Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo introducing the panellists. On dais from L to R: Dr Sudhirendar Sharma,
Dr Anupam Mishra, Mr Surya Sethi, Dr Sudipto Mundle, Mr SK Swamy and Mr Rakesh Bhatt
NEW DELHI. Copenhagen or elsewhere, global climate change meets will not be successful unless the world ensures equitable distribution of resources, said Surya P. Sethi, former Principal Advisor (Energy) to the Planning Commission of India. He was speaking at a public discourse-cum-discussion "debating the climate debate: Beyond Copenhagen" organised by People Development and d-sector.org.
Giving his key address, Mr Sethi, who has been India's core negotiator in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other international meets, highlighted the fact that the world had been holding conventions and meetings on climate and other environment issues since 1992 but there was no progress even after 17 years. "All those meetings held at fancy places have only contributed in increased carbon emissions, not in reduction", he said.
"India is the most misunderstood country in the world, that too by Indians themselves. It is crucial to understand the reality before negotiating at global level", he remarked. Saying any impact of climate change, even if marginal, will severely impact the poor people in the developing countries, Mr Sethi stressed that development was the best form of adaptation for poor and for any kind of development, energy was required. "Even today 750 million people in India are dependent on biomass, the most primitive source, for their energy needs and 80 percent of these people use it in the most primitive need of cooking food. In comparison only 5 percent people in USA use biomass as a source of energy", he said.
Mr Surya P. Sethi emphasized on energy needs of poor in his key address
Pitching strongly for the right of poor to improve their lives by using more energy, Mr Sethi informed the participants that if poverty line was determined by a person surviving on less than USD 2.50 per day, then India has 53 percent more poor than sub-Sahara countries. He said India had world's 17 percent population but its fresh water and energy supply was only 2 percent and 3.7 percent respectively of world's total. "As a result, we do not have enough water, energy and food to take care of our people", emphasized Mr Sethi.
"More than 50 percent people of our country earn their livelihood from agriculture and 60 percent of agricultural land does not have irrigation. As a result we have highest groundwater extraction in the world. And, 40 percent of our total energy is consumed only in pumping water." Elaborating further, he said, India can't provide water security and food security to its people without giving them energy security and therefore, any talk of making commitments to reduce energy consumption by India was going to be detrimental to its poverty alleviation efforts.
"Our average land holding in 1971 was 1.75 hectare, but it was reduced to 0.73 hectares by the year 2003. More so, 40 percent of our rural households engaged in agriculture don't own land", informed Mr Sethi. Despite such scenario, predatory policies are implemented by government and business for industrialisation and urbanisation. They also need the same land, same water, and same energy, available to the poor." Mr Sethi felt that this battle for resources was not fought on level playing field and the poor were getting increasingly marginalised and uprooted from their base. "Everybody, rich and poor, weak and powerful is competing for the 3 basic factors of production: food, water and energy, and more often than not, the resources are taken away from the poor", he pointed out.
Mr Sethi, who is a BITS-Pilani and IIM-A alumnus, and has wide international experience in corporate and government sector, felt that this kind of unequal distribution of resources was behind most subversive movements in the country. "With every passing day, this equity is eroded more and more in the name of 8-9% growth", he remarked. Referring to Arjun Sengupta report, he said 830 million Indians have consumption level below $2/day and they include 200 million who go to bed hungry.
"India has more poor people than the total population of USA, EU and Japan put together and still the rich countries are putting pressure on India to surrender the right of its poor to improve their life."
"We spend the least on health per citizen, despite knowing that poor health is major reason behind poverty. Even many sub-Sahara countries spend 4-5 times more than us on per capita basis. As a result, our infant mortality, maternal mortality ratios etc are very poor and to improve health services India needed energy", Mr Sethi mentioned.
Terming India's economic growth in the last two decades as 'meaningless', Mr Sethi said if the country as a whole was growing by 8-9 percent every year, there should be no reason for India's position on Human Development Indices (HDI) to go down. He termed it unfortunate that some of the key policy makers, instead of understanding ground realities, were raising questions over the figures mentioned in the Human Development Report. "These people who have been reforming the country for the last 22 years always talk about stupendous growth, but are dumbfounded when asked about our HDR indices", he commented. "The same people are willing to negotiate India's energy consumption without realising that to improve our score on each HDI, whether food, education, health or housing, we need more energy", said Mr Sethi.
People from diverse fields participated in the discussion
Mr Sethi was of the opinion that misplaced economic growth was causing more troubles for the poor and informed that since beginning of economic reforms, 50 million people were displaced in India due to various development projects. "For 8 years that I worked in the government, I tried my best to get some information about those unfortunate people from government sources but there was no report or information available about their present condition", he rued.
"Isn't it unfortunate that 11th five year plan is the 1st plan that talks about inclusive development, meaning our consecutive 10 plans failed to recognise the need for it", he asked and said that he could take some credit for bringing this change in government's perspective.
"India has more poor people than the total population of USA, EU and Japan put together and still the rich countries are putting pressure on India to surrender the right of its poor to improve their life", Mr Sethi opined. "If India needs to develop, it needs more energy, not less."
Mr Surya Sethi further emphasized, "If we can't deliver on development, we can't improve adaptation abilities of our poor".
"Poor have no money, no energy, no water, no skills, no land to adapt to impact of climate change. To improve their conditions, we need to grow our energy supply by 4.3 percent to 5.1 percent per annum, assuming we use it in a sustainable and most efficient manner. If we can do that for next 25-30 years, our share in global energy will double to 7.6 percent. However, our rate of share in global energy supply which was growing by 3-4 percent per annum earlier has now been reduced to 1.75 percent per annum", he disclosed. "At this rate, it will take us another 40 years to double our share in global energy and to uplift poor", he warned.
Saying it was faulty to club India and China together on energy consumption, since India was 30 years behind its neighbour, he highlighted the fact that even if India would grow its energy consumption by 5 percent, its per capita consumption in 2031-32 would still be less than what China's figure was in 2005.
Prof Sudipto Mundle responding to a query of a participant
Casting doubt over any agreement in Copenhagen, Mr Sethi said the entire framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), of which USA is also a signatory, was based on historical responsibility of developed countries and considering their changing stance, any progress on that account would be difficult.
"Less than 20 percent of the world is occupying the 80 percent of the global space with the stock of their emissions, excluding the flows, and they are saying that by 2050 they would reduce their emissions to 80 percent of 1990 level. But they want to continue occupying their carbon space till 2050 and emit disproportionately more than their share, because by 2050 they would only be 10 percent of world's population", disclosed Mr Sethi. Stating that the industrialised world was refusing to accept its responsibility, he pointed out that to give the rest of the world its share in global space, the industrialised countries would have to reduce their emissions by 230% and not just 80%.
"There is no technology available in the world which can assure that by keeping per capita consumption below 2 or 3 MT, poverty alleviation could be possible."
Mr Sethi observed that without developed world reducing its energy consumption, our poor would not get energy and other resources required to rise to the level of a poor man in rich countries. "Our people have the right to rise to their poverty level", he said empathetically.
Criticising the decision of Indian government to agree to two degree reduction bound, Mr Sethi said by doing that it had bargained the poor to a life of poverty and misery. "This would mean that emissions of entire developing countries must peak by 2017", he informed. But, he said, in 2017, India's per capita consumption would still be less than 2 or 3 MT, and developed world would be at 6-7 times of that. This would simply mean that our poor will remain poor or become poorer. "Because, Mr Sethi said, there is no technology available in the world which can assure that by keeping per capita energy consumption below 2 or 3 MT, poverty alleviation could be possible."
On the issue of financing the mitigation efforts, he said, even the staunchest supporters of industrialised world, like Lord Stern, now agree that it would have to make commitments for negative emissions and if that would not happen, by an estimate, their responsibility for the year 2030 would be USD 1.2 trillion. "On that basis, if we calculate their contribution in carbon stock year after year, beginning from industrial revolution, then we can reach an astronomically high figure, which would be the climate debt of the industrialised nations. Under the UN Convention, they are supposed to pay this amount and for this simple reason they don't want any agreement on climate change", said Mr Sethi.
Mr Anupam Mishra enthralled the audience with his address
Earlier, beginning the discussion, noted Gandhian thinker and social activist, Dr Anupam Mishra pressed on the need to be careful in changing environment. Addressing the meeting he said as rise in our body temperature could cause suffering, similarly increase in Earth's temperature would not be without difficulties. Mr Mishra observed that the entire debate on climate change was dependent on three aspects: Science, Politics and Philosophy. While science was playing in the hands of industrialised countries' interests; geo-strategic goals were part of climate change politics. Philosophy, which should have been at the focus of the climate debate had been marginalised and there was hardly any mention of it in the entire discourse.
Warning the developing countries of dangers of current economic growth model, Dr Mishra hoped the world would realise the follies of faulty development path and correct its course. "Isn't it time the world asks itself whether exploitation of weaker sections is necessary for development and growth", he questioned. Dr Mishra criticised the tendency to find technical and commercial solution to every problem. "If vehicular pollution is threatening us, we bring out solutions like Euro I & II, or Bharat I & II. But we don't want to reduce the number of vehicles."
"Instructing poor to stop carbon emissions is akin to big dacoits preaching the pick-pockets to not indulge in crime." He expressed concern over practice of carbon credits, saying they were introduced with an intention to convert 'one's vices into virtues'. Criticising the trend followed by rich countries to dump their wastes in poor nations, he warned such exploitative methods would not make the world any better. "The rich nations dump their waste on poor countries and ask them to clean it. As a reward for this cleaning, carbon credits are being offered", he observed.
"Those who have been the highest consumer of energy are now talking about zero-energy life-styles. We know well that even the austere lives of rich cost a fortune", he quipped. But, he said, there are many societies in the world who are leading zero-energy life-styles for centuries. Citing the example of residents of Ramgarh, near from desert town of Jaisalmer, who happily survive in bare minimum rainfall, he said India had plenty of examples to teach the world about zero energy life-styles. "Those who waste electricity throughout the year, but pretend to be energy conscious by switching off lights for an hour in a year, should learn from people of Ramgarh, who live utmost simple life", he advised.
Mr Rakesh Bhatt questioned scientific basis of IPCC reports
Researcher and activist, Mr Rakesh Bhatt added a new twist to the discussion by casting doubts on the basic premise of climate change and asked for scientific proofs. He expressed surprise over the increased tendency among intellectuals to curb dissenting voices and wondered whether any credible scientific organisation had provided sufficient proofs to support the premise that carbon di-oxide was the culprit of global warming. He was of the view that the so-called consensus on climate change was 'reached' using allurements of huge research grants.
Dr. Sudipto Mundle, emeritus professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and former director of Asian Development Bank, elaborated on Nobel laureate Michael Spence' solution to overcome the deadlock in climate change talks. He elaborated the Spence formula of focussing on main polluter nations to cut down emissions in the long run and to forget those countries with less than 2 to 3 MT per capita energy consumption. This would be done assuming a safe figure of 2-3 MT per capita 50 years from today. However, Dr Mundle expressed concern over complacency of Spence about global reductions in emissions and also about his expectation of emergence of new technologies as and when global need would arise.
Dr Sudhirendar Sharma provided the earth's perspective while moderating the discussion
The discussion was moderated by renowned environmentalist and columnist Sudhirendar Sharma who commented that every meeting on climate change produces more carbon-di-oxide but still clear picture was not available on the issue. "There are extreme views on climate change and several inches in newspapers and magazines have been devoted to this topic but nobody can claim to be a 'know-all' expert of it".
He felt it important to get to the root of the issue and not get swayed by hype and hysteria. Commenting on the much publicised consensus on the global warming, he said dissenting voices were being ignored and everything, from floods in Bihar to droughts in Rajasthan, was blamed on climate change. "But nobody is giving solid proofs. There appears a design to show overwhelming agreement on the premise, cause and effects of climate change." He said climate was certainly changing but the questions raised by sceptics and doubting Thomases need to be answered convincingly.
"The whole world is asked to believe the assumptions about the climate change even though majority of the scientists of the world are not yet convinced", Dr Sharma commented.
"It seems the outcome is pre-decided even before the climate negotiations began and the developing world is falling into a well-laid trap", he opined. "Some one who sets the framework is always on the advantage. Climate change framework, like WMD in Iraq, is also set by the West and to its own advantage."
Attentive students during the address of learned panellists
Mentioning the role of the billionaires of the world behind 'Optimum Population Fund' to control the world population, Sudhirendar Sharma told the participants that the poor of the world were being blamed for threatening the luxurious life-style of the super-rich. "Poor are not at all responsible for carbon emissions but new barriers are created in the efforts to improve their lives", he remarked.
Informing the participants about the failure at Bangkok, Dr Sharma feared the same fate would meet Copenhagen summit. Dr Sharma also emphasized on the need to be vigilant about developments in climate change negotiations since developing countries had nothing but to lose the right to make policies according to the needs of their people. Quoting James Lovelock, who has postulated Gaia hypothesis, Dr Sharma said, "The Earth is a living entity and has already lived for millions of years and would continue to live. All the climate discourses are forgetting that the Earth will take its care and save itself".
Highlighting the importance of such public discussions, he emphasized that people need to be told about all aspects of climate debate and sustainable alternatives. "GDP was the holy world till now, but the threat to environment has awakened the world to the need to look for better measures of development", he remarked.
Mr S K Swamy informed about People Development and d-sector.org
The public discourse was attended by many environmental activists, scientists, researchers, writers and students. Many of them raised pertinent questions for the panellists, which were responded in detail by the esteemed panel.
Mr S. K. Swamy, Chairman R.K. Swamy group and director of People Development, a non-profit which manages the web portal www.d-sector.org, informed the participants about the organisation and its objectives. He hoped that such public discussions would help in spreading awareness about development related issues among common citizens in addition to involving policymakers and opinion makers in the public discourse.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo, editor of d-sector.org, concluded the programme by expressing his gratitude to the panellists and the participants for making the discussion a very enlightening and fruitful experience.