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Climate change: 'Lack of symbiosis between science and politics'

May 20, 2009

On the sidelines of a two-day national workshop organised by India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences in Pune, Shyam Saran, special envoy to the prime minister on climate change, elaborated, in an interview to OneWorld South Asia, on various issues that needed to be addressed immediately.

On May 18, India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences organised a two-day programme titled: ‘National Workshop on Climate Change: Status and Future Plans’ at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, Maharashtra.

Here are the excerpts:

OneWorld South Asia: How should India go about tackling the issue of climate change?

Shyam Saran: The most important factor for any real impact to take place is that scientists and politicians in the country should work in sync with each other to take decisive steps towards fighting the effects of global warming.

Shyam-Saran.jpgUnfortunately, there is no synergy in the scientific and political system to help devise proper solutions. This puts India at a disadvantage during discussions on the topic at global levels.

We should be prepared with updated scientific data while taking part in any negotiations so that we have a correct picture of the climate change impacting the world.

OWSA: Can you illustrate this with an example?

SS: We have, for instance, a large infrastructural network, which is not being put to proper use because of this lack of symbiosis between science and politics.

The defence sector has a vast set-up in the Ladakh region. They could collect the data related to climate change there and share it with the meteorological department.

This would help enhance the reach and purview of the data. Our scientists have done a lot of good work. Their research via the government networks should be used to benefit the public.

OWSA: How else can the data be put to effective use?

SS: All the information that we have on climate change lies scattered with different departments and agencies. Instead, it should all be digitised and made available to researchers so that they can take their projects further.

OWSA: Is carbon credit the right solution to tackle climate change?

SS: Carbon credit has suffered from recession and anyway it is not a perfect model to fight climate change. Instead, an environment assistance fund should be created by taxing carbon emitting countries.

This fund should then be utilised to help developing countries to deal with climate change and related problems. Looking at historical emissions of carbon dioxide from 1850 to 2000, it was the US that led with 30%, the European Union with 27.2%, and China with 7.3%, whilst India accounted for only 2%.

India’s stand in international negotiations is based on the simple principle: the polluter pays.

OWSA: What about the multilateral agreements taking place over the issue of climate change?

SS: My view is that India and other developing countries are not getting an equitable deal in the multilateral agreements. The discussions that are taking place at the global level appear to be politically motivated.

The logical path is that industrialised countries that are responsible for affecting climate conditions and the environment should definitely do more than other countries to bring about the required correction.

An issue as immediate as climate change should not, like the new nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), end up dividing the world into haves and have-nots.

Instead, the Kyoto Protocol which has asked all developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions should be adopted as the benchmark for nation states.

OWSA: Will options like solar energy and reduction in burning of fossil fuel help?

SS: These are good options but options like solar energy and other green gas sources are not economically feasible in India as yet. Also, we cannot bring about a drastic reduction in the burning of fossil fuels immediately. As such, there has to be larger mix of various options to tackle climate change.

OWSA: How serious is India about climate change?

SS: It has been calculated that India is spending 2-2.5% of its GDP on adaptation to climate change. We have been working on the Bali Action Plan of 2007 which reaffirms all the UN Framework Conventions. There are many factors that come into play.

For instance, our agriculture has to become more drought-resistant or else our food security will be affected. It is therefore our national responsibility that we immediately switch over to the sustainable development mode.

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