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Alert to the implications of climate change

Written By mediavigil on Saturday, September 22, 2007 | 11:32 AM

Even as the IPCC's latest assessment speaks of the need for technocratic solutions to the challenge of global warming, the United Nations Security Council has signalled that this will be an issue of importance to questions of political stability and peace too.

There is now broad consensus in the scientific community that global warming, the crux of the emerging adverse climate condition, is directly linked to result of industrialisation in the last two and a half centuries. Before 1750, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere was about 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv). By 1994 it was 358 ppmv and rising by about 1.5 ppmv per year. If emissions continue at the 1994 rate, the concentration will be around 500 ppmv, nearly double the pre-industrial level, by the end of the 21st century. The effect of such high concentrations of this gas, along with other green house gases, is that the atmosphere retains more of the sun's heat, warming the earth's surface, and in the process raising leading to direct effects - sea levels, melting glaciers - as well as indirect ones, such as higher unpredictability in year-to-year variations in local climates.

So far there have been four assessments by the IPCC - in 1990, 1995, 2001 and partly in 2007. The Twenty-Seventh Session of the IPCC is scheduled to take place at Valencia, Spain from 12-17 November 2007 to adopt and approve of the draft Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

In each assessment, the council has concluded that Earth's temperature is rising due to anthropogenic causes like fossil fuel burning. While alongside this there has been uncertainty about the exact magnitude of the increase, there is nonetheless high confidence in the change itself, especially when one looks at hydrological systems. Increased run-off and earlier spring peak discharge in many glacier- and snow-fed rivers have been well documented, as also the warming of lakes and rivers in many regions, with effects on thermal structure and water quality.

It is likely that changes of a high magnitude and rapidity could pose severe problems for many natural and managed ecosystems, as well as important economic sectors such as agriculture and water resources. Indeed, for many low-lying and deltaic areas and small islands, a sea level rise of one meter could threaten complete loss of land and extinction of habitation.

An inconvenient truth

What's the solution? With carbon emissions being at the heart of human economic activity on the planet, it is inescapable that structural change to the global economy, accompanied by cultural changes, is a must for decarbonisation. This is the basic truth that every government would rather not confront, because such changes would naturally incur tremendous costs. By 2030, the cost of stablising greenhouse gases at levels that are considered the maximum for avoiding catastrophic climate change would cost 0.2 per cent to 0.6 per cent of global wealth, according to the recent report of the IPCC. The World Bank's 'baseline' projection is that the world economy in 2030 will be US $75 trillion, then the 0.6 per cent required to stablise greenhouse gases would be approximately US $450 billion.

And if the cost alone is not daunting enough, there remains the challenge of lobbyists from business interests, especially those in the energy industry; this group has systematically underplayed the significance of climate change through its propoganda. Businesses have also been known, in several countries, to fund climate 'research' with the express purpose of creating output favourable to their views. In many industrialised countries, it is now germane to ask whether the government's interest, corporate interest or public interest guides research on climate change, as well as policies based on this.

Against this backdrop, even the more scientific and genuine of the recommendatory bodies have tended to prefer to tinker at the margins, rather than propose sweeping changes. If structural and cultural changes are ruled out, and if powerful businesses with close ties to nearly all governments continue to call the shots in back rooms, natually the proposals for tackling climate will tend to be technocentric, to mitigate possible adverse climate change, rather than solve it. Unfortunately, even the once-weighty IPCC is now walking this weak path, with its references to "a major expansion in nuclear power, the use of GM crops to boost biofuel production", and a few as-yet-unproven technologies as potential mitigating options.

But an unavoidable truth, nonetheless

In any case, history provides ample testimony to the fact that 'official truth' must eventually face up to the real truth. Thus, all the marketing commuication and policy decisions that business interests can muster, however, cannot overcome the very real effects of climate change that people themselves witness. When lives are directly affected by climate change, and the social and economic condition of any society changes, there are immediate political consequences. With increasingly numerous incidents of unpredictable and severe weather around the world, even those who would normally prefer to wish the problem away must take notice. It is no surprise, therefore, that in April this year the UN Security Council held its first-ever discussion on climate change as a serious threat to security and future political stability, at its New York headquarters.

Although no action emerged from the meeting, it reveals growing uneasiness within the capitalist world about social unrest that is likely to come about as a result of global warming. In addition to the 15 council member states in attendance, 38 other UN member countries sent representatives to speak. Representatives at the meeting also discussed the recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the upcoming negotiations in Bali in late 2007 on the post-2012 framework for addressing climate change when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period expires.

At the meeting, a number of countries, including China, India, Russia, Venezuela, and Pakistan besides many in the Group of 77 raised doubts over the Security Council's role on this issue, with some suggesting that it was primarily a socio-economic and/or sustainable development issue that should be addressed by UN General Assembly instead. But the British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, the current president of the Security Council disagreed saying, "The Security Council is the forum to discuss issues that threaten the peace and security of the international community. What makes wars start? Fights over water. Changing patterns of rainfall. Fights over food production, land use," she said. "There are few greater potential threats to our economies ... but also to peace and security itself." Expressing her concern about the poorest populations of the globe, she predicted global economic convulsions on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. The fear of the developed countries which have inappropriately linked population with environment and health must be viewed in the backdrop of an expected increase of the world?s population to eight billion by 2030.

Another sign that climate changes is an unavoidable truth is seen in the internal conversations of countries. Privately, governments are alert to the risks posed by climate change, even though their positions in international agreements on limiting carbon emissions may convey the opposite. Take the US, for instance. While unwilling to embrace reductions in carbon emissions, the US government is internally examining the challenges that will result nonetheless. According to the report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, by the government-funded national security think tank, the Center for Naval Analyses, global climate change presents a serious national security threat, which could impact Americans at home, impact US military operations, and heighten global tensions. The Military Advisory Board and the study team that has authored the report received briefings from the U.S. and U.K. intelligence community, climate scientists, and business and state leaders. The report recommends, "Military planning should view climate change as a threat to the balance of energy access, water supplies, and a healthy environment, and it should require a response."

It draws an analogy with Cold War saying, "The situation, for much of the Cold War, was stable," One of the authors of the report, General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Chairman, Military Advisory Board and former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army continued, "And the challenge was to keep it stable, to stop the cata-strophic event from happening. We spent billions on that strategy. Climate change is exactly the opposite. We have a catastrophic event that appears to be inevitable. And the challenge is to stabilise things-to stabilise carbon in the atmosphere. Back then, the challenge was to stop a particular action. Now, the challenge is to inspire a particular action. We have to act if we're to avoid the worst effects."

The Indian envoy's position appeared ambiguous. Nirupam Sen first spoke of poverty eradication to mitigate the potential for conflict, and sought new and additional resources, to upscale the realisation of resources from the carbon market. But following this, he denied that greenhouse emissions from developing countries could threaten international peace and security in any way. In any event, he believed that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - and not the UNSC - was the right forum to discuss the issue.

Only a beginning

That the meeting took place at all, is a sure sign that the global powers are tuned in to the potentially destabilising impact of climate change in political affairs. The technocratic solutions being talked of should also be seen in this light. They may be non-starters, or even irrelevant - the earlier example of failed technocratic solutions to malnutrition and poverty is still recent enough ro remember well - but the inevitability of having to confront and overcome the challenge drives the need for solutions of one kind or another. More such meetings will follow, no doubt, with increasingly more substance, and in many more fora.

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1:09 AM

Pachauri headed TERI has always been on the wrong side of the civil society campaigns. It has opposed CNG. It has advocated incinerators, promoted dubious carbon trade in climate change, drafted industry-centric environment policy,
drafted big dam-centric water policy.

Can an individual or an outfit that has never spoken against Bhopal Gas Disaster and interlinking of rivers, world's biggest project akin to rewriting of geography be deemed an environmentalist?

TERI has always had incinerator manufacturers like Thermax and
corporate criminal companies like Vedanta as its sponsors and
supporters. India's largest mining company, Vedanta Resources plc is
based in London. It stands accused of multiple human rights and environmental violations at its operations in India.

TERI and Pachauri are supporters of the UN Global Compact. Pachauri should be held accountable for according "low priority" to chemical safety by failing to
call for `corporate sentence' linking fines to the turnover or profit of a company. Implementation of chemical safety measures by fixing corporate penalties based on investigation and prosecution of manslaughter.

If Pachauri and TERI are indeed sensitive to environmental concerns how come they did not support the resolution on the UN's Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations (RTC Norms) seeking powers of enforcement for the
norms. Although the resolution for RTC norms is still to be endorsed by the 54-country Human Rights Commission.

These UN norms essentially represent a restatement of existing international law on human rights, humanitarian law, international labour law, environmental law,
anti-corruption law, consumer protection, etc. What they essentially say is that any company that wants to respect the law and be socially responsible would want
to follow the norms.

The mandatory RTC norms were adopted by the UN human rights sub- commission in the face of the voluntary approach of the UN Global Compact. The RTC norms adopted by the UN Human Rights sub-commission exposed the glaring loopholes of
the Global Compact that Pachauri, TERI and IPCC supports.

Given below is an indicative list of sponsors of Pachauri's TERI

Multilateral/Bilateral organizations

Asian Development Bank

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)

Department for International Development (DfID)

Deutsche Gesellschaft Fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH

European Commission

Health Effects Institute

India-Canada Environment Facility

International Development Research Centre

Japan Bank for International Cooperation

Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF)

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP)

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK

The Royal Government of Bhutan

The Royal Netherlands Embassy

The Royal Norwegian Embassy

U S Agency for International Development

United Nations Development Programme

United Nations Environment Programme

World Bank


BP International Limited

PepsiCo Foundation

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited

CESC Limited

Coca-Cola India Limited

Hero Honda Motors Limited

Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited

Indian Oil Corporation Limited

Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India Limited

National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited

Tata Tea Limited

Toyota Environmental Activities Grant Program

Toyota Motor Corporation

TVS Group of Industries


The Ford Foundation

The John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

MISTRA - The Foundation for Strategical Environment Research

The Rockefeller Foundation

V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation

Government of India

Central Electricity Regulatory Commission

Department of Biotechnology

Department of Personnel & Training

Department of Science & Technology

Government of Karnataka

Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi

Government of Sikkim

Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission

Gujarat Industries Power Company Limited

Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd.

Himachal Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission

Indian Council of Agricultural Research

Jharkhand State Electricity Regulatory Commission

Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission

Ministry of Environment and Forests

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy

Ministry of Panchayati Raj

Ministry of Power

Ministry of Railways

Ministry of Rural Development

Ministry of Science and Technology

Orissa Renewable Energy Development Agency

Punjab Forest Department

Uttar Pradesh Forest Department

Media Partners


Among others Coca Cola Company, one of the sponsors of TERI and a
member of Global Compact remains guilty of draining precious water
resources as well as polluting the land and water, and one of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India has been shut down since
March 2004 as a result. An international campaign has led to its removal from over 20 colleges and universities in the US, UK and
Canada and has been dropped from the socially responsible investment
fund of TIAA-CREF, the largest pension fund in the world.

Coca Cola company is only one of the supporters TERI, its other
supporters include companies accused of corporate crimes as well.

Prior to the chairmanship of the intergovernmental panel on climate
change (IPCC), R K Pachauri faced allegations about being backed by a
powerful oil lobby in the US.

Watson, his predecessor has said that Bush has not done enough to
ratify the Kyoto Protocol. He has criticised the US administration's
position on climate change. Pachauri promised, "I would not do that."

Here are the excerpts of an interview he gave to The Times of India in April 2002 before he won the chairmanship of IPCC.

How confident are you of winning this closely contested election?

Pachauri: I have been nominated by the Indian government. I am already
vice-president of the IPCC. the US has refused to support the present
incumbent Robert Watson. i am quite confident. You have been
dismissed as a weak candidate by your critics. they say that this is
why the US is supporting you. The US is backing me because it does
not want Watson there. But I see no reason why the developed world
should monopolise this post.

I have been quite critical of the Bush administration's energy
policies, so I am on the same side as Watson. but he first went around
telling industry that I would be even worse than him for business.
now, he says I am a stooge of industry. please note, the IPCC is a
purely scientific body. It is not supposed to go into politics. its
reports are all scientific. Watson criticised the Bush administration.
I would consider myself weak only if I don't get the support of the
scientific community. I have never been cowed down by anyone.

What exactly has been Watson's criticism of Bush?

Pachauri: He has said that Bush has not done enough to ratify the
Kyoto Protocol. He has criticised the US administration's position on
climate change. I would not do that. If you want to keep the
credibility of the IPCC, you have to steer clear of this sort of
controversy. I want to do policy-relevant research, not policy-
prescriptive research.

Don’t you think that bodies like the IPCC have been reinventing the
wheel for years, telling us what we already know?

Pachauri: We don’t know enough. if, for example, global warming causes
the sea level to rise, how will it affect Bangladesh? we have to
assess such problems, study their impact.

The other criticism against you is that you are an engineer and
economist, unlike Watson, who is an atmospherics scientist. how valid
is this?

Pachauri: When you are cooking a meal, anyone can prepare the masalas.
But if the masala maker actually cooks the meal, you are in trouble.
Atmospherics is only a part of environmental management. You need to
focus on energy choices, the kind of clean technologies that we need
to employ, public administration, economics, impact on agriculture,
ocean sciences, forest management, health, disease-carrying species.

The field has been dominated by atmospherics people and other areas of
crucial importance have been ignored. i am far better qualified than
an atmospherics scientist to head this body. by the way, all the
criticism against me is coming from atmospheric scientists.

Do you think the us is playing a responsible role in these climate
change meets and discussions?

Pachauri : No, but the world is clear that countries have a common but
differentiated responsibility in climate change. the us has to do more
than india.

What has been the reaction of the auto fuels industry to developments
since Rio?

Pachauri: The industry is a bit of a mixed bag really. bill ford of
ford motor, for example, has said that his company has to change,
become more environment-friendly if it does not want to go the way of
the tobacco industry. BP and Shell are trying to change, but companies
like Exxon are totally resistant to change. civil society has to
bestir itself more.

What the IPCC must do is to disseminate all its findings more
actively. the IPCC gets inputs from more than 1,000 scientists all
over the world. these are top-class research findings, people must
know about these.

How much has changed owing to all the conferences after Rio? Has
enough been done?

Pachauri: in terms of action, not much has happened. but there has
been a clear change in perception. there is a realisation that poverty
is everyone's problem. lots of companies have become conscious of
their responsibilities to society as a whole. Rio did this. but, no i
am not happy with the action.

Closer home, do you think the supreme court's order on compressed
natural gas (CNG) is doing more harm than good?

Pachauri: Our views at TERI are different from those of the supreme
court. we favour ultra low sulphur diesel (ULSD), the preferred option
all over europe. it is, in fact, cleaner than CNG.

Then why is CNG being spoken of as the only option here?

Pachauri: Well, some people got this bee in their bonnet. over the
last six to seven years, there have been so many new developments.
after the Euro II engine and the advent of the particulate trap, ULSD
has an edge over cng.

Surely all this is known, then why the preference for CNG?

Pachauri : Well, many people acted on old information. they took a
position and did not want to resile from it. all that mattered was
ego. some people, for example, said we were taking money from the
Tatas. we have not got a penny, though the people who accuse us have
cornered crores for themselves. with the push for CNG, certain bus and
three-wheeler manufacturers are making a killing, charging much more
than for diesel vehicles. we have been very incompetent in countering
all this.

Are you saying that one committee, the Bhure Lal committee, decided on
such a momentous change on its own?

Pachauri: Yes, the supreme court did not consult people like us on
such a sophisticated decision. only the opinion of one ramshackle
committee was heeded as the fountainhead of wisdom. If the court decides that all citizens must only breathe air as pure as it is in the Himalayas, will the government pipe it down for them? Was a feasibility study done on CNG? What about safety standards?

What can be done now so common people don't suffer?

Pachauri: Let the CNG buses run, but experts must come up with other
solutions for the remaining buses and public transport.

Will the metro help in Delhi? Is that the way to go?

Pachauri: Yes, but it has come 20 years too late. you know, these are
not matters for the courts to decide. no one should prescribe one or the other particular path.

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