Friday, 23 July 2010

Rig the Climate

The climate denial lobby is beginning to look really silly.
It creates loonies out of people -the most recent one - Lord Monckton - who claims that climate change, is a conspiracy, a new flag of the left and rebukes the very idea of global warming. For someone who has no training in science whatsoever to discount the IPCC s body of some 800 scientists, he is irresponsible and certifiable.
The science is now loud and clear - warming of the earth is unequivocal and there is no doubt that much of the change in climate is due to human induced action. Scientists at NASA-GISS have confirmed that the first six months of 2010 have set a global temperature record.
But I am not going to write about the vicissitudes of climate change of my generation or the politics that world leaders  has been engaged in over the last decade to try to solve the climate crisis or what is the planet we are leaving behind.

It has been about 2 decades since the Earth Summit in Rio and we are still struggling for an agreement to protect our planet and its ecosystems, its forest, water tables, atmosphere, oceans and mountains. In the last 50 years or so millions have been spent in UN conventions, declarations and pledges  for environmental protection.  While we may have failed the earth in the last 100 years or so – there were some who paid it glorious tribute 5000 years ago.

The best tribute ever paid to the environment can be found in the Vedas.
The Vedas are considered the most sacred books for Hindus. The word Veda means  “wisdom”. There are 4 Vedas .The Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda.

The Rig Veda , a collection of hymns ,are the most ancient of  all Hindu texts, probably about  5000 years old but codified much later.This is concerned with the worship of gods that are largely personifications of the powers of nature. 

The Rig Veda contains the most popular mantra , the Gayatri mantra. I don’t know any Indian who does not know the Gayatri Mantra – it’s the mother of all mantras. 

Aum Bhoor Bhuwah Swaha 

 Tat Savitur Varenyam

 Bhargo Devasaya Dheemahi

Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat

There are various interpretations of this simple mantra - I do not wish to go into the existential meaning of this mantra, its metaphor or its esoteric meaning.I am no expert in Sankrit or ancient texts. Not at all and cannot even remotely claim to be. But this much I know -when I do a word to word break down of the Gayatri Mantra  it is telling me something –   a prayer to the "giver of light and life" - the sun (savitur). Its power remains unchallenged and unrivalled.

It is not only the Rig Veda that pays tribute to nature. There are 63 mantras of Atharva Veda (12.1.1. to 12.1.63) pertain  to Hymns to the  Earth, which glorifies Mother Earth.
 The Rig Veda regards trees and plants as possessing  healing properties. Tree planting is considered a religious duty. So ecology is not a modern day science that was started in Europe. Its root can be found in our ancient texts and its modern day manifestation in the Chipko Movement that began in the early 70’s in the Garwhal – where villagers formed a human chain and hugged trees marked to be cut down for the development of a sports equipment factory. Since then, the movement has grown as a  ecological movement.

So while world leaders break their heads over complex documents on carbon emissions,legal frameworks,binding targets,offsetting, de-forestation and afforestation, Indian Rishis understood this 5000 years ago but instead,chose to express it through beautiful, 4 line hymns - that are still chanted today.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Age of Innocence

Like the players in Edith Wharton‘s The Age of Innocence, climate change seems to be plagued with scandals.   There have been a series of climategates – from hacked emails of the University of East Anglia , to accusations of unnecessary alarm on the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, exaggeration on the sea level rise that the Dutch objected to, lack of peer reviews within the IPCC, to CDM fraud and its unintended beneficiaries and even to Dr Pachauri s high carbon miles and his vested interests in clean tech businesses.   That he wrote a racy sex novella immediately before the scandal broke did not help the good doctor.

Ah. There was even Amazongate – which attacked the IPCC, claiming their data on the Amazon Rainfall was false. The claim was aired in hundreds of publications.   Only to be subsequently retracted by the Times. But the damage had been done.

Now wait till the full Al Gore sex scandal with his masseuse comes to he fore.  There will be a settlement of a few millions – it will get more eyeballs than 2010 year being another temperature record year, or USD2.65 billion needed to clean up the BP oil spill or the rapid Arctic Sea ice loss that we experienced in June or even drought in parts of the rainforests in the Amazon.  That we are likely to head towards a 4 degree temperature increase leading to near-total collapse of the huge Greenland ice sheet will get a dot of a mention.
Why even go to such sibylline locations of the Arctic or the Amazon.

In our own country we do not hear about environmental refugees from the Ghoramara islands of the Sunderbans due to sea level rise, who are forced to vacate their community.  Or the threat to our national security due to melting of glaciers along our borders with Tibet. That we already experience more severe droughts and floods is taken as business as usual. Food security will be under severe threat.

Neither is the rapid melting of the Gangotri glacier, a source of drinking water for 40% of the world’s population even newsworthy . That some of our revered rivers will become seasonal before they disappear completely has not caught the attention in any news reporting circles. 
 How desperate does the climate crisis have to get before we even acknowledge it.
Will we forget our Ganga as we did our Saraswati ?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

From Markets With Love

The carbon super market may just get another goodie
At the Carbon Expo, carbon traders are discussing the launch of the Green Bond or International Carbon Bond.
Like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)  that pays developing countries to reduce GHG emissions , the Green Bond will do just the same.

To the uninitiated, the CDM is the principal tool for engaging with developing countries on mitigation policy. This allows developed country governments and companies to meet emissions reduction targets in part by purchasing certified emissions reduction credits (CERs) which they receive in return for financing projects in developing countries which reduce emissions. This is also known as “offsetting”.

India and China are the leading countries in CDM projects but recently China has over taken India. While India entered the CDM market in 2003, the size of projects is small – largely driven by  mid-sized companies. However this could change, should some of the Indian Public Sector Units chose to enter the carbon markets.
 Like some  bonds, including Daniel Craig, this is also hot .And here is why.
Unlike the CDM process where there is a lengthy review process, with the Green Bond, the money is paid up front by investors and the returns guaranteed to the investor. The Investor then would be free to trade the bonds in international market. And governments will earmark funds exclusively for carbon abatement programmes.

And here is the sweet spot.It would be like a sovereign debt.So if the project fails and there is no reduction in emissions,the investor is protected as the bond is backed by the World Bank or some such financial institution.

So if you want to make some quick bucks, watch this space and keep in touch with your investment banker - he is very likely to sell you the bond and not the sun.


Friday, 21 May 2010

Of banana peels and popcorn

About two weeks ago, I met Peo and Satoko Ekberg.
Peo is from Sweden - a country that is fueling ahead to be the world's first oil-free country by 2020.This is without increasing its nuclear energy capabilities.I would call this ambition, to a point of being far fetched.,but Sweden seems to be on its way. From 70% energy from oil in 1975, today only 30% of its energy comes from oil.

So are the 9 million Swedes committed to this idea. Is it really possible to break the oil dependency and still run a first world country efficiently? From what Peo tells me, yes.

 Buses run on banana peels and kitchen waste, elevators are solar powered, taxis ferry you on coffee wastes collected from coffee shops. The capital, Stockholm, has reduced its household wastes by 97% - a big part of the garbage is  recycled into energy to power homes and transport. Public  transport in Stockholm now runs  a 100 % on bio-energy. The list goes on.

So I asked Peo, what does the city smell like with all this garbage in buses, taxis and cars?  "Oh ! Fresh popcorn".

So next time you get a whiff of fresh pop corn, remind yourself that you may not be  in a cinema house  having your favourite  popcorn,  but you are probably in Sweden, on a bus, going to  watch Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata”

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Here Comes Christiana

About 24 hours ago, Christiana Figueres was named the new Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.

In my mind this could have been breaking news.

Christiana is from Costa Rica, a developing country, and is a woman. A great combo. And if you did not know, Costa Rica is well on its way to becoming the first carbon neutral country by 2020. We finally have a woman who will head a traditional old boys club. So there. She is not your usual suspect in the least. She has the perfect CV to qualify for the job and having been around and part of the international negotiations since 1995 she knows the climate politics machinery all too well. She is a well recognised International leader on strategies to address global climate change .Nothing really could have denied her the job .

There is hope by the South that she will from time to time where the hat of the LDCs, the OASIS, the developing countries .Something that her predecessor was accused of not doing enough of. The voice of the most vulnerable will at last be heard and there will be action!

But this is what I am thinking.

Carbon trading, Clean Development Mechanisms, REDD,REDD Plus, Carbon Tax, Kyoto Protocol, COP 15 and even COP16 ,Bali Action Plan, Emission trading, Carbon pricing, will not solve the problem . And sadly neither will Christiana.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Spill Baby Spill

A very predictable header but after going drill baby drill, this is what happened at British Petroleum s “ultra” Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. About 70,000 barrels of oil a day (and still counting) are being spilled into the ocean since April 20, 2010. The drilling was really “ultra deep”. The worry is not so much about when the spilling will be contained but where the oil will land up.

With no end in sight, the blame game has begun among the 3 actors. The project is owned by BP. Transocean owns the rig and has leased it to BP till 2013 and Halliburton, the oilfield services company, did the cement work to cap the well.

The impacts have not even begun to be considered. The toxic compounds in oil are known human carcinogens and hydrocarbons are particularly relevant if inhaled or ingested –for both humans and animal. For birds, the timing could not be worse. They are breeding and nesting and especially vulnerable in many of the places where the oil could come ashore. Nothing short of a catastrophe.
It will ruin for years to come the abode of the resident seabirds, waders, waterfowls, heron, pelicans, oystercatchers, migratory birds (swallows, buntings) that use the Gulf Wetlands as a stopover. With waters and coastal regions already feeling the impact of the oil spill, these birds could be at risk. It will totally disrupt migratory patterns and could result in mutations of certain species. Short-lived species such as shrimp or crabs may disappear in the region. The fishing industry in the area will pay its price.

While I am no expert on oil -from rigs to spills, this much I know. That when you get ultra greedy, you ultra dig and recovering will be ultra costly.

So my message for British Petroleum is this.

Drop that hubris .Admit that there are better forms of energy that we deserve.
And if this is not the right moment to improve your energy mix, you deserve to stay at the “bottom of the barrel”

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Summertime and the fish are not jumpin

While mercury soars across the sub continent, parts of the wettest state, Kerala, suffers from drought. This is unusual for God s own country. It is also unusual for the garden city, Bangalore, to touch 38 degrees centigrade. It is unusual that there are no glaciers in the summer months, even 40 km around Srinagar's east-side mountains. While Rajasthan is known for its desert heat, it is unusual that many of its districts are experiencing about 6 degree centigrade temperature increase.

But this is not about an unbearable summer where everything and everyone seems to wilt away and there is general listlessness. This is really about some myths and reality.

The myth is that climate has always changed so this is normal. The reality is that the climate is changing at a speed like never before.
The myth is that we can wait. The reality is that we have no time.
The myth is that climate change action is costly. The reality is that inaction will cost us more.
The myth is that money grows on trees . The reality is that it actually does.
The myth is that we can change – the reality is that we can t change fast enough.

MOEF Must Not Die

I have to give it to him.
Jairam Ramesh is the best Environment Minister India has had. And I am saying this as he completes his very first year in office. So for someone who said that this was a ministry he was least expecting to head, Jairam has done rather well. 

The list of his hits is long.

For once, we have an environmentalist leading the Environment Ministry. We have someone who comes with independent thinking – and this is like music to my ears !
Starting with transparency, public consultation on bt Brinjal, cancelling projects that were given bogus environmental clearances ,creating a proper, user friendly website for the Ministry, knowing the difference between REDD and REDD Plus, getting rid of retired bureaucrats who have been negotiating India’s future , efforts to ramp up India’s mitigation efforts on climate change, Jairam Ramesh needs applause.

I don’t want to get into all the details of his accomplishment and neither do I want to get into his boo-boos, but what strikes me is the courage of his conviction, his willingness to fight to the end, his determination to change a corrupt ministry and to cleaning up the mess that he inherited.

Jairam Ramesh is clearly one of the Pet Shop boys and with good reason .While he is certainly no puppy, his pedigree, his penchant for strategy and independent thinking, surely makes him the leader of the pack.
If he goes, MOEF will go back to being on its death bed and will languish. We will then continue to degrade our forest, continue to classify forest as wastelands, only to be given away to mining giants, we will once again create a ministry of collusion and corruption in the name of development.
So yes, Jairam Ramesh must stay put.
For a change I can chant - the right man in the right job .