Varied interests in the energy and power sector viz., CDM, carbon rating, Monitoring & Evaluation, Energy Management, Rural Development; Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy related matters; Demand Side Management (DSM), Energy Audits, Distributed Power Generation (Biomass, Wind,Solar and Small Hydro), Participatory Management.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


How to approach environmentalism (by Sunita Narain)



2010 was a loud year for the environment. High profile projects—from Vedanta to Posco and Navi Mumbai airport to Lavasa—hit the headlines for non-compliance with environmental regulations. While 2009 was the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, it was only last year that we were all outraged by the disaster. The realisation of how every institution—the judiciary, parliament and government—had miserably failed to provide justice to the victims shocked us deeply.


It was also in 2010 that allegations of "rigging" of climate change science took the world by storm. The sceptics had their moment of glory as they ridiculed science and picked holes in its analysis. And even though most of what they had to say was proven wrong, the damage has been done. Even as extreme weather has hit parts of the world,we are not certain anymore if this variation is the growing impact of climate change. Then in December at the meeting in Cancun, the world took the final step to deny the problem of climate change. It agreed to do nothing to reduce its emissions at the scale and pace needed.


The question is what is the cacophony adding up to. Where is it leading us?


Take the issue of projects that have been cancelled or held up because of environmental reasons. It would not be wrong to say that virtually all infrastructure and industrial projects—from mining to thermal and hydel and nuclear power to cement or steel—are under attack today from communities who fear loss of livelihoods. These communities are at the forefront of India's environmental movement. They are its warriors.



For them the environment is not a matter of luxury; it is not about fixing the problems of growth, but of survival. It is fixing growth itself. They know that when the land is mined and trees are cut, their water source dries up or they lose grazing and agricultural land. They know they are poor. And they are saying, loudly and as clearly as they can, that what others call development will only make them poorer.


This is what I call environmentalism of the poor. The fact is today development projects take local resources— minerals, water or land—but cannot provide employment to replace the livelihoods of all those they displace. It is for this reason that the country is resonating with cries of people who are fighting development itself.


Where do we go from here? I would argue we need to listen to these voices, not dismiss or stifle them in the name of anti-growth dissent or Naxalism. This can be done by strengthening the processes of democracy that ensure people have a say in development. For instance, the Forest Rights Act demands that the gram sabha (village assembly) in tribal areas must give its written consent to a project before it is cleared. Public hearings held during the environmental impact assessment provide the platform for people to voice their concerns. In most cases today the effort is to rig and undermine these processes.Public hearings and even video recordings of the events are faked or the public is kept out through use of force. But what is worse is that the final project clearance process does not demand that these voices are not just heard but heeded too. In most cases one will find the concern raised by people is brushed aside as projects are rammed through in the name of industrial development. This must stop.


There is no doubt we need industrial and infrastructure projects, but these cannot be built against the will of people. We will have to reinvent the way we work with people and we will have to reinvent the way to development. We will have to do more with less.Frugality and innovation will have to be our way to growth. Our challenge is to provide the gains of development to vast numbers of people. This requires inventing growth that is both affordable and sustainable.


But what all this adds up to, in my view, is to define a new chapter of environmentalism in the world. I say this because it is only now that we are being forced to confront some tough questions on how to be or not to be an environmentalist. We are learning that techno-fix solutions, of cleaning up pollution even as we continue to emit more, are not good enough. The rich world has failed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through its investment in efficiency. It now needs to find ways to reinvent growth without fossil fuels and to grow within limits. The world failed us in Cancun because the rich are still not prepared to accept the writing on the wall: there are limits to growth, unless we can grow differently.


We in urban and middle-class India must learn this lesson quickly. We cannot afford this environmentalism of costly solutions that want to put band-aids on what is so badly broken. We must understand that our future lies in being part of the environmentalism of the poor, as this movement will force us to seek new answers to old problems.


The bottom line is that in this New Year we must embrace a new

philosophy: unless we rock the boat we will not have a boat at all.

Gopinath S
Chief Executive
nRG Consulting Services, Bangalore
+91 99161 29728

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Deal won, stakes lost (Editorial by Sunita Narain)

Deal won, stakes lost


Last fortnight (see 'The endgame at Cancun', we discussed the clandestine endgame afoot at Cancun to change the framework of the climate change negotiations to suit big and powerful polluters. Since then Cancun has concluded and a deal, in the form of a spate of agreements, has been gavelled into existence by the chair. Commentators and climate activists in the Western world are ecstatic. Even the critics say pragmatism has worked and the world has taken a small step ahead in its battle to fight emissions that determine its growth.


Let's assess the outcome at Cancun to see if this is indeed a step forward. It is well-accepted that to keep the world below the already dangerous 2°C temperature increase, global emissions need to drop to

44 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent(mix of greenhouse gases measured in CO2e) by 2020—against the roughly 48 billion tonnes of CO2e emitted currently. In other words, the world has already run out of atmospheric space and has to cut emissions fast and drastically.


That's why at the Bali climate conference in 2007 the target placed on the table was for the industrialised countries to cut emissions 20-40 per cent by 2020, over their 1990 levels. The actual number was to be finalised at subsequent meetings. So what does Cancun do? It mouths some platitudes that the industrialised countries will scale up their mitigation efforts but does not specify a target.


Instead, it endorses an arrangement that emission reduction commitments of industrialised countries will be decided on the voluntary pledge they make.They will tell us how much they can cut and by when. The US, which has been instrumental in getting the deal at Cancun, is the biggest winner. If its target to reduce emissions were based on its historical and current contribution to the problem, the country would have to cut 40 per cent by 2020, over the 1990 levels.

Now it has pledged that it will cut zero percentage points in this period. The Cancun deal legitimises its right to pollute.


This is not all. Under the Cancun deal, all countries, including India and China, are now committed to reduce emissions. India's pledge to reduce energy intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020 is part of this global deal. After all, all countries must be part of the solution. It is also in our best interest to avoid pollution for growth.


But surely nobody can agree that the burden of the transition should shift to the developing world. But this is what has happened at Cancun. If you compare the sum of the "pledges" made by the industrialised countries against the "pledges" made by developing countries, including China and India, a curious fact emerges. While the total amount the rich will cut comes to 0.8-1.8 billion tonnes of CO2e, poor developing countries have agreed to cut 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020. In other words, emission reduction promised by the industrialised world is pathetic.And the principle of equity in burden-sharing has been completely done away with.


Let us be clear, Cancun makes no pretence that global equity is a principle best trashed into the world's dustbin. Just consider. All previous drafts of this agreement stated that developing countries would have equitable access to the global carbon budget. This has been crucially diluted in the Cancun agreement. It reads in a fuzzy and meaningless way that there will be "equitable access to sustainable development". We have surrendered our demand to apportion the global atmospheric space based on our right to development.


This is not the worst. For a moment let's say India should be willing to pay this price for the glo¬bal common good. But the pledges will add up to practically nothing in terms of averting the worst of climate change. With the Cancun deal in force, the world is in for a 3-4°C temperature rise. We are most vulnerable. Already, when world average temperatures have increas¬ed by just 0.8°C, our monsoons are showing signs of extreme variability leading to floods and droughts.

Then how can a weak and ineffective deal on climate change be good for us?


But the spin masters want us to believe otherwise. The Western media is hailing Cancun as the much-needed breakthrough. That's because the Cancun deal protects the interests of the rich polluters. It is their prize.


What has the developing world got in return? There is no commitment to cut emissions needed to avert climate change. No money is promised either. The agreement provides for the creation of a green fund and repeats the de¬cision to give US $30 billion as fast track funding by

2012 and US $100 billion by 2020. But this is fictional money to cajole and bribe. The fact is that the rich world is saying openly it cannot pay because of recession. It now wants the developing world to look for these funds in the private sector. The technology deal is even weaker. It only says that it will set up a technology centre. The tricky issue of preferential access to intellectualproperty rights over low-carbon technologies has been skipped altogether.


The fact is we hate being hated in the rich man's world. Cancun was about our need to be dealmakers on their behalf—even if it costs us the earth.


—Sunita Narain


Post your comments on this editorial online at

Gopinath S Bangalore
+91 99161 29728