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Blowing Hot And Cold

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There is a plethora of information out there on climate change, so how is one book more any different. Well, this one puts India's problems and prospects with climate change centre-stage in a global context. It makes the oft-heard arguments of calculating emissions on a per capita basis, as being the most equitable. The book pulls together perspectives on climate change from Brazil and the European Union, but not to the same extent, strangely enough, from the United States, Japan and China. If you're looking for information on climate change relevant to India, and a comparison with some parts of the world, then this book has it in plenty.

The book makes a case through its 12 chapters for global justice as the cornerstone of climate negotiations. Reiterating that developed countries have hogged the atmospheric carbon space, it makes a case for allowing developing countries, notably India, space for development even at the cost of increasing per capita emissions. The most forceful argument for this is in the first chapter where the writer Mukul Sanwal says, "Despite the scientific evidence that climate change is really a problem of the ecological burden of per capita consumption and production patterns, the issue has been framed in terms of assessments of damage … that pits old against new emitters."

This, he says, results in unfair attention on the increasing emissions from China and India. In these two countries, 3/4th of the energy generated is for industrial production, and any cuts in emission will immediately effect economic growth. In contrast, in developed countries, household consumption accounts for 2/3rd of the energy generated and emissions cuts will affect (wasteful) lifestyles. The same chapter points out developed countries have in effect exported their emissions to China by outsourcing manufacturing.

Think of Brazil and we think of the Amazon rainforest. The chapter broadly indicates that the country is unwilling or incapable of checking deforestation in this area. It has the largest economy in South America, and produces 4 per cent of the world's carbon emissions (2007 figures). Deforestation accounts for half of this and is the Achilles heel of Brazil's efforts to cut emissions. Brazil's push to increase bio-fuel output will only make matters worse, as more forests are cleared to make way for soya and sugarcane plantations. The chapter, unfortunately, raises more questions than it answers and kind of falls flat in suggesting a way forward, after a good overview of what is happening in that country.

Calling for a global solidarity for climate change, the chapter on the EU ends up reiterating well-known facts, while breaking little new ground. Examples are the rich have to accept their responsibility (for 80 per cent of the global emissions), there is a great need for significant resource to be transferred from the rich to the poor and smooth transfers of green technology must be accelerated. The new idea is Greenhouse Development Rights, based on a climate convention that deals with justice and historical responsibility. They take into account development levels and ensure that all citizens get an equal amount of emissions—sadly, the chapter does not elaborate much on GDRs.

Later, the book looks at the relationship between climate change and trade policies, a largely ignored part of climate change negotiations. It analyses the international trade regime, as overseen by the World Trade Organisation, and international climate change talks to conclude there are several opportunities for clashes between the two. The need for deeper emissions cuts in developed countries had raised concerns about the international competitiveness of energy-intensive industries, and concerns about emissions leakages from countries with lax climate policies. These in turn could prompt the US and EU to put in place unilateral trade measures that would hurt developing countries. Essentially, the argument that developing countries have a right to increase emissions could turn into a trade stick to beat them with; just how far this will hold in a world economic order not dominated by Europe and the US remains to be seen.

There are two chapters on financing climate change mitigation and adaptation. One says the Clean Development Mechanism overlooks the huge potential of reducing emissions by cutting deforestation. It oultines new policies for avoiding deforestion. One is called REDD—Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation; the chapter describes this and its limitations in detail. Under this, rainforest nations voluntarily reduce their national rates of deforestation and are offered financial compensation. Funding comes from the sale of carbon credits, but this can be problematic given the imperfect nature of international carbon trade. An international fund can be set up to correct market imperfections but not to replace it given the size of international carbon trade. Another is an international non-market fund through which payments would be made by developed to developing countries. This steers clear of carbon markets. The potential of reducing GHG emissions by cutting deforestation is enormous, comparable to the total emissions of the EU.

A chapter on nuclear energy makes a somewhat ambiguous case for this source of power. It does emphasise fast-breeder reactors as opposed to conventional nuclear reactors, as the former are 60 times more efficient at using uranium than the latter. There are the usual suspects of safety and disposal of nuclear waste that dog this source of power, but the message that emerges is that nuclear may be the way to go to stabilise atmospheric carbon levels at 450 parts per million.

India will need about 3,250 terawatt hours by 2032 to provide an estimated 1.5 billion people with 0.25 KW of power, the minimum needed for poverty alleviation. This is four times the current installed capacity. The question, the book raises, is the fuel mix needed to achieve this. It seems coal will provide the bulk of this additional generation capacity. However, there are major constraints - an estimated installed capacity of 300 gigawatts will be needed, that will need 1,450 million tonnes of coal per year (we use 355 MT a year now). This in turn will need massive changes in power transmission and coal mining, as well as water supplies. And in turn, these will intensify conflicts over land due to mining. In any case, further coal-fired capacity will be limited by the coal reserves. India is already heavily dependent on imported oil and gas, and this dependence will increase in the near term. The chapter presents well-known options - large-scale development of nuclear power, population control, better efficiency, etc., and a rapid transition to a carbon-neutral economy. One wishes it had something newer to offer, but maybe power generation at commercial scale has only so many options.

The Climate Accession Deals framework, proposed by researchers at Stanford University, could be a strategy to engage China, Brazil and India. This idea is based on two premises. One, that a serious approach to engage these countries in global efforts to control climate change has to align with their own core interests. Two, these efforts have to be credible. This chapter delves into the workings of CADs as a more credible alternative to the CDM and how it can be applied to India.

The Indian perspective on climate covers energy for the most part. It takes a brief look at the impact on the Himalayan glaciers. Then it moves onto the effects of climate change on the poor. This seems a missed opportunity to evaluate its impact on the water cycle, especially the monsoons and groundwater, given the increasing water needs of agriculture, industry and people. An analysis of where we are, and where we are headed in the near term, on water and climate change would have added tremendous value to this section.

In the final analysis, the book presents a wide range of causes of climate change, primarily energy use. It touches on deforestation in some places and more cursorily deals with methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Water figures almost in the passing, that is a missed opportunity since this is where climate change's effects are felt most acutely. There is a lot of economics in the book, often in-depth and revealing. However, there is only a little technology and even less of the social impacts of climate change. One wishes this book, based on papers presented at the International Conference on Sustainable Development and Climate Change, went beyond the economic to explore these two aspects as well. The lack of papers on the climate change trajectories of China, USA and Japan is another omission.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 05-12-2011)