Climate Change and Development

Ajith Vijay Kumar

Undeniably, climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our time. Melting glaciers, changing rainfall patterns, flash floods, rising sea levels, inundation of small islands; the threat is real and it’s going to hit hard not just the poor, but also the rich as their livelihoods would also come under increasing risk.

That’s why amid all the din, as was evident during the Copenhagen Summit, about who is responsible for the mess, who should take the initiative to clean it up, the world forgets or probably feigns ignorance that it’s a battle for survival.

Consider this: Three-quarters of the world which lives on less than $2 per day is primarily dependent on the environment (agriculture) for a significant part of its daily livelihood.

They cannot in any way sustain themselves against the increasing incidences of crop failures, failed monsoons given their limited access to finance and technology to adapt to the inevitable change. For them, there is only one future – annihilation

And, it’s not just Sub-Saharan Africa which will bear the brunt, India and other tropical countries are also poised close to the tipping point in the battle for food and livelihood security.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a 2.7–4.3 degrees Celsius increase in temperature in the Indian subcontinent by 2080s. However, it’s worth mentioning here that there are serious apprehensions about the panel’s findings following its recent admissions about the ‘errors’ in some of its key reports.

But the effects are visible. The summers are getting hotter with each passing year, the winters are getting warmer.

As per some estimates, a four-fold increase in the country’s GDP would require a 2.8-fold increase in carbon dioxide emissions, 1.3 times more methane and 2.6 times more nitrous oxide unless action is taken to mitigate their use. The flip side: A 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is expected to raise the number of poor by 17.5 per cent.

India is surely in a catch-22 situation. Can we as a developing country – with millions of citizens living in abject poverty – afford to forgo our quest for economic development in favour of the yet uncertain science of climate change?

Clearly, climate change and development are inextricably linked and there are no easy solutions, but India’s pledge to effectuate a cut in the intensity of carbon emission as a percentage of its GDP, if implemented in word and spirit, can help GDP to grow without hurting the economy.

The focus is now on sustainable development and it is rightly so. Mitigating climate change by reducing growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through clean energy, curbing deforestation by improved land management - agriculture and deforestation together account for an estimated 26 to 35 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions – has been agreed upon at Copenhagen, what remains is its implementation.

India, in its efforts to promote renewable energy generation, has set up a National Clean Energy Fund and imposed a coal tax to finance the National Solar Mission’s goal of producing 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2022.

However, the single biggest measure that can help in the fight against climate change is by helping the poor and the vulnerable adapt to the changed circumstances.

The rich West has promised billions of dollars for the climate fund, and greater access to green technology.

But promises are just promises unless backed by credible action. The unfortunate billions also have the right to development but will it cost us our existence, only time will tell.

Till then ‘green capitalism’ - which promises to save the planet while also ensuring that economies grow and people make money – will be tried and tested, without understanding the fundamental truth that capitalism feeds on endless growth and increasing consumption – the very reasons behind the peril our planet is in.

Science says that we must bring about radical changes in the way we conduct ourselves, the way we live. But can the industrial growth oriented development model of ours withstand the sudden retraction in its fortunes.

Are we – the lucky ones - willing to forgo some of our new age comforts for the sake of our planet and for our destitute brethren? The answer lies within us and therein lies the answer to the debate over development and climate change.