Tuesday, February 14, 2012
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The climate change action plans are focused on money making than environment protection

At the confluence of Subarnarekha river in Orissa, the average fish catch has fallen by 20-30 per cent over the past few years while input cost to run a power boat and maintain a good net has risen. In 2008 winter, standing crops in 16 districts in Rajasthan were damaged because of unexpected ground frost. Such unheard of environmental and climatic variations are increasingly affecting thousands of communities and their small-scale economies dependent on nature.

According to United Nations Environment Programme, India is one of the 27 countries highly vulnerable to climate change with high risk of flooding, water salinisation and reduction in crop and fish yield. It is estimated that 20-25 crore people will be directly impacted.

It thus raises serious doubts when the action plans on climate change conceived by the Centre and individual state governments fail to address this concern. These action plans have been prepared without inviting comments from experts, civil society organisations and the affected communities thus disrespecting the democratic set up. Out of various states which have come out with their action plans, only Assam has conducted three public consultations. In contrast, various chambers of commerce have given several inputs during drafting of these action plans raising doubts whether the motive is to save earth or rake in the moolah.

These action plans have been prepared without inviting comments from experts, civil society organisations and the affected communities thus disrespecting the democratic set up. In contrast, various chambers of commerce have given several inputs during drafting of these action plans raising doubts whether the motive is to save earth or make money.

Mission impossible 8.0 

It was in June 2008 that the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) was announced without any public consultation.  Eight missions - solar, enhanced energy efficiency, Himalayan eco system, sustainable agriculture, sustainable habitat, water, green India and strategic knowledge- were envisaged to guide this plan. There are no targets and deadlines mentioned thus turning NAPCC into a mere vision document full of wishful thinking than a strategic blueprint.

Of all the missions, only water, solar and enhanced energy and green Indian have shown some activity. However, the stamp of market forces is quite evident. For instance, the water mission document has realms written on how water scarcity is a big problem with glaciers melting and population rising. According to our policy makers, the solution to this situation can be large reservoirs like big dams no matter the displacement of people and adverse impact on environment which come along with such a project.

The water mission document has realms written on how water scarcity is a big problem with glaciers melting and population rising. According to our policy makers, the solution to this situation can be large reservoirs like big dams no matter the displacement of people and adverse impact on environment which come along with such a project.

It has also been found that big reservoirs in tropical and semi-tropical areas leads to high level emission of methane gas thus worsening the environment rather than saving it. The mission also carries along the bogey of water privatisation. The new draft national water policy is a step towards this direction. Similarly, the Green India mission focuses on afforestation through commercial plantations. However, scarcity of land is one issue which has not been sorted out. According to rough estimates India has around 6-7 crore forest dwellers who are dependent on forests for their daily needs. Also, we don’t have hectares of vacant land for forestation which eventually would mean acquisition of village commons including pastures and natural village forests from where the locals have been sourcing fuel wood and fodder.

The Green India mission has also inspired the Indian approach to REDD plus which envisages several hectares of tree plantations which can only be maintained by corporates since a small land holder is unlikely to know the intricacies of documentation, project design and validations involved. Energy sector has two missions which are comparatively better placed but they also seem to be designed to support the business interests. Under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, high cost centralised power stations to be installed by corporate houses are being given more importance over community-based or home-based units.

The Green India Mission has inspired the Indian approach to REDD plus which envisages several hectares of tree plantations which can only be maintained by corporates since a small land holder won't know the intricacies. Under the Solar Mission, centralised power stations to be installed by corporates are given importance over community-based units

Also, the inequity in access to electricity has not been addressed. Around 42 per cent of India’s population still does not have access to commercial energy because of high cost. This out-of-loop segment is always the excuse for setting up of more power projects but production of more energy only improve supply to the already-covered user base instead of making electricity affordable to people living on the fringes.

Action minus adaptation

Under the climate change action plans, developed countries continue to focus on mitigation but for India, adaptation is more important. We need to devise new ways to reduce the impact of climate change on a large section of population dependent on rain-fed agriculture and fishing. The unpredictability of weather is adversely impacting the crops as well as the long coastal line. For instance, in 2010, when the rest of India received bountiful monsoon leading to floods in various regions, the areas of Orissa and West Bengal experienced drought. Previous to that Andhra Pradesh suffered a major drought and the rice crop failed. When the farmer tried to grow cotton, late rain in September led to flooding of the fields. 

Since we have to live with such volatile circumstances, farmers and fishermen need skills to adapt to these sudden changes whether water shortage, floods or changes in marine ecology. Ironically, the action plans seem to be only accentuating these problems rather than addressing them.

The policy makers claim that works being done under the social welfare schemes like Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme cater to adaptation. However, just building a few ponds in some villages can't be the lasting solution to this issue. Also, the climate change action plan is supposed to be a futuristic strategy rather than a compilation of current initiatives.  

How the states fair

The state action plans, which were expected to be better drafted even if for the sake of vote banks, follow similar process. Funded by foreign aid agencies and drafted by consultants, these action plans are throwing up impractical and costly solutions. For instance, north eastern states are envisaging low-carbon expressways and LEED-certified buildings. These states have fragile mountain range and narrow roads. Building four-lane expressways will prove disastrous for the environment but it is going to be a money spinner for builders.

North eastern states are envisaging low-carbon expressways and LEED-certified buildings. These states have fragile mountain range and narrow roads. Building four-lane expressways will prove disastrous for the environment but it is going to be a money spinner for builders.

The states which have forest areas are taking to REDD plus which will earn them carbon credits if they conserve their forest cover. REDD plus is already inviting lot of global criticism because the payment is not for keeping forests but for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. This will lead to felling of trees in one area and plantation of industrial trees in another as compensation. Also, fast growing and broad-stemmed trees, which can store more carbon, will be preferred no matter how bad they are for local environment and flood control.

The state governments are also looking at climate change as a panacea to their weak financial positions. They are vying for maximum revenue and funding instead of helping the environment. Hydroelectricity is one such focus area. Himachal Pradesh has vowed to be a carbon-free state and is planning 850 hydroelectricity projects which will produce 15,000 MW of power. The state does not need more than 1,200 MW for domestic consumption. More than 90 per cent of electricity generated will be sold off to other states and Himachal will end up with ruined rivers and ecosystems.

Himachal Pradesh has vowed to be a carbon-free state and is planning 850 hydroelectricity projects which will produce 15,000 MW of power. The state does not need more than 1,200 MW for domestic consumption. Over 90 per cent of electricity generated will be sold to other states and Himachal will end up with ruined rivers and ecosystems.

The fact that such ill-conceived strategies are being implemented to deal with climate change raises doubt about the motivations of our policy makers. Since international aid agencies including the World Bank, DFID and GIZ are helping several states in preparation of their action plans, their agendas can be noticed. On the other hand, state governments are unable to access the current international debate on politics of climate change because of their aversion to public consultations.

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