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‘Let’s not leave carbon debts future generations can’t pay’

india Updated: Dec 16, 2009 00:03 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times

Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Parliamentarian, part of the Indian delegation to the Copenhagen Climate Summit, talked about the issues that affect India on the eve of his departure, in a freewheeling interview with Hindustan Times. Excerpts:

As an official delegate, what’s your take on the Climate Summit?
It is now clear that the Copenhagen negotiations on climate change are in deep trouble. Even G-77 members do not share a common vision on solutions to the challenges thrown by climate change. There is a growing demand for a new framework. As early as 15 years ago, the UNFCCC said that one of the key objectives was to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at “a level that would prevent ‘dangerous’ anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

But how do we define ‘dangerous’?
To begin with, we need to define parameters that indicate “dangerous” interference is taking place. Second, the perception of “dangerous” may vary from segment to segment of population in different and even within countries. However, the consensus in the scientific community regarding the marker for dangerous climate change has emerged at 2 degree Celsius. Crossing this threshold is fraught with grave dangers for future generations. Apart from the well-understood effects of sea-level rise and receding glaciers, the Human Development impacts, perhaps, present the biggest challenge. A big challenge is to devise and introduce technologies and fiscal measures which will mitigate the immediate and the long-term effects. Perhaps India is waiting for the transfer of such technologies from the West.

What should India do to rise up to the climate change challenge?
India should try to develop green technologies. In the Indian context, the rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius will seriously jeopardise our food security. India is already on the verge of a hunger trap and it is estimated that by 2020 food production will fall by 6-8 per cent and 51 per cent of Indian land will be affected. Add to this heightened water insecurity and the investment needed to mitigate this serious problem. There are more than 1 billion people living on the margins of survival income level. The income poverty will further increase if immediate efforts are not undertaken. Even in India the below poverty line numbers are huge — from 38 to 50 per cent . Suicides may revisit the Indian farmer and this time with a vengeance. Health hazards, including child mortality, malarial and tubercular deaths, already affecting billions, will increase owing to lack of nutrition and absence of proper healthcare. The number of additional deaths in developing and least developed countries is estimated to touch millions.

Why is this likely to happen?
These deficits in human development arise because of the rising global inequality. According to the Human Development Report 2007-2008, the wide income gap has been caused by the use of high-energy technology by developed countries. Their excessive spewing of greenhouse gases has caused the heating of the environment. The differences in the depth of carbon footprints are linked to the history of industrial development and a developmental model based on unlimited growth in a limited environment. As Johan Rockstrom once said, we are running the planet today as a sub-prime loan. The financial crisis happened because housing loans were allowed way beyond the stock levels that were available. Similarly, our living standards are subsidised to a level our planet cannot afford. This world-view of the rich nations has created a world out of balance. To restore this balance is the biggest challenge.

What does India have to offer? Can we propose an alternative model of ‘balanced growth’ to replace the exploitative international techno-economic order?
Mere palliatives won’t do. Mankind today faces the challenge of the survival of future generations. Let us not leave huge carbon debts that they won’t be able to pay. Mahatma Gandhi was right when he rejected the idea of India following the British model of economic development. He said England became rich by exploiting half of the planet. India will need several planets to reach the British level. The challenge before mankind is to harmonise Gandhi and Globalisation. The Indian action plan nowhere takes the real challenge seriously. Let us move from sustainable development to sustainable consumption.