Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Handbook of Climate Change and India Development, Politics and Governance Edited by Navroz K Dubash - A Review

This handbook has 28 papers in five parts covering a wide spectrum of issues with a comprehensive introduction by the editor and a foreword by the then Minister of Environment and Forests Mr Jairam Ramesh reflecting the Government’s recent approach and current perspectives.

The first part comprising five papers address the science of climate change and implications to India through macro-perspectives and micro-examples. While issues of sea-level raise and adaptation of horticulture in the Himalayas are indicative, this section could have included some work on the implications to arid zones in India which hosts the maximum number of people and is already in an agrarian crises. The concluding paper in this section by Ramachandran is very useful to understand the complexity of collaborative scientific research and the pitfalls in the process as adopted by the IPCC and the Indian Government.

The second part is short comprising two articles of this short history of climate science. The first one being excerpts from Centre for Science and Environment’s pioneering attempt to bring per-capita emissions to the centre stage by taking the then prevailing notion head-on. The first person account of Chandrasekhar on the making of UNFCCC reflects the tensions that go on behind the negotiations and clearly indicates the polarization among developed and less developed countries since its origin.

The third part focuses on the process and concerns of international climate negotiations presenting views from within and outside. Sandeep Sengupta traces the history and India’s role and Lavanya eloquently articulates the complex principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (CBDRRC), which has been often talked about by the Government. The next long paper Jayaram et al, exhaustively describe the carbon-budget approach and the need for a transition to such a regime. The utility of such an approach in providing a temporal dimension to the CBDRRC merits deeper work and understanding to provide for actual entitlements from global to local levels. The next article by Rao, touches upon the equity and ethical issues. This is an area where the handbook could have covered more ground, especially as Indian CSO’s were among to recognise the ethical aspects of climate change and not just because reviewer himself being a part of the network that was established in 1994. As the article points out, unless there is a common ethical basis, the negotiations will continue to be jockeyed around.  The article by Pradipto Ghosh on India’s position is more a clich├ęd attempt at justifying the stand of the State and its unsustainable development pathway with a feeble attempt to garner technology and resources while the next paper by Raghunandan points out how such a position has outlived its utility and reflects upon the continuing adhocism of the State and call for a coherent framework based on more positive approaches that can also translate into domestic action. The reflections of outsiders on the position of India seem predictable. The view from Europe dismisses the idea of per-capita emissions and rather tame in including the fact that the implications were unknown in the past.  The view of Bangladesh and Philippines seeking a focus on embarking on new development path is understandable but seems aspirational rather than pragmatic as all the countries continue to develop in the same model of high material use. The important highlight of the reflection from China is the need to ward off the isolating tendency of the west, as the development needs of both countries are similar. In contrast, the view from USA focuses more on the differences between India and China and pushes for bilateralism with the USA.

The next long section, Part IV of the handbook looks at the domestic politics of climate change and begins with an article by the editor who provides an excellent overview to capture the trends. Lele’s paper on the Indian environmental movements and their approaches to climate change reflects the diversity and rather tricky position while approaching the responses and highlights the dilemma faced by people from different initial positions in using climate change as tool to critique the current growth paradigm. Chakravarty and Ramana elucidate the debate on ‘hiding behind the poor’ and how the intra-country disparities are only the ‘latest manifestation’ of the disparities between the rich and poor in India. Suresh Prabhu points out to important lacunae in our Parliamentary democracy where the Executive has all powers vested in them in international engagements. The excerpts from the Parliamentary debates indicate a rich understanding of the parliamentarians. The party biases and contextual reflections in the situation of global events strengthen the contention of Raghunandan of adhocism at the highest level. Two articles by Tarun Das and Simone Pulver address private and corporate sector views. It clearly indicates how well entrenched corporate India is in the echelons for power and how co-benefits drive the agenda rather than a deeper concern for climate change. Jogesh provides a statistical and deeper content analysis of the trends in reportage in print media. He alludes to how from a small number of spokespersons there is a diverse and more nuanced reporting on climate.

The Part V of the handbook explores sectoral views for integrating climate change and development, a focus of the various Climate missions being evolved by the Government. The first article on energy Girish Sant (whom we unfortunately lost recently) and Gambhir, addresses the two major areas of energy and climate concern namely power and transport. It elaborates on the two sectors and warns of consequences of accepting emission limits in the next two decades or buckle to pressures of declaring a “peaking year”. Mukhopadhyay and Revi reflect upon urbanization as an inevitable consequence of growth and suggest a variety of institutional and operational mechanisms. Rajeswari Raina poses the question whether sustainable climate friendly systems for agriculture is possible. While reiterating agriculture as a sector that is a net energy producer and an ideal carbon capture medium, the ultimate goal can be achieved only by re-building the human and ecological systems in rural India. Kulkarni and Thakkar wade through the complexities of water resources in the context of climate change and seek to peg this as an opportunity to the failing water management regime in the country. It is redeeming in the vast handbook to find them reflect that solutions to water management just do not lie within the sector alone and the need for wider integration is absolutely essential. Gopalakrishnan posits the question whether the climate talks over reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation of forests (REDD) and its extended version including afforestation are real solutions for mitigation or they are another instrument in the continuing saga of exploitation of the poor in the name of conservation. He clear analysis indicates that this might be more of a false solution. Patwardhan and Neharji broadly analyse the S&T situation in India and draw up a brief agenda for multilateral processes in the introduction and adoption of climate friendly technologies.

The section could perhaps have a critique of whether such sectoral approaches are themselves tenable for integration and as it unfolds, the missions themselves seem to repackaging of the current activities of the different sectors.

The last part comprises two articles by very senior bureaucrats who have been thickly engaged with the debate and reflect their deeper understanding. Shyam Sharan writing on mainstreaming climate change clearly argues that despite a shift from disposability to durability, we are not irretrievably locked into the high energy and resource intensive path and should build upon our civilizational legacy and lead in redefining the path lest we hit the dead end. Looking at the geopolitics of climate change, Nitin Desai concludes that while there is a significant debate, climate diplomacy is unlikely to shift the global balance of power but might be useful in forging cooperation in other areas.

The subject itself is vast and opinions often diverse as the editor himself states “there is certainly no intent to paper over the disagreement or seek premature consensus, but rather to promote dialogue by deepening understanding within India, and with its international interlocutors”.  Thus the volume is more for a climate change buff, rather than on a general reader for whom it would be difficult to easily understand and assimilate the range of issues. The editor and authors must be complimented for meeting the objective to cater to the demand for informed and knowledgeable perspectives.

Finally, the cost of the book (Rs 1250), is high for the poor Indian researcher but a book which should be an essential collection of all the libraries catering to climate researchers.

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