June 17, 2014

Hard choices at Copenhagen

During the Climate Change Conference in 2009, the Obama-BASIC meeting was a watershed, saving Copenhagen from a complete collapse and also marking the emergence of the BASIC quartet as a major force in international climate policy diplomacy

Hillary Clinton’s recent memoirs reveal how during the fortnight-long Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, on December 18, 2009, United States President Barack Obama and she barged into a room in which President Lula of Brazil, President Zuma of South Africa, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China and Dr. Manmohan Singh were meeting along with their respective delegations and started tough negotiations.
The much-touted Copenhagen Conference was heading nowhere. Presidents and Prime Ministers from across the world had been unable to agree to a global agreement to combat climate change. Finally, it was the Chinese Premier who convened a meeting of the BASIC group comprising Brazil, South Africa, India and China. The quartet’s ministers had been working closely together both in the run-up to and at Copenhagen itself.
Holding up an outcome
The two Presidents and two Prime Ministers started their confabulations at around 6p.m. All four had immediately agreed that the BASIC group should not be seen to have been responsible for the failure at Copenhagen. Just about 15 minutes into the meeting, President Obama, accompanied by Secretary Clinton and a large retinue of officials, walked into the room unannounced saying that he was actually looking for Premier Wen and then adding that he was lucky not only to have found him but also find him in the company of his BASIC colleagues. He then got down to business right away and said that according to his impressions, there were three contentious issues holding up a successful outcome at Copenhagen: (i) a global goal for reduction of emissions by 2050; (ii) measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of each country’s actions; and (iii) the need for a legally-binding global treaty.
After he had spoken, Premier Wen, after welcoming President Obama, turned to Dr. Singh. Dr. Singh, who had been greeted effusively by President Obama earlier, spoke of the complexities in the three issues raised and underscored the determination of the BASIC quartet to contribute constructively to a solution that is effective and equitable. He then asked me to elaborate.
I then proceeded to explain why the acceptance of a global goal could foreclose development options for developing countries and that for the present the global goal should rest with the formulation agreed to in the Declaration of the Leaders at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) held in L’Aquila, Italy on July 9, 2009 which said thus: “We recognize the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees Celsius.” Ambassador Shyam Saran also spoke up explaining in some detail why a quantitative target would not be in the interests of developing countries.
Transparency and language
President Obama readily conceded our point. But he went on to then say that for the U.S., the issue of international transparency of domestic commitments was paramount and he wouldn’t leave Copenhagen without arriving at a settlement on it. The transparency issue then became the topic of heated discussion. Before the heads-of-state meeting, Mike Froman of the U.S., He Yafei of China and I had been meeting to hammer out acceptable language. I tried some formulations that were not acceptable to China and some others that were unacceptable to the U.S. We went in for the summit meeting without having reached any agreement. He Yafei and I had, however, agreed that India and China would not accept any formulation that did not contain the following — “… while ensuring that national sovereignty is respected.”
I briefed the meeting about the differences that still existed. President Obama then asked the sherpas to move to the corner of the room, discuss the matter further and come back. In this impromptu conclave, I suggested “international discussion” which was vetoed by the U.S. I then tried “international consultations” which was also vetoed by the Americans who said that there must be a reference to “assessment.” I suggested “analysis” as an alternative and my Brazilian counterpart qualified it as “technical analysis.
After some 10 minutes of haggling, we moved a few steps to report back to the bosses. I told President Obama that the best we could offer is “international consultations and technical analysis which would respect national sovereignty.” I said that “scrutiny/review/assessment” is simply unacceptable to the BASIC group.
President Obama’s immediate reaction was negative. He said that “international consultations” seems like a pointless talk shop. I then told him that there is precedent for “international consultations” in the relations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) with member-countries. President Obama immediately saw the point and instantaneously said that if there is such a precedent he would buy this formulation. That settled “international consultations.” President Obama then said that “technical analysis” was unacceptable. It should be “technical review/scrutiny/assessment.” I then said that President Obama’s choice of words would be politically unacceptable but we could live with “technical analysis” since that is what the IMF and the WTO do in any case.
Then, President Obama objected to the word “technical” in “technical analysis” saying that it circumscribes the scope of the analysis. I consulted with Dr. Singh and Premier Wen and said that we should clinch the deal by dropping our insistence on the word “technical.” Both President Lula and President Zuma concurred. Dr. Singh and Premier Wen asked me to announce it.
I then said to President Obama, “Sir, we will agree to ‘international consultations and analysis’ but you must agree to the reference to ‘respect for national sovereignty’.” Again, to President Obama’s eternal credit, he did not hesitate for a moment and said “done.” That was the breakthrough moment which the entire world had been waiting for.
After the MRV issue was settled largely on account of President Obama overruling his own aides, we moved on to the legally binding global treaty issue. Dr. Singh said that much more work needed to be done before any commitment to such a treaty could be made. President Obama responded by saying that he would go along with what Dr. Singh was saying. He then ended the meeting with a flourish by saying — “Now I have to sell our agreement to my good friends the Europeans.”
Incidentally, there are two other accounts of this historic meeting that Secretary Clinton describes with the focus understandably on President Obama and herself. Strobe Talbott writes in his book Fast Forward: “Manmohan Singh engaged with Obama but let Jairam Ramesh, his energy and environment minister, do most of the arguing. Ramesh did so with relish. He was aggressive, sometimes acerbic, but not strident.” Jeffrey Bader in his Obama and China’s Rise also has more direct and detailed account of the Obama-BASIC Summit meeting and writes: “India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh argued politely but aggressively with Obama over several points.”
Undoubtedly, the Obama-BASIC meeting was a watershed. It saved Copenhagen from a complete collapse and also marked the emergence of the BASIC quartet as a major force in international climate policy diplomacy. The meeting was also tense. My Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua was absolutely livid at the compromise arrived at on the transparency issue even though it had the support of his own Prime Minister. In an unusual outburst, he started banging the table and launched into an angry tirade which left all of us stunned. Premier Wen quietly told the interpreter not to translate. Minister Xie continued for some time prompting President Obama to ask, “What is he saying?” Prompt came Secretary Clinton’s reply which had the whole meeting exploding with laughter leading to a lowering of the tension, “Mr. President, I think he is congratulating us!!!” Alas, her memoirs do not have a reference to this master quip.
(Jairam Ramesh was India’s Minister for Environment and Forests from June 2009 to July 2011.)

A year later, no lessons learnt

Little seems to have been done by the State governments, past and present, in the area of disaster prevention, mitigation and management. Picture shows Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel rescuing a woman pilgrim during the floods.

Little seems to have been done by the State governments, past and present, in the area of disaster prevention, mitigation and management. Picture shows Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel rescuing a woman pilgrim during the floods.

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-year-later-no-lessons-learnt/article6120397.ece

Uttarakhand is still in dire need of a development plan that is also sensitive to the fragile ecosystem that was crippled by the floods and landslides of 2013

Santosh Naudiyal stood on the verandah of a building in Rudraprayag last December while he narrated his story. On October 1, 1994, the night of the Rampur Tiraha massacre, Santosh and his friends boarded a bus to New Delhi to participate in a dharna to demand for a separate State of Uttarakhand. “We fought for it and today we have it,” he told me, pointing towards the Rudraprayag collectorate that stood shakily on sinking ground.
The June 16-17 deluge last year — one of the worst calamities the State has witnessed — resulted in flash floods and landslides. The situation was exacerbated by a defunct disaster management system, the result of the apathy of consecutive governments that have ruled the State.
This was not the Uttarakhand that Santosh and his friends had desired.
The floods and after
The deluge left Uttarakhand in shambles. Flash floods pummelled the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Gori Ganga, Pindar, and Kali rivers. According to official data, 4,190 people died in the disaster, more than 2,500 buildings were completely destroyed, and 2,070 roads and 145 bridges were damaged. However, numbers alone do not reveal the extent of loss.
In the weeks that followed, more than a lakh pilgrims and locals were evacuated from the disaster-hit areas: the Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri shrines, the Sikh pilgrimage site, Hemkund Sahib, and parts of Pithoragarh and Bageshwar districts. Only after rescue operations were over did the government shift focus to the locals.
It has been a year since the tragedy crippled the State; yet, sadly, locals continue to remain the government’s second priority. Rehabilitation of villagers is still incomplete. Locals continue to make trips to their tehsildars, patwaris, sub-divisional magistrates, and district magistrates for pending compensation issues, to appeal for the construction of safety walls and for the rebuilding of roads and bridges.
Last year, yatras to the four shrines and to Hemkund Sahib resumed. But with two months of inaction following the catastrophe, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna’s exit was on the cards. Only after Harish Rawat replaced Mr. Bahuguna as the State’s new Chief Minister on Februrary 1 did the post-disaster reconstruction work gain momentum. However, the pace again slackened when elections assumed priority.
In a year, the blocked roads have been opened, some have been black-topped, some reconstructed. Broken bridges have been replaced with makeshift ones. Roads have been reconstructed, but by boring deeper into the mountains, already subject to constant erosion by the river flowing beside them. At some places, protection walls have been built; at others, debris from landslides has been left as it is, blocking the roads this monsoon season too. A biometric registration system has been introduced this year to keep track of the pilgrims, and the State Disaster Response Force has been deployed on the yatra routes. However, the meteorological equipment has not been upgraded since last year. Talks of establishing an early warning system began only recently.
An area prone to disasters
The June calamity apart, Uttarakhand has witnessed a number of disasters in the past — from earthquakes and landslides to flash floods. Yet, little seems to have been done by the State governments, past and present, in the area of disaster prevention, mitigation and management.
According to the State Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre’s (DMMC) records, in 1999, a major earthquake in Chamoli caused the deaths of 101 people. Another earthquake hit Uttarkashi in 1991 killing 768 people. Both earthquakes measured more than six on the Richter scale. “The State has not witnessed a major earthquake for more than 200 years,” the DMMC’s 2012 report stated. “This enhances seismic risk in the region.”
The Earthquake Risk Map of India places 13 districts in Uttarakhand under seismic zone IV (severe intensity zone) and V (very severe intensity zone). Despite this, several dams and roads have been constructed along fault lines, K.S. Valdiya, an eminent geologist and honorary Professor of Geodynamics at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, said in a discourse after the deluge.
According to the authorities, nothing more than regular training and awareness programmes are being conducted on disaster management in case of an earthquake.
The DMMC report also states that other than earthquakes, the State is vulnerable to hailstorms, cloudbursts, flash floods, forest fires, and avalanches. In 2012, a landslide in Ukhimath and flash floods in the Assi Ganga and the Bhagirathi rivers killed about a 100 people and caused extensive damage to livestock and property. A 2010 Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report states that the 2010 monsoons affected 29.24 lakh people; 214 people lost their lives in the season. The report further states that between 2005 and 2009, 474 people across Uttarakhand lost their lives to various disasters.
What is perhaps lacking in Uttarakhand is an effective disaster management system. A combined effort needs to take place between the State Disaster Management department, the State Disaster Management Authority, the meteorological department, and other departments. If every agency continues to work towards disaster management in isolation, the death toll will only increase.
Redefining development
Bumper-to-bumper construction of hydroelectric power projects, buildings and roads, with little knowledge of the effects of such constructions in the region, continue at a reckless pace in the State’s current development framework.
Last year on August 13, the Supreme Court issued an order in which it directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to constitute an expert body to “assess whether the existing and ongoing/under-construction hydroelectric power projects have contributed to the environmental degradation and, if so, to what extent.” It also directed the MoEF and the State government to “not grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydroelectric power project in the State of Uttarakhand, until further orders.”
The expert body, in its Chopra Committee Report, elucidated the adverse role played by the projects in worsening the disaster.
A Himalayan policy drafted by Shekhar Pathak, a historian from Uttarakhand, and Hemant Dhyani of Ganga Ahvaan, a movement for the conservation of the Ganga and the Himalayas, states that after witnessing calamities in the Uttarakhand region for almost four decades, it was clear that “all these calamities failed in fully sensitising the system, administrators, and policy makers.”
The draft of the policy, which is a part of the Chopra Committee Report submitted to the Supreme Court, suggests establishing micro hydel projects, solar projects, stopping illegal mining, strengthening Van Panchayats, and demarcating cultural eco-sensitive zones for the conservation of biodiversity, among other recommendations.
The State’s tourism sector has suffered a loss of about Rs. 12,000 crore following the calamity. A population of around 7 lakh, which was dependent on the earnings from religious tourism, has been affected. Lack of livelihood opportunities and safety concerns are resulting in migration from the affected areas. The State is in dire need of a fast-paced development plan that is also sensitive to the fragile ecosystem.
The missing momentum in development efforts coupled with a change in leadership and redevelopment plans implies that political will is necessary for the State to develop while addressing environmental concerns.

Right Now We ‘Grossly Underestimate’ Economic Damage From Climate Change, New Paper Says

British economist Lord Nicholas Stern.
Source: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/16/3449645/stern-updated-climate-model-economic/
Our current models “grossly underestimate” the economic damage that will be wrought by climate change, according to British climate change economist Lord Nicholas Stern. So he and a colleague just published a new preliminary paper that makes a few key updates.
Right now lots of mainstream climate research, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), relies on versions of the “DICE model” to project the damage climate change will do to the global economy in computer simulations. And so far, the modeling done by IPCC has predicted relatively modest hits to world economic production from climate change if global carbon emissions continue on a business-as-usual path. But the DICE model also has several well-known limitations, including an overly simplistic model of how the economy grows, too little attention to climate sensitivity, and too little attention to certain extreme risks. When Stern and Simon Dietz — colleagues at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change — retooled the model to address this issues, they found the modest hits ballooned into massive reductions within the next two centuries.
The updated analysis of economic growth itself didn’t change the business-as-usual path too dramatically. But when it was combined with the midrange numbers from Stern and Dietz’s updated climate sensitivity, the resulting projection shows global living standards peaking around 2150 and then dropping — leading to an overall collapse of almost two-thirds from where they would otherwise be in 2200 under the standard models. Incorporating the high-end climate sensitivity numbers and the possibilities of extreme risk, global living standards peak before 2100, then collapse down to or below where they were in 2005.
From there, Stern and Dietz determined that the price of carbon emissions should fall between $32 and $103 per metric ton in 2015, and should then rise to between $82 and $260 per metric ton by 2035.
Stern and Dietz’s updates to the DICE model focused on three areas:
A new model of how economies grow. The old DICE model looks at any point in time, measures the economy’s productive capacity, and then gauges how much climate change will dampen that productivity in that moment. But climate change can also reduce that productive capacity itself. Stronger storms can damageinfrastructure; sea level rise can force people to abandon homes, businesses or equipment; and climate damage can channel more investment into repairs and away from creating new capital. Stern and Dietz account for that, and the result is a double hit: at any given moment, the effects of climate change are reducing the economy’s ability to produce wealth, but they’re also but also reducing the economy’s overall capacity to produce wealth at future moments.
Considerations of higher climate sensitivity. Other factors in modeling climate change’s economic effects are what scientists call “tipping points” — moments when global warming kicks off feedback loops in the planetary ecology that cause the effects to speed up. Examples of tipping points include the polar ice melting in a way that result in sudden huge collapses rather than gradual melting; or melting permafrost in the northern hemisphere releasing underground methane that in turn speeds up global warming even more. (They can also include second-order social effects that damage economies: drought and food scarcity kicking off wars or mass refugee movements, for instance.) A lot of research suggests tipping points are a real threat, so climate sensitivity in the models should be high. But the DICE model assumes climate sensitivity is only modest. So Stern and Dietz also included a greater range of climate sensitivity metrics that reach higher.
Considerations of extreme risk. Another key issue in the modeling is how seriously to take unlikely-but-possible cases of extreme damage from unknown and unpredictable changes as the globe heats up. The models that DICE and IPCC rely upon take a relatively simplistic approach to estimating that risk, and thus the appropriate investments to avoid it. So Stern and Dietz took an updated approach to modeling the possibility of those extreme circumstances as well.
These limitations can deliver some ridiculous results. For instance, the traditional DICE model shows a global temperature rise of 18°C would only reduce the global economy by half. But scientists agree this is obviously wrong; such an extreme rise would almost certainly render the planet uninhabitable for humans.
“It is extremely important to understand the severe limitations of standard economic models, such as those cited in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which have made assumptions that simply do not reflect current knowledge about climate change and its potential impacts on the economy,” said Stern.
“Models that assume that catastrophic damages are not possible fail to take account of the magnitude of the issues and the implications of the science.”

Stern previously oversaw the creation of a landmark report for the British government, that calculated climate change could reduce the global economy by anywhere from 5 to 20 percent. Stern later concluded that report itself likely low-balled the risks, and he’s now working on an update that will likely be publishedthis September.

Indian Heat Wave Claims Hundreds Of Lives


Source: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/16/3449526/indian-heat-wave-death-toll/
The recent record-breaking heat wave that scorched much of India last week has claimed at least 169 lives in the state of Andhra Pradesh in the southeast of the country. In the state of Odisha to the north, officials announced Monday that the start of the school year would be delayed by at least 5 days in hopes that the current heatwave would break before students were crowded back into sweltering classrooms. The heatwave has, so far, claimed at least 26 lives in the state.
In Delhi, where temperatures topped 110°F for seven days straight, the death toll is uncertain, but as many as 79 of Delhi’s homeless may have succumbed to the extreme weather., according to the Centre of Holistic Development, a group working to end homelessness in the city.
The health impacts of the heat wave have been intensified by widespread and prolonged power outages limiting access to fans, AC and even water.
While extreme cold, like the Polar Vortex in the U.S. last winter, is often thought of as deadlier than extreme heat events, there is mounting evidence that as the climate changes, it is the heat, rather than the cold, that will claim the most lives. Scientists in the U.K., recently predicted that heat-related deaths in the country will rise by 257 percent by mid-century. For every 1°C rise in temperature, the researchers forecast a 2.1 percent increase in deaths. While a 1°C drop in temperature saw a similar 2 percent increase in mortality, the scientists noted that climate change is pushing the mercury up, not down. Cold weather-related deaths in the U.K. could thus be expected to decrease by 12 percent by the 2080s.
Hope for relief from the heat in India is on the horizon, as the monsoon rains are forecast to spread over much of the country this week. Monsoon rains made landfall in the western Indian city of Mumbai on Sunday.
The rains, which usually bring cooler weather starting around June 1, are late this year, prolonging the deadly heatwave and increasing the death toll.
The India Meteorological Department has predicted below average rains for the monsoon season this year. According to the department, there is a one in three chance that drought conditions will emerge later in the season. The monsoon usually runs from June to September. Eighty percent of the country’s precipitation falls during these months, intensifying the impacts of a poor monsoon season.
The increasing likelihood of the formation of the El Niño weather phenomenon also increases the chances of lower-than-average rainfall.

A weak monsoon could also affect India’s already fragile power supply as the country is heavily dependent on hydropower. Coal power also uses a great deal of water. In 2012, a weak monsoon season was partly responsible for a blackout that cut power to 600 million people.