India's Climate Connundrum

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

The Copenhagen outcome has to be one of the most disappointing results imaginable. Not because we negotiated badly, but because our ambitions were wrong to start with. When Jairam Ramesh began by announcing unilateral carbon intensity reductions for India I really thought he had convinced our Prime Minister that it was in India's best interests to set a good example... in other words turn a necessity into a virtue, a trick of the trade for good negotiators. In the end the PM's advisors prevailed, though some of them were climate skeptics till a year ago.

In Copenhagen all we did was to give India's development cowboys a license for business as usual. The ill-fated dams in the Himalaya... they will be built, though they will never generate the power projected by questionable cost-benefit ratios. The World Bank's finance to Coal ndia is destined to go up because the PM is determined to use the low carbon footprint of our poor to hammer through a 300% increase in our coal-fired thermal plant capacity. Billions of dollars are to be spent on national highways, which will destroy critical habitats without
which any fight back against climate change is going to be impossible. Coastal India is going to be plundered by all manner of thermal plants, chemical complexes, prawn farms, reclamations and tourism projects... thus destroying the world's most effective carbon sinks something our negotiators in Copenhagen were totally unaware of or unconcerned with).

On top of all this, instead of using 30 million people to restore ecosystems, thanks to the PMO and its advisers, something like ten million hectares of forest lands will now forever e lost to any hope of ecosystem restoration at the hands of a Forest Rights Act that is being recognised as a real estate bonanza. For those who actually do farm these lands for 8 months of the year, attacks by beetles, birds, monkeys, deer and elephants has been written into their fate. No one can write policy to mitigate or avoid the man-animal conflict that will ensue. And feeble attempt to squeeze food security out of lands that were never meant to be farmed condemns marginal farmers to begging for "food aid" for the rest of the four months.

It is going to be impossible for ANY roti, kapada, makaan, promises to be met, unless Indian politicians, planners understand that restoring India's ecosystems is not an environmental luxury, but a survival necessity. With further loss of time, we have to start re-routing internal funding for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Compensatory Afforestation Authority, drought and flood relief etc towards restoring wetlands (which will taunch future flood waters and supply the precious liquid to counter droughts in the lean season. Our national priority must surely now be to convert failed and marginal farms back to forest status.  People should be guaranteed livelihoods for this service.

The Finance Minister's budget for 2010 budget may or may not announce radical fiscal incentives for wind and solar and place a tax on carbon, but if it does not help failed farmers to become ecosystem farmers, we will have lost still more time and still more lives as climate change continue to send us sharper and more dire messages in the months ahead