetoric one would say. But going by the hype surrounding this alternative fuel derived primarily from corn and sugarcane, one could not be faulted to presume something is seriously wrong within the corridors of the policy-makers.
Indeed, how could a food crop derived bio fuel take precedence as an optimal fuel choice? Unless the governments are so taken up with the rocketing requirements of gasoline, that they are blinded to some of the ground realities ..... notwithstanding the far-reaching effects on food crop availability and prices?

However, with U.S featuring as the largest producer and importer of corn (followed closely by China, Brazil and Mexico), and of course, the rapidly escalating gas prices ..... it is evident that corn-based ethanol become the focus of policy makers as the most viable alternative fuel.

The obvious advantages of ethanol as an alternative fuel are that it burns cleaner than gas, is renewable, has the upper of being a non-fossil fuel as also being bio-degradable. Added to that, it can be domestically produced, keeping investments within the community ..... the reason why ethanol production from corn is being favoured by many of the farming communities in the U.S., Canada, Africa and South America.

This year, ethanol production has reached record highs all over. According to reports released by the CBO (Congressional Budget Office of the U.S.), roughly one-quarter of corn grown in the United States is now being used to produce ethanol with overall consumption exceeding 9 billion gallons last year. The exact figures for ethanol production in 2008, are not yet known. However, in 2007, U.S. produced 7 billion gallons of ethanol-blended gasoline, as E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) or E10 (10% ethanol 90% gasoline), which most gasoline cars can use without engine conversion. Brazil produced 4 billion gallons with a higher perecentage mix of ethanol, ranging from 24% to 100% ethanol.

The reason that ethanol is speedily gaining importance in the world fuel scenario are however multifold, not all of them apparent or computed. These are also the factors that are driving the ethanol market.

Firstly, the clean chit given to ethanol by the various institutions backed by the heavily subsidized corporates. Thus ethanol has been promoted as a highly efficient fuel with a positive energy balance of 125%, as compared to 85% for gasoline, making ethanol production "by far the most efficient method of producing liquid transportation fuels"(American Coalition for Ethanol) Another theory attempts to justify diverting of corn to ethanol production on the grounds that each BTU (British Thermal Unit, an energy measure) that produces a BTU of gasoline can actually produce 8 BTUs of ethanol(U.S. Department of Agriculture). According to the Institute of Local Self-Reliance in the U.S., "the amount of energy contained in a gallon of ethanol is more than twice the energy used to grow the corn and convert it to ethanol".

Second, the approval of ethanol blends by leading car manufacturers in the world in their warranty coverage and the recommendations of ethanol as a fuel by Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. This has been the equivalent of issuing a certificate to ethanol as the best alternative to gasoline!

Third, the U.S. Energy Bill of 2005 that targeted ethanol production of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012, aiming at U.S being the world's largest producer of ethanol and ethanol blends. This has effected various pro-active policy measures amongst some of the farming States of U.S. to encourage ethanol production, besides setting a precedence for other corn-growing economies to switch over to ethanol. Countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa are the next emergent ethanol producers, with Mozambique already heavily in the fray.

Fourth, climate change concerns have also addressed the need for alternative and cleaner fuel sources. As ethanol has undoubtedly topped the list as the most energy-efficient, clean burning, cheaply made and readily available alternative option to energy, building up ethanol production to meet the demands of an expanding fuel-devouring polity has become paramount.

Fifth, tax incentives to attract entrepreneurship to ethanol production in many nations and states of U.S. have successfully increased ethanol production manifold. This has to be a domino effect of the U.S. energy policies, which have definitely stressed the need for increased production of ethanol and ethanol belnds and their applications.

Sixth, while the production of ethanol and ethanol blends were always simplistic, further improvement in technologies have promoted ethanol as a 'backyard fuel' that can be easily produced locally. As refinery processes for creating ethanol from corn improve in efficiency, costs of production too are falling. Lower costs have also added to proliferation in ethanol prodcution and ethanol based applications.

Seventh, rising concern over increasing fuel demands on one hand and high oil prices on the other. This has driven fuel policy makers to desperately look for alternative and cheaper solutions, perhaps even at the cost of future concerns over corn as a food crop. After all, U.S. alone has guzzled over 140 billion gallons of gas last year. Thus national energy security considerations have driven governments to depend upon such cheaper and safer fuel options like ethanol.

Eighth, a recent development, that has highlighted the importance of ethanol as a fuel alternative, even amongst the staunchest and most conservative of the green economic stalwarts. The replacement of a gasoline additive called MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether) with ethanol and ethanol derived ETBE oxygenator. With this, the octane rating of the petrol goes up by three full points, without the use of other harmful additives, while also 'oxygenating' the fuel by enabling a more complete burn.

Albeit, the hype has been focused on the replacement of the polluting fossil-derived MTBE by a safer cleaner alternative and most recently, the discovery that MTBE contaminates groundwater. With the recent controversies surrounding polluted rivers and groundwater contamination, this has been a significant landmark theory in promotion of ethanol production from food crops, leaving the eco warriors and food crisis stalwarts stumped for a suitable answer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Climate Change : The Indian perspective

Climate Change’ has become the buzzword today. Whether as the hottest topic debated in blogs and forums worldwide or as the coolest conversation-stopper at drawing rooms, ‘Climate Change’ has finally been accepted as an global problem. Even our very own political parties in India are united over the need to develop sustainable measures for tackling and mitigation of climate change.

A lot of credit for this fad goes to the aggressive stance taken by India at the Bali summit of the UN Convention on Climate Change, in December, 2007. The stalemate brought about by the nonchalance of world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, USA, was finally brokered by Australia. Whether it was Al Gore’s sleight of hand or the pressure brought on by Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or the European Union's veiled threats to boycott future US-initiated meetings, it definitely spurred a volte-face in USA’s stance, prompting it to co-operate on future climate change negotiations.

So post Bali, the ball set rolling at India, despite the global perception to the contrary. With the Prime Ministers’ Special Task Force on Climate Change and the Indian industry’s CII Mission for Sustainable Growth & Climate Change, the Indian polity has definitely risen to the occasion.
It seems like the Indian Government has finally woken up to Mr. R.K. Pachauri's warnings while he spearheaded the IPCC into a force to be reckoned with. On may recall how Mr. Pachauri had termed Climate Change as a major threat to the environment and labeled it as a ‘national security issue’.

Climate Change, essentially the domino effect of rapid industrialisation, is today a reality, that has long since touched India. The coldest record of minus five degrees at Adampur, Punjab and 'the lower winter rainfall for the Rabi crop in the Northern India', are merely a fraction of some recent climate-change chnages that have stormed the nation. In the global scenario, climate change assumes special importance in India, primarily because it is an agricultural economy dependant upon the monsoons.

A natural upshot of global warming, climate change has been visible in the marked shift in weather patterns in the past few years. Unpredictable monsoons, extreme climate conditions, increase in natural disasters, rise in sea levels and crop failures are some of the obvious impacts of climate change being felt here. With an expected general increase in surface temperature up to 4°C, it is of grave concern to us. Unless reversed, this is likely to further augment the already emerging changes in glacier advances or retreats of the Himalayas. On the one hand the Himalayan river systems draining into the Ganga river basin are dying out, on the other hand glacier melting has resulted in recurrent flooding of Yamuna and Brahmaputra rivers and rise in the sea-levels. It is a disaster, waiting to happen, as the impact will be felt on human survival, agriculture, infrastructure, forest cover, hydel power and the general economy of India.

There was a time when the villagers of Basahi in Bihar, welcomed the onset of monsoons. Theast few years, however they view it with trepidation. The rains are getting heavier and relentless with each successive year. Combined with an increased run-off from the mountain glaciers in Tibet and Nepal and consequent breach of the Budhigandak river, the Basahi village has became a victim of climate change. The villagers think fixing the river embankment is the solution. Little do they know that the heavy floods are a visible sign of a climate flux.

Another State where the impact of climate change is obvious, is Rajasthan. A State that has winessed more of drought and aridity than any other, Rajasthan has witnessed an unprecedented 2 month long flooding in its five districts, in 2007. Contrarily, the North-Eastern States of Assam, whose lush green forests owed allegience to heavy downpour almost half the year, has been fraught with dry weather since 2004.

In particular, Himachal Pradesh is facing the heat of climate change. The effects of climate transmutation are more pronounced in these mountainous regions because of their fragile ecosystems. The melt-down of glaciers is already flooding river valleys. Flash floods are becoming the order of the day. Paradoxically, the prolonged drought conditions at other times of the year, are giving rise to a serious concern about water management, a hitherto unknown issue in this water-rich region. It is inevitable that these shifts in the environmental and geophysical attribute of this Himalayan region have a non-reversal impact on land-use patterns and crop production. Perhaps, in no other State have the people felt the effects of climate change to such an extent as in Himachal. Fortunately though, the Mountain Forum Himalayas (MFH) has already begun taking stock of the situation and is working towards a pro-active mitigation of the fallouts of a variable clime.

Sikkim is one of the most affected States in the North-East, where the effects of climate change are becoming cardinal to the State Government's policy-making. Early glacier melt, flooding of glacier-fed lakes and consequent breaching, change in cropping patterns, and paradoxically a drying-up Teesta river, are some of the problems the region has been grappling with of late.

Then of course, is the seat of the climate refugees, the deltaic region of Sunderbans, occupying the Southern tip of West Bengal; where a steady rise of sea-level has resulted in submergence of land area. Islands ahave disappeared over time, and many more are shrinking every year, forcing the villagers inhabiting these islands to take refuge elsewhere.

The results are evident all over India for everyone to see and feel, albeit, the fragile eco-systems of the Himalayan region in North and North-Eastern India, are facing the impact to a greater intensity. Whether it is the occupational shift from woollen goods to handicrafts and artifacts in the markets of hilly towns like Darjeeling; or the sociological adjustments in the villages of Bihar and Bengal because of an increasing influx of illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants, or the rise in deaths because of mosquito proliferation and zoonotic diseases like bird flu, it cannot be denied that all of these are the visible climate change-induced effects on our society.

So the next time you wonder why Holi sprinklers are getting chiller every year, why the allates are storming your lighting fixtures even after Diwali is long past or why the visible moon has has been obscured by sleets of rain on a Karva Chauth night, blame it all on climate change!