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30 September, 2014

Climate change warnings

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s Narendra Modi, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were conspicuously absent when about 120 world leaders gathered for the climate summit in New York last week at the invitation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. All three stayed away as they saw it as an attempt to push the rich countries’ climate agenda.

About 150 countries were represented at the first climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, which raised hopes of global action to reduce carbon emissions which are pushing up temperatures. Many have still not signed the agreement reached there and the promises made have been broken. The New York meet was called to secure new concessions from the less developed nations ahead of the 2015 meet in Paris where a legal instrument may come up for approval.

Without mixing words, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said recently that although India is taking steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions they will continue to rise for at least 30 years. It is for the more developed countries to make immediate cuts, he added.

The view he articulated is predicated on the fact that India figures low in the list of industrial polluters and has before it the onerous task of speeding up development to raise millions of people above the poverty level.

A chart prepared by the Global Carbon Project (GCP), a collaborative effort of NGOs devoted to environmental research, shows that India’s per-person emission is only one-tenth that of the US and one-fourth that of China. Incidentally, China’s emission level has risen above Europe’s.

While the developed and the developing quarrel over the issue, emission is continuing at speeds, which should worry both. The GCP has estimated that the world pumped 39.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air last year by burning coal, oil and gas. This was 778 million tons or 2.3 per cent more than the previous year. If emission continues to grow at this rate the quota of carbon dioxide that can be released without pushing global warming beyond two degrees C will be exhausted within 30 years.

India has taken up plans to double generation of wind and solar energy within a decade. This will help reduce dependence on coal and hold down the emission level. However, it has also on hand plans which will raise emission levels. The Make in India programme which Modi is pushing hard is one such.

Carbon dioxide emissions and related issues of air pollution are a part of the severe environmental problems which India faces. The consequences of large-scale destruction of forests and pollution of water sources pose a big threat too.

In its last years, the Manmohan Singh regime initiated several measures to attract investments and opened up forest areas to mining interests. Some of the projects it approved had to be abandoned later in view of strong opposition from local communities whose traditional modes of livelihood were threatened. The Modi regime is in the process of diluting forest and environmental laws to quicken the pace of development. This is sure to speed up environmental degradation too.

In recent years, some states have been reeling under the impact of severe drought, while some others have been experiencing devastating floods. They are warning signals the country can ignore only at its peril.

Last year, in the sub-Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, swollen mountain streams rushed down the slopes, sweeping away all that they encountered. The government put the toll at around 6,000 dead but non-governmental agencies said as many as 30,000 might have died.

Circle of Blue, a US-based NGO set up by journalists and scientists, attributed the disaster to the massive construction activity in the Himalayan region in pursuance of a Central government decision of 2003 to build 162 big hydro-electric projects by 2025 to generate 50,000 megawatt of power. Thirty-three of the projects are in Uttarakhand.

This month, large tracts in the Kashmir valley, including the city of Srinagar, experienced the worst floods in more than six decades. Early reports said about 280 people died and millions were rendered homeless. Environmental activist Sunita Narain said mismanagement of resources and poor planning were among the causes of severe drought and floods.

The earth can be saved only if each country is ready to save itself. Even as the Indian government fights at the global level for equity on developmental issues it must take steps to check the environmental degradation taking place all across the country from north to south and east to west.

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