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'Climate change is occurring all the time'

Aug 21, 2009

The urgency of climate change is such that instead of pointing fingers at each other we need to sit down and develop a pragmatic worldview, says economist and environmentalist Jeffrey Sachs. India needs to address its population problem to end the growing food, health and water problems, he adds.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University is considered a leading international economic adviser and has pioneered innovative approaches to economic development, poverty alleviation and enlightened globalisation.


He is special advisor to the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals and has held several other high-level advisory positions in the international sphere. He visits India as advisor to the National Rural Health Mission.

Excerpts from the interview:

Rashme Sehgal: What brings you to India?

Jeffrey Sachs: I am here as chair of an international advisory board for the ministry of health on the National Rural Health Mission. The aim is to devise steps by which primary healthcare in neglected areas can be improved.

RS: India has never invested enough in healthcare, has it?

JS: India has under-invested in health from the time of its independence. India needs to spend around $50 per capita to make sure minimum healthcare reaches the poor. India needs to end extreme poverty by 2020.

But as I have emphasised all along, you need to slow down on climate change, otherwise this would be disastrous for food crops. All this comes under the heading of sustainable development.

RS: Have we reached a point of no return as far as global warming is concerned?

JS: We have reached a point where global climate change is occurring all the time. We are witnessing extreme weather conditions as also a change of rainfall patterns which are bound to affect food productivity.

The extent will depend on the action we take to reverse this because we are still in a position to affect how severe the change will be.

RS: How vulnerable will India be to climate change?

JS: India is extremely vulnerable because it is home to 17% of the world’s population with less than 3% of the land area. It is in a very environmentally fragile position because water tables in this country are dropping sharply and this needs to be gotten under control.

We need to put the international politics of the situation aside and concentrate on some common truths. The poor across the globe lack the means to adjust because they live in the most fragile environmental conditions. They are therefore going to be the worst hit.

RS: You cannot absolve the richer nations of responsibility?

JS: Historically, the US must bear a disproportionate share of responsibility. A population size of 5% is emitting 30% of the world’s total greenhouse emissions. The US has not taken real action.

Nor has the Obama administration put forward any programme to explain how it plans to meet its target of 16% reduction in carbon emission on a 2005 baseline by 2020.

China has emerged as the largest emitter in the world and faces a problem of similar magnitude. India’s per person emission is less but because of the size of its population, India has emerged as the fourth largest emitter in the world.

The problem is that instead of pointing fingers at each other we need to say ‘Who should take the first step? Who will pay for it?’ We need to sit down and develop a pragmatic, easily implementable worldview.

RS: Isn’t that overall global strategy going to emerge in Copenhagen?

JS: I do not see nations reaching an agreement on climate change at the Copenhagen Climate Summit (scheduled for later this year). I do not see any major convergence of sensible strategies taking place (in Copenhagen) that will set us on course for the next ten years.

The fundamental mistake being made is that the problem of global warming is being treated as a matter of negotiation between nations rather than using global solving mechanisms to arrive at a conclusion. The more appropriate strategy is to take some modest steps by meeting month by month rather than converging in order to bring out a grand document only to reconvene ten years later.

To conduct the climate talks, we need to look at four diverse areas – mitigation, financing, adaptation and technology transfer.

RS: How do you see this technology transfer actually taking place?

JS: I believe most of the funding should go to the poorest countries. Middle-income nations should have access to technologies on an open IP basis, but they should not receive funding to implement this. Africa should be a significant recipient of funding while India should be a recipient of technological demonstration for implementing some of the higher-cost solutions.

RS: What other urgent steps do you recommend?

JS: I would introduce new policies to get poor countries to reverse deforestation. We must pay poor communities to keep forests intact. Once we start making these payments, we can tilt the scale to conservation because forests help reduce carbon emission. One-sixth of carbon emissions worldwide are taking place due to deforestation.

We also need to start two global trust funds – a mitigation fund by which we can transfer payments to those who adopt new emission technologies. We also need to set up a technology transfer fund. Climate resilience can be built up if we improve our water storage capacities worldwide.

RS: Increasing food prices are only going to heighten problems?

JS: Four things have led to this situation. The world population is growing while productivity of food has been on the decline. India had a green revolution in the ’60s. It now needs to have a second revolution. Energy prices have shot up and this has a major impact on food as it affects the price of fertilisers.

Food insecurity is on the rise. Developing nations need to reduce their fertility rate. This is especially true for India where the population is a major issue.

Source : Infochange
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