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.