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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Healing the planet - Dr. Abusaleh Shariff

Dr. Shariff,

Thanks for writing the following peace on Climate change. I remember reading Allwyn Toffler's Future Shock. I particularly like your sentence which says it is not a shame to lead.

The responsibility to secure the planet falls on every shoulder. At the Parliament of World's religions, we have had some critical decisions made and I will share the same in a few days.

The purpose of religion is to bring a balance to one, and what surround one; life and matter.

Mike Ghouse

The Future Shock Revisited:
India should Lead not Plead Climate Change Negotiations
Dr. Abusaleh Shariff

It was 1970 when Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock shook the imagination of millions in developing countries as to how the western way of life and markets threatened the future of humanity. His shock was emanated not only from the western ‘waste’ or ‘greed’ but also from the ‘pace of change that took place’ since the second war and great depression – in other words the miracle of the free market. It is the same free market that we are now after to seek solutions for mitigating the impact of climate change; while the same western economies are contemplating ‘punitive’ carbon tariffs and taxes which can threaten the very development of the developing societies. Market disorientation and not just a psychological one, is round the corner which threatens the very development of emerging India.

At the turn of 21st century we are at the verge of another ‘Shock’ that will be felt directly not by us but our progeny. The scientists say that the current CO_2 emission concentration has reached 430 parts per million in 2008 which is 17% higher than 280 ppm before the industrial revolution. Such a fast change and given much larger and faster industrialization process it is likely to cross over 1200 ppm by the end of this century which can lead to 50C increase in global temperature. Note that the world have experienced about as much, 50C increase in temperature since the ice age which was long-long ago. Thus we are at the verge of another ‘Future Shock’ that too with ‘the pace of change that we have never ever experienced in the past’.

India’s position in global climate change can be gauged through two well researched numbers:

Comparative Energy Use Criteria: It is estimated that in 2005 India needed 201 Kgs per capita of coal equivalent to sustain its overall economy. Compare this with the USA which expended 60 time more coal equivalent energy per capita than India; The UK, Germany and USSR did about 30 times more; and , Brazil, China and Turkey about 3 time more compared with what India used.

The second comparison is of the direct CO_2 Emissions: India contributes just about 2 tonnes of CO_2 equivalent per person, compared with Australia and USA which contributes over 12 times more; Japan and the EU about 5 times, and China and Brazil about 3 times more than India. Even in such an outcome measure India stands out to be inconsequential. A good comparison however is between China and USA. While China, being most populous in the world, adds a total of 7.2 billion tonnes of CO_2 in absolute terms, and the USA adds 7.1 billion tonnes due to very high per capita use. India with least amount of percapita emissions does add 1.9 billion tonnes of CO_2 in absolute measure due to the second highest population size. On the other hand Australia which has the highest per capita amount contributes just about one half of a billion tonnes.

The evidence that India is not a delinquent yet and its contribution to the global pollution is probably the least measured through both the ‘use’ and ‘outcome per capita’ terms gets somewhat dented when absolute contribution is looked into. This absolute contribution is what makes India an important player in the game of climate change, and it should use this as an opportunity. Although India is an economy which is trapped between the first wave (agricultural revolution) and the second wave (industrial revolution); it has shown its mark even in the third wave (IT based super industrialization) of economic growth. India appears unique where two-thirds labor force is trapped in farming and unorganized sector employment; but has fairly large industrial and manufacturing base (notwithstanding cars and steel) yet also in the forefront of services sector growth which now contributes closer to 60 % of GDP. No country on the earth faces all these three different economic growth phases that too at the same time! Large number of households follows sedentary agrarian lifestyle, burning wood, consumption of barely processed cereals; self produced food and other local items and so on; while at the same time India is now considered one of the largest market for modern goods and services. Indian enigma and puzzle continue in this modern age as well.

Now the Dharma Sankat is who should share the burden of global warming. It appears fair and logical that the per capita basis should be the benchmark; but there is danger lurking that Lord Brahma can get annihilated sooner than later. Since the Copenhagen Summit is more likely to put some acceptable benchmarks for the future policies, it is important for India to be leading rather than pleading. It is neither a matter of national shame nor will it mean abrogating national sovereignty to take a proactive role in international negotiations by announcing a willingness to do our bit to the World unilaterally. While doing so it is common and often needed to seek partners and promote coalitions and in this case it appears it is India, China, USA and possibly Russia. Note that India has done well by partnering with both erstwhile superpowers – (USA and Russia notwithstanding continuing rivalry between the two) through respective nuclear deals which are complimentary and benefitting India. In my view it is the farsightedness and firmness of Dr. Manmohan Singh that has prevailed in these missions not only to withstand the domestic opposition, but also negotiating with the outside world while keeping the interest of the poor and industry at the same time. If this is not a cleaver tight rope walking success then what else can it be? It would be fair to ask the opposition voices within the Indian Parliament not to behave like sulking kids while unaware of the pressures of future energy needs and responsible global partnerships in issues as sensitive as climate change.

Note that not far ago, it was India who took a firm stand against opening of the Indian Agriculture almost stalling the relevance of Doha round of WTO negotiations. It is difficult to judge whether this stand is good or bad, but a stand was taken which has maintained the statusquo with respect to the subsistence agriculture. But the weakness of India is in its ignorance - we have little if at all research and knowledge about our own way of life including way of production, consumption and sustenance of life. This can also be said about as to how we are drawing upon resources to meet the energy needs. Indian must take a lead in generating knowledge through research on as to how to mitigate and arrest the adverse impacts of global warming. Do we have a record of practices we follow which have promoted pollution and ill health; either due to our cultural practices or sheer poverty, and lack of modern knowledge including limited infrastructure and so on. Practically all our energy (electricity) needs are met by burning cheap and bad quality coal, our hearths are warmed up burning wood and agricultural residue, inefficient technologies are used to drain the ground water table causing desertification of large tracks of farming land and also causing salination in the coastal areas. We already are experiencing pressures on access to potable water even in such places which hitherto considered easy sources in our forest areas. Whether, all these cause and effects are due to climate change or not is not what we need to be debating about, but as to how to address these issues for our own good, lest climate change accentuates already prevailing adverse effects.

It is important also to know that we are not alone in this world of 7 billion and growing. The El Nino/La Nina effect of southern Pacific can reach as far as India and this natural phenomenon has been scientifically validated. There is no reason to suspect that ‘climate change’ is not going to affect us Indians in a global context. Then let us build upon the national pride and economic might that India has acquired during last two decades, and be a change agent and leader in the context of Copenhagen not be apologetic about it.

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