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Thursday, December 3, 2009

India succumbs to US pressure

India offers to cut carbon intensity by 20-25%

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BEIJING/NEW DELHI: The battle for scoring PR points at the climate change talks has been joined in right earnest. On Friday, India dramtically
announced that it could consider voluntarily reducing its carbon intensity by 20-25% on a purely domestic level.
This represents a big leap on the measures announced so far by the government to cut emissions, and will extend to the entire economy rather than be restricted to specific sectors as is the case now.

The swift response to a similar announcement by the Chinese on Thursday is meant to save the country from being seen as the deal breaker in the coming green gabfest at Copenhagen over climate change.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, in Beijing for a meeting of key emerging countries hosted by China, acknowledged that India could not afford to be seen as lagging behind in offering voluntary reduction in energy consumption. "We have to look at it. I don't think we can sweep (aside) the fact that
China, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa and peer group countries have put down voluntary, unilateral, non-legally binding, quantitative targets," the minister said.

On Thursday, China had announced its willingness to bring down its energy intensity by 40-45% from 2005 levels in the next decade. The Chinese announcement was itself a response to the US offer to reduce its emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

By showcasing their voluntary reductions, India, China and US hope to fend off pressure that awaits them from other developed countries as well as resourceful NGOs who have often set the global green agenda.

While it suits all three, it will be particularly beneficial for the US which has resisted taking emission reduction targets under an international regime.

In so doing, India has also upped the target that it had set for itself. The government here had so far announced only strong actions on solar power and energy efficiency fronts. But if the proposal mooted by Ramesh in Beijing is really acted upon, it would mark the first move to bring down emission across the economy.

After a 70-minute meeting with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, Ramesh said, "This is a leadership-cum-public relations drive by China. The message of the meeting is that China wants to lead and it has fulfilled its international obligations. They have called the meeting from a position of strength as they have already announced emission targets."

But the minister clarified that "India and China cannot be on the same page when it comes to emissions".
India comes fifth in the ranking of emission intensity with 1.8 tonnes of emissions per thousand dollars of GDP compared to China's 2.85 tonnes.

Sources pointed out that China already has a high-energy intensity level because of its greater reliance on the manufacturing sector. India, in comparison, is more dependent on the service sector for its economic growth. "The question the government has to consider before it takes such a target is, will it hamper the growth of manufacturing sector -- which is obviously more energy intensive -- in the years to come," said an official close to the moves.

"China has already built up its infrastructure -- roads, power plants etc -- and has a large manufacturing sector and in the process its energy intensity is higher today. Its now offering to dip a bit. India's energy intensity is bound to rise as its economy grows, do we have the space to undertake this manouver, is the moot question," he said.

Ramesh, speaking to TOI in Beijing, said, "There is a considerable room for reducing emission and energy intensity in India keeping the 7-8% GDP growth profile without jeopardising growth."

Ramesh is in Beijing to attend a conference of key developing countries -- including South Africa, Brazil and India -- called by China. On Saturday, the group is expected to discuss a joint strategy for the Copenhagen negotiations starting on December 7.

Ramesh said the Chinese premier had assured him that China would stick to its stance about not allowing any international review of its environmental programmes including its emission intensity reduction target.
Ramesh's clarification on China and India's proposal was seen by observers as a move to clarify that this was not part of any `flexibility' being shown by either of the two countries at Copenhagen before the industrialised countries but purely a domestic imperative.

The US and other developed economies have asked India, China and other emerging economies to put their domestic targets up for international scrutiny even if they do not fund such actions.

With the proposed move, India and China have only shown ramped up domestic action in order to reduce the clamour from industrialised countries for international commitments.


Isro images show Gangotri glacier receded 1.5km in 30 yrs

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BANGALORE: As big global players play the game of negotiations, and as the opposition wakes up to the implications of India's green plan as
announced on Thursday, the Indian Space Research Organisation has come up with an alarming figure - the Gangotri glacier has receded by 1.5km in the past 30 years.

The fact that the glacier has been receding isn't new. In fact, in the last decade, it has receded by 15-20 metres (although the pace has slowed down in recent years), Isro's latest figure dramatically brings out the extent of glacial melt, caused possibly by global warming.

Isro's director of Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, Dr R R Navalgund told TOI that satellite imagery documents a 1.5-km retreat of the Gangotri glacier in the past 30 years. The satellite imagery has also captured that Alpine vegetation has now started growing at a higher altitude than it used to a few decades ago.

While the retreat of glaciers was a very controversial issue recently, after environment minister Jairam Ramesh released his discussion paper on glaciers that also alleged that glaciers were not melting because of climate change. Navalgund echoed the sentiments of MoEF on the issue.

"We have looked at snowy glaciers, some of them in the past 20 years, specially the ones at lower latitudes and altitudes, have retreated. It is difficult to say whether it is due to global climate change. It could be a part of the inter-glacial period and other related phenomena," he said.

The documentation of coral reefs have also shown bleaching across the coastline. UNEP had also recently declared that coral reefs, which support the majority of marine life, will be the first casualty of climate change. Isro data reiterates that the reefs around the Indian sub-continent are facing maximum impact - not so much in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but in other parts.

Navalgund said there was no quantitative analysis yet on the impact on agriculture. "Agricultural simulations are too less to make any quantitative analysis," he said.

Asked about the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations, Navalgund said he has given all the data that Isro has gathered from its satellite images to the environment minister a month ago. "To understand the impact of climate change for India, baseline data is very important. India did not have a scientific, accurate database of baseline data. Now we need to put those down so that later, we have a valid document to fall back on," he said.

Very soon, other countries can also access data on carbon sink from Isro. The Oceansat, that continuously monitors the ocean colour, helps in analyzing productivity in the oceans. This is useful in measuring the carbon sink in the oceans. Many countries have given their letter of intent to use this satellite.

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