Sunday, February 04, 2007

India overheats

That's the cover headline of this week's Economist, but that's not what I'm talking about.

The planet is getting hotter. Nobody disputes that any more, very few scientists doubt that human emissions of greenhouse gases are a significant cause, and even George Bush had to make some concessions on this.

Where is India in all this? We were not part of the Kyoto agreement, and we were absent from a meeting called by France yesterday, where 45 countries participated.

With a billion people, of which 300 million are living middle-class lifestyles comparable to those in developed countries, India is clearly important for any progress on this issue. Moreover, India stands to lose more than most European countries from global warming: a rise of three degrees will make our summers intolerable, and a rise in ocean levels will be catastrophic for millions living on our coastline. And it's not just "global warming", it's "climate change". We can expect erratic monsoons, cyclones, and various other kinds of havoc.

Even if we accept the argument that India, as a developing country, shouldn't be tied down by caps on emission just yet, why can't we invest in research on cleaner technologies for the future? For that matter, why can't we support the clean technologies we already have?

Take the most visible cause of pollution, transport. In Delhi, public transport has switched to CNG, thanks to the Supreme Court stepping in. In other cities, autos and buses are the most significant polluters. Train or metro transport within most cities is virtually non-existent.

What about electric vehicles? We already have Reva, the world's leading manufacturer of electric cars. "Leading" is a relative term: Reva have sold about 1600 cars, most of which are exported -- 600 in London alone (where they're sold under the G-Wiz name). That's still much better than any other manufacturer in the world. In India, they have sold about 500 in Bangalore, but very few in other cities. Part of the drawback is the cost, which is around the same as a larger petrol-driven car. Surely the solution is obvious -- give the Reva significant tax breaks. (Part of the reason for its success in London is that it's exempt from London's congestion charge and, in many places, from parking charges.) But Reva has received essentially no encouragement from the Indian government (this is in contrast to several foreign governments).

What about polluting industries? Yesterday Rediff had an article on how Firozabad's glass industry has declined; the headline blames it on Chinese imports, but the article itself states that the decline started earlier, when -- because of the town's proximity to Agra -- the Supreme Court demanded that polluting technologies (coke and coal) be banned, and the industries not only received no help in switching to gas furnaces, but did not even receive an adequate supply of gas.

What about power generation? We have a severe shortfall, with the result that millions of inefficient, polluting diesel generators are running at any time all over the country. No serious industry can operate without its own private backup power supply.

In the west, industries formerly hostile to pollution controls are now lobbying for government regulation. I hope that begins to happen here too. Pollution and global warming aren't someone else's problem. We in India will be among the first victims.

In fact, it's already happening. The first inhabited island to have entirely disappeared beneath rising seas was Indian.


Ro said...

wherever i go, from kibber in spiti to palampur and mcleod ganj in kangra, people have been talking about global warming. not that they're very educated and talking from the news stories, but from their own personal observations. less snow for the past couple of years and the snow line going higher each year.

climate change and global warming is here and happening right here, right now.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I'm not surprised -- our villagers are observant. Thanks to Katrina, even Americans are noticing the new extremes of weather. So why can't we do something about it?

It's a tragedy of the commons... every country thinks it's not their problem.

Anonymous said...

well as this stanford university don thinks the India-US deal can do good for the global warming
David Victor, Director, Program on Energy and Sustainable development, Stanford University

* The Indian nuclear deal: Implications for global climate change,
http://pesd. stanford. edu/publications /india_nuclear_ deal/