Perspectives on a warmer India

M Ramesh | Updated on January 06, 2020 Published on January 06, 2020

Title: India in a Warming World Integrating Climate Change and Development Edited by: Navroz Dubash Publisher: Oxford University Press Price: ₹1,995

A comprehensive anthology that covers all aspects of climate change, from impact to policy

As many as 37 experts in the field of climate change have produced 29 thoroughly-researched papers for an anthology called India in a Warming World, edited by Navroz Dubash of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, a well-known name in the circles of climate researchers and opinion-makers. As the title suggests, the book looks at what is happening in India from the various aspects of climate change such as impact, negotiations, policy and development. The 29 articles are of two types — either they review or a policy or a situation, or provide perspectives on an issue. They make for an interesting read, though regrettably, a few are reprints of those written years ago.

The book is divided into five sections — climate impact, international negotiations, politics, policies and climate and development — practically leaving out no aspect of climate change. In a way it builds on an earlier literature on the subject, Handbook of Climate Change and India, edited by Dubash and produced in 2011. Much has changed since then; hence this book was borne.

Alarming numbers

Dubash, the author of the first chapter (and some later ones) sets the tone right in the beginning when he says: “Development innocent of climate change negotiations is not an option.” One aspect that comes across quite clearly is that India is particularly vulnerable to climate change. With rising global mean temperatures melting Himalayan glaciers, kicking up heat waves and making monsoons fickle, India is just a notch above the ‘Small Island Developing States’ , which run the risk of completely disappearing under water if global warming goes on unabated.

In the chapter titled Impact of Climate Change in India, J Srinivasan of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, notes that India’s surface temperatures grew by 0.6 per cent between 1901 and 2010, and that glaciers will be gone in 50 years. Area under drought doubled between 1959 and 2009, and will only worsen further. Rainfall, if pulled out of the mask of averages, shows extremes and more uneven distribution. The chapter is also a sort of a primer on climate change — it describes what it is all about.

One telling data point is: while the world took 1,000 years to warm up by 1o Celsius after it emerged from the Ice Age 20,000 years ago, it took just the last 120 years for it to warm up by another 1o.

In his paper on the impacts of global warming in India, Nagraj Adve, member, India Climate Justice Collective, New Delhi, gives anecdotal accounts of changes that have occurred due to rising sea levels in the Sunderbans, home to 4.3 million Indians, of whom 1.5 million are ‘below poverty line’.

Diplomatic view

Then comes the section on India in the climate negotiations. The first chapter in this is a 1991 paper written by Sunita Narain and Anil Agarwal of the Centre for Science and Technology, in which the authors speak of ‘environment colonialism’ and stress on the need to distinguish between ‘survival emissions’ and ‘luxury emissions’. Interesting as it is, the chapter is anachronistic.

The distinctions of responsibility between developed and developing countries the authors call for came to be recognised as ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities’ very early on in climate negotiations of the early 1990s and, as the later chapters of the section say, were thrown out of the window by the time of the Paris Agreement.

The subsequent chapters show how India started as an active and aggressive participant in the formulation of climate action in the 1990s, but then went quiet later as it began gyrating towards the US — perhaps due to strategic imperative of the post-Pokhran and Nuclear Deal times. Around the Copenhagen talks, India turned into a filibuster, but it lost its footing somewhere between leading developing countries and being counted among the ‘big boys’ of the developing world, and in the end, lost its voice.

Diplomat Shyam Saran, the former special envoy of prime minister on climate change, gives an interesting account of that eventful day in December 2009 in Copenhagen, when the then US President Barack Obama personally extracted acquiescence of the leading developing countries, something that triggered a public outburst by the Chinese negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, at his own President, Wen Jibao.

Business and policy

In the later chapters, Shankar Venkateswaran and Mukund Rajan of the Tata group show the growing involvement of the Indian private sector in climate action, particularly in the recent years. They note that while the number of large companies taking action — reporting, having a senior ‘chief sustainability officer’, etc — is growing, nothing much is happening in the MSME sector. They say while businesses must “reflect on their role in the society” and not wait for a business-case, it would be unrealistic to expect businesses to embrace sustainability without an external push, such as regulation. Regulation, they note, is confusing — for instance, while there is a coal cess on the one hand, on the other, the Coal Ministry wants to increase coal production.

The section on ‘policy’ notes how climate change has not yet entered the consciousness of State governments, as well as the inadequacy of Central funding for State climate actions.

Regarding ‘climate and development’, the chapter on forests is particularly insightful. Forests link to one of India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, that it would absorb 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030. The authors, Sharachchandra Lele and Jagdish Krishnaswamy, trace the evolution of forest legislation, essentially the decentralising of forests’ maintenence by giving it to the local communities.

Yet in practice, the bureaucracy has been unwilling to give up control. Funds meant for afforestation continue to be used for conventional plantation activities on any land the bureaucracy chooses, notwithstanding the conflict with local communities or participatory forest management. India’s Paris commitment, the authors say, could end up in further re-centralisation of the effort.

Overall, India in a Warming World is a very well-timed book — a good reference material for various individual aspects, as each chapter itself is a synthesis of several other reports, papers, news stories and personal interviews of the authors.

Published on January 06, 2020
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