Saturday, 5 December 2009

The countdown to Copenhagen has begun.

Suddenly the media and internet is abuzz on climate change news and views.
And like everyone and everything else, there is a scramble for carbon space.

So what is the Copenhagen buzz all about and does it mean anything for India?

Here’s the deal.

Three days from today, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be holding its 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) at Copenhagen from 7-18 December 2009 in Copenhagen.

More than 190 countries will gather to agree a way forward on climate change as the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.
One hopes that the meeting will end in a political agreement at the Head of State Level, with legally binding targets in 2010 and the outcome will be FAB.
Fair, ambitious and binding. Yet another climate acronym!

More than 65 Heads of State, including President Barack Obama – albeit on his way to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor Angela Merkel have confirmed their attendance at Copenhagen.

Will Dr Manmohan Singh attend? We do not know that yet.

This is indeed a disappointment.

India will be at the frontlines when it comes to climate impact.

While India has historically not been a major emitter of GHGs and its per capita emission is a mere 1.2 tons/ per person compared to 23 tons/per person in the US, it will suffer severely due to climate change.

Sadly though, as the IPCC states, India will be most vulnerable to climate impacts. We are already feeling the heat of climate change – rising temperatures, shorter and less severe winters in some parts of India, erratic monsoon with impacts on agriculture and livelihoods, droughts, floods, sea surges, cyclone, outbreak of diseases, desertification, disappearing glaciers. For the 700 millions living in rural India, there will be helplessness and uncertainty.

All this will not only have huge impacts on our everyday lives but a huge impact on our economy. India already spends about 2.3 % of its GDP on climate adaptation and this will only increase as the intensity of climate change increases. Food and water security will be one of the biggest challenges facing government. With rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers, that is a source of drinking water for 40% of the world’s population, wars over water will be inevitable.

Can India sit back and play the blame game or should we act?

The blame game has lead to inaction while year after year millions have been ravaged by climate impacts. We have wasted far too many years on blaming the developed countries while not doing enough domestically – India has not invested in climate research, nor built climate resilient cities ,nor assessed vulnerabilities at various levels.

It’s a tough road ahead for India s policy makers. Development challenges in India are now even more complicated by the reality of climate change – they are linked like never before. Policy makers must counter the climate impact and yet ensure that it gets millions of out poverty. Both daunting challenges but challenges that India can meet and must meet.

India today is the 4th largest emitter of GHG emission in aggregate terms and hence it is inevitable that it will have to be responsible for future emissions. As we go into Copenhagen or COP 15, it has been about 15 years since the first climate conference, we have had enough and more of climate denial and climate inaction by developed countries - its time policy makers across the world respond.

Indian civil society, generation next and the media must come together to ask the Government for more transparency into the climate negotiations and discussions, the Government has to engage civil society much more and not keep Copenhagen discussions in the closet. In the end, it is our future and the future of our children that is at stake.

India must play its part .Whatever maybe the outcome at Copenhagen – whether we see legally binding targets or politically binding targets, whether the US, the world’s largest emitter of green house gases commits to targets or not, in India s own self interest we must act.

This is no time for any hesitation – whatsoever.

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