Anyone reading segments of the Indian press recently would think that science has been rocked to its foundations by revelations that climate change is exaggerated and unfounded. This, at least, would be the perception of those who had read this paper’s news report on a polemic published by the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change on April 2, that was launched by Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia in Delhi.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Climate science is now well-tested. Leading climate scientists around the world are united in the assessment that we are experiencing a long-term upward trend in global temperature largely induced by human activity. Last year marked the high-water point of the international scientific consensus on the gravity of climate change with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issuing its Fourth Assessment Report. Despite bids by climate nay-sayers such as Saudi Arabia, the US and others with a vested interest in the do-nothing strategy on climate change to water down the scientific report, a solid statement emerged from the IPCC: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level”.
Back in 2006, the seminal Exeter conference on climate science hosted by the British government concluded that we have a decade to start pulling back before ‘tipping points’ are reached. No less a figure than Nasa’s top climate scientist James Hansen — the man who first made headlines with global warming in 1978 and was more recently muzzled by the George W. Bush administration — said, “We are on the precipice of climate system tipping points beyond which there is no redemption.”
The inconvenient truth of climate change is that even if everyone were to stop emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, we would still be ‘locked into’ at least 30 to 50 years of warming. More recent research released by Nasa, the US Institute of Oceanography and others on unstable ice shelves and the accelerated pace of Arctic ice melt — now projected to be ice-free in summers in just five to six years — has heightened concerns among scientists.
Just last month, tenuous theories put forward by sceptics such as solar rays causing the warming trend were resolutely put paid to by research published in Britain. Scientists from Lancaster University issued the latest piece of evidence undermining claims put forward by Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National Space Centre (DNSC) that modern climate change is caused by cosmic rays. Professor Terry Sloan, who led the British research, concluded, “We tried to corroborate Svensmark’s hypothesis, but we could not; as far as we can see, he has no reason to challenge the IPCC — the IPCC has got it right. So we had better carry on trying to cut carbon emissions”. None of this has stopped the climate sceptics though. In the last week of March, they were out in full force in Delhi peddling their propaganda. Even this esteemed paper published a piece — entirely unchallenged — carrying their well-hashed ‘Danish cosmic ray theory’ oblivious of the fact that findings fundamentally rejecting this had just been published in Britain.
The Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change’s report itself aimed to “educate the public about the science and economics of climate change” and concluded that cutting greenhouse gas emissions was not a cost-effective way to address climate change. It criticised the ‘pressure’ being created by the rich countries on India, China and other poor countries to sign up to binding emission reduction targets. Such emission restrictions, apparently, would hold back economic development in India. Speaker after speaker denounced claims about human-induced climate change as biased and alarmist, which they said justified calls for unnecessary economic intervention and regulation. None of this is new. At the landmark climate talks in Kyoto in 1997, one had to contend with the well-funded climate deception of the Global Climate Coalition.
Having failed to win the argument in the West, the climate deniers are now moving into India and China. They see our country as a soft-touch for their propaganda and easy to hoodwink through arguments pitting poverty against development. What they do not realise is that there is a domestic movement brewing in India for positive action on climate change. India is already on the frontlines of severe climate impacts. The PM himself has clearly stated: “The threat of climate change is real and unless we alter our lifestyles and pursue a sustainable model of development, our future will be at peril”.
What then was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission doing lending credence to the fringe views of climate deniers? Having trashed the conclusions of the UN’s respected Human Development Report on climate change last year, Ahluwalia has chosen to align himself with some of the most discredited voices on the issue. Pluralism is one thing — we are all for diversity. But out-and-out propaganda is another. Claiming that it was time for a “balanced debate” and speaking of “scientific uncertainty” and “doomsday scenarios”, Ahluwalia has raised a number of eyebrows. Many of us have higher expectations of our government. We will be watching this space for greater leadership on one of the biggest issues of our time.
Malini Mehra is CEO, Centre for Social Markets.