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Critique of Climate Change Inaction

The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future by Praful Bidwai (Orient BlackSwan), 2012; pp 392, Rs 750.


addiction to fossil fuel or cut greenhouse

Critique of Climate Change Inaction

gas (GHG) emissions to the extent necessary and possible. “GHG emissions heat up the atmosphere through a process Meena Menon known as radiative heating which alters

ven for those who do not read Praful Bidwai’s columns, his book is a welcome treatise in understanding what India’s climate change policy is all about, a global perspective on climate talks, where they are headed and how little really has been done to address a planet threatening issue. As he says in the Preface, Two decades after the Rio Earth Summit and despite the publication of countless scientifi c tomes and policy papers which convincingly establish the reality of climate change and recommend urgent remedial measures, the world has failed to do what is even minimally necessary to prevent the earth from rapidly heating up.

He also takes a dig at the complex international negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and says that these are marked by “quaint procedures and esoteric j argon. They only occasionally produce agreement after opening up hundreds of square brackets of text containing contested language and after bitter fi ghts over commands and full stops.”

The international climate negotiations have progressed little so far and the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding global treaty on emission cuts, is in jeopardy. The Copenhagen round of talks saw the emergence of groupings of vulnerable countries like the emerging economies of I ndia, Brazil, South Africa and China and the Alliance of Small Island States, apart from the G-77 whose roles were strongly emphasised in the talks. However, with countries in the Annex 1 list or the Northern Block defying emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, the fi rst commitment period of which will end in 2012, there is no further obligation on them unless a second phase of commitment is negotiated.

It is a bleak picture before us in terms of addressing vital climate change issues. The Green Climate Fund which was touted as one of the successes of the Cancun meeting is yet to be formalised.

The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future by Praful Bidwai

(Orient BlackSwan), 2012; pp 392, Rs 750.

Outlining the catastrophic nature of how climate change can lead the world to extinction, Bidwai then discusses the huge gigatonne gap and the delusion of powerful governments which are trying to push for low carbon alternatives i nstead of hard emission cuts. He makes an important point that many others have been making: no amount of low carbon technology can remove and r eplace the emissions which are already embedded in the atmosphere. “There is simply no substitute for making deep and early emissions cuts. The longer these are delayed, the greater the future burden on the world”, Bidwai warns.

Horror Story

With the world only too willing to be swayed by climate sceptics, Bidwai’s book must come as a strong challenge to popularly held myths like the one stated above. He also discusses the Himalayan glacier melting controversy, used by many to discount other important fi ndings of the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The working group II of the fourth IPCC report made a rather alarmist prediction of a high probability of Himalayan glaciers disappearing a ltogether by 2035. Though the IPCC withdrew the para graph in January 2010, Bidwai says it has not yet analysed and documented the p recise sequence of steps through which the erroneous formu lation got into the r eport. It must do so if such errors are to be averted in the future, and its own credi bility is to be defended.

It is clear that governments are doing little to cut the use of fossil fuel and Bidwai backs his contention that the world is closer than ever before to catastrophic and irreversible climate change with plenty of evidence. For instance governments are not willing to give up their the planet’s heat balance”, he says. Emissions are now rising by two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a month or by 800 tonnes a second. This increase exceeds many of the worst case projections of the 2007 fourth assessment report of the IPCC.

Each year the world burns fossil fuels which represent the equivalent of the earth’s entire production of plant and animal life for 400 years. The horror story continues. The carbon sinks in the form of oceans and forests are not working well anymore and the much touted carbon trading is “deeply flawed”. As the people living in vulnerable areas have already realised, climate change is not about economics, it is about survival itself. Bidwai has slammed marketbased mechanisms like emission trading which is based on questionable economic premises without understanding the real causes of pollution and mitigating that. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects too are not spared and he says it allows the North a cheap and easy option of buying emission offsets in the South instead of reducing emissions at home.

Apart from raising fundamental i ssues in climate change, Bidwai also discusses India’s climate policy and stand on international negotiations. “Its domestic factors, including the all important consideration of maintaining rapid gross domestic product growth, favour a conservative approach, with an emphasis on expanding India’s share of the global climate space”, he points out. He is scathing about India’s climate policy and global negotiations stand and says they are “riddled with numerous anomalies, inconsistencies and contradictions which deserve scrutiny and close analytical a ttention”. The anomalies include an emissions intensive growth pattern, a climate stand that ignores huge interregional disparities, rising demand for energy and water in agriculture and mainly the sidelining of equity and governance issues. India’s climate negotiations stand

Economic & Political Weekly

April 7, 2012 vol xlvii no 14


and in general her policy has evolved without transparency and consultation with independent experts and civil society, leave alone the present and likely future victims of climate change, he rightly comments.

Bidwai targets the global nuclear industry for exploiting climate change in order to push its technology. “Nuclear power would get its second wind in a c limate conscious world, based on advanced and supposedly safer, third generation plus (Gen III +) reactors”. He d emolishes the popular perception that nuclear energy is a safe alternative to fossil fuel and points out that to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from additional power generation signifi cantly, by 15% over business as usual an infeasible number of nuclear reactors would have to be built by mid-century.

In the context of the tsunami and tidal wave, the Fukushima meltdown has proved to be a turning point and precipitated the global nuclear industry’s worst ever crisis, he says. In an extensive chapter on the Jaitapur nuclear power project, the author discusses its uncertainty, the flawed design of the reactor and India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act. Despite Fukushima, and the local agitation against the plant in Jaitapur the government is hell-bent on going ahead with the project. The political implications of the India-US deal with its military connotations and the country’s unsatisfactory record in nuclear safety also find a place in the same chapter.

After taking the reader through the hopeless and depressing state of climate change negotiations, the political context and the global situation today, Bidwai ends on a rather gleeful note. A global renewables revolution seems to be firmly underway and deployment of clean natural resources for energy generation is growing at rates as high as 20% and even a spectacular 60% a year, he exults. And he points to the rising share of the emerging and developing countries in the new investment. China was the world’s top investor in renewables in 2010 with $54.4 billion and Brazil and India figured among the top 10. The renewables revolution has not affected public awareness as greatly as it should have at least partly because it is a new phenomenon and the renewables industry does not have powerful proponents as say, the nuclear or gas lobbies.

A Life and Death Crisis

But addressing climate change cannot be left to promoting windmills or solar energy as Bidwai aptly sums up:

It is about transforming the existing relations of power, overhauling the entire way in which humanity consumes resources to produce goods and services and bringing about change, not of d egree, but of kind.

At a time when international negotiations are faltering, Bidwai’s book has raised the critical issue of climate change which has not been addressed despite global treaties like the Kyoto Protocol and numerous reports not only of the UNFCcC but other well-established s cientifi c forums on the necessity to cut fossil fuel emissions and look for alternatives. Unfortunately the global political structure dominated by the biggest polluter the US, which thrives on unequal polities, has not seen it fit to be part of climate change mitigation strategies and has instead sought to place the onus of emission cuts on the developing world. It is this feudal political dominance that the world is up against in dealing with climate change which has been rightly emphasised in this book. The “Doomsday Clock” is very close to midnight and for countries that inhabit earth, it is a race against time and nature. Solutions are in the offing but the political will to tackle this life and death crisis has to be energised globally and quickly if the crisis has to be addressed with any gravity.

Meena Menon ( is deputy editor with The Hindu, Mumbai.

SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKS China after 1978: Craters on the Moon The breathtakingly rapid economic growth in China since 1978 has attracted world-wide attention. But the condition of more than 350 million workers is abysmal, especially that of the migrants among them. Why do the migrants put up with so much hardship in the urban factories? Has post-reform China forsaken the earlier goal of “socialist equality”? What has been the contribution of rural industries to regional development, alleviation of poverty and spatial inequality, and in relieving the grim employment situation? How has the meltdown in the global economy in the second half of 2008 affected the domestic economy? What of the current leadership’s call for a “harmonious society”? Does it signal an important “course correction”? A collection of essays from the Economic & Political Weekly seeks to find tentative answers to these questions, and more. Pp viii + 318 ISBN 978-81-250-3953-2 2010 Rs 350 Windows of Opportunity By K S KRISHNASWAMY A ruminative memoir by one who saw much happen, and not happen, at a time when everything seemed possible and promising in India. K S Krishnaswamy was a leading light in the Reserve Bank of India and the Planning Commission between the 1950s and 1970s. He offers a ringside view of the pulls and pressures within the administration and outside it, the hopes that sustained a majority in the bureaucracy and the lasting ties he formed with the many he came in contact with. Even more relevant is what he has to say about political agendas eroding the Reserve Bank’s autonomy and degrading the numerous democratic institutions since the late 1960s. Pp xii + 190 ISBN 978-81-250-3964-8 2010 Rs 440 Available from Orient Blackswan Pvt Ltd Mumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur Lucknow Patna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact:

April 7, 2012 vol xlvii no 14

Economic & Political Weekly

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