Author: Nivedita Khandekar

About Nivedita Khandekar

Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

Starvation may force nations to war

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

Sand and dust storms pose global threat

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

Desert treaty steps up fight for degraded land

Degraded land − drought − the spread of the world’s deserts: that’s the challenge for a UN conference starting in Delhi.

DELHI, 2 September, 2019 − The battle to halt the march of deserts across the world and the spread of degraded land, which lead to mass migration, is the focus of 169 countries meeting in India from today.

The annual United Nations climate change convention, held every year,  receives massive media coverage. In contrast the UN Convention to Combat Desertification meets once every two years to combat the spread of deserts, land degradation and drought. Its success is vital for more than half the world’s population. But it gets little attention.

Four out of five hectares of land on the planet have been altered from their natural state by humans. Much of this alteration has been damaging, making the land less fertile and productive.

This degrading of land and the spread of deserts are already affecting 3.2 billion people, mostly in the poorer parts of the world. The UN says this degradation, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

Four years ago the parties to the convention agreed to reverse the continuing loss of fertile land and to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. So far 120 of the 169 countries affected have come up with plans for how to reduce the risk of degradation and where to recover degrading land (known as LDN targets in the conference jargon).

“This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries”

Although Africa usually springs to mind as one of the continents worst affected, much of South Asia with its recurring floods, droughts and other extreme weather events is facing a range of problems related to land. Coastal areas right up to the Himalayas suffer land degradation, and the problem involves all the governments in the region.

India, host to this year’s conference, has a major problem, with 30% of its land affected. It has 2.5% of the Earth’s land area, yet supports 18% of its total human population and roughly 20% of its livestock. But 96.4 million hectares (almost 240m acres)of India’s land is classed as degraded, nearly 30% of its total geographical area.

A study published in 2018 by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) for the government of India put the cost of the country’s desertification and land degradation at 2.5% of India’s GDP (2014-15).

This year a robust response is planned. “To fight this menace, India will convert degraded land of nearly 50 lakh (5m) hectares to fertile land in the next 10 years; it will implement the provisions of the New Delhi Declaration which is to be adopted at the end of the conference,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change told the Climate News Network.

The land due for conversion is just 5.2% of India’s total degraded land, but the minister hinted that the target could go up before the conference’s final declaration is agreed on 13 September.

Demanding target

Another south-east Asian country, Sri Lanka, has arid parts which are drying out further, and wetter regions which are becoming wetter as erratic rains and high temperatures have made the soil vulnerable.

“Sri Lanka has about one-fifth of land which is either degraded or showing signs of degradation,” said Ajith Silva of the environment ministry. “We are carrying out various government schemes that have a focus on soil conservation in plains and watershed management in hill areas,” Silva told the Climate News Network.

Sri Lanka has set a target to restore and improve degraded forest: 80% in the dry zone and 20% in the wet zone. Just as in Sri Lanka and India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh also have targets and programmes aimed at land restoration.

While governments have targets, local people, realising the dangers to their way of life, are acting independently and taking their own actions to save their land. Dhrupad Choudhury, of ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, said: “Many good things are taking place across these countries. But apart from government efforts, those that happen at the community or village levels are not recognised.”

Across South Asia most government programmes are planned top-down, with almost no community partnership. Without ownership by the community, an important stakeholder, these remain poorly implemented. Many NGOs, on the other hand, do it right.

Rich world uninvolved

There is some resentment among the countries affected by desertification that their plight gets scant attention and very little finance from the richer states untroubled by deserts. An official of one of the South Asian nations commented: “This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries.”

Javadekar, the Indian minister, said he believed there should be public finance from the developed world for land restoration. But to help to plug the gap he announced plans for a Centre of Excellence for Capacity Building of Developing Countries, to be created in India to help developing countries to achieve land degradation neutrality, with India offering training to other countries on financing solutions.

To try to move things along, the convention has already adopted a gender action plan and is working on innovative financing opportunities and ways to improve communications.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to make an appearance at the 14th Conference of the Parties, as the Delhi meeting is formally known.

With the New Delhi Declaration due to be announced, India has already said it will, as the host of the conference and during its two years as the convention’s president, lead from the front to ensure its goals are achieved. − Climate News Network

Degraded land − drought − the spread of the world’s deserts: that’s the challenge for a UN conference starting in Delhi.

DELHI, 2 September, 2019 − The battle to halt the march of deserts across the world and the spread of degraded land, which lead to mass migration, is the focus of 169 countries meeting in India from today.

The annual United Nations climate change convention, held every year,  receives massive media coverage. In contrast the UN Convention to Combat Desertification meets once every two years to combat the spread of deserts, land degradation and drought. Its success is vital for more than half the world’s population. But it gets little attention.

Four out of five hectares of land on the planet have been altered from their natural state by humans. Much of this alteration has been damaging, making the land less fertile and productive.

This degrading of land and the spread of deserts are already affecting 3.2 billion people, mostly in the poorer parts of the world. The UN says this degradation, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

Four years ago the parties to the convention agreed to reverse the continuing loss of fertile land and to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. So far 120 of the 169 countries affected have come up with plans for how to reduce the risk of degradation and where to recover degrading land (known as LDN targets in the conference jargon).

“This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries”

Although Africa usually springs to mind as one of the continents worst affected, much of South Asia with its recurring floods, droughts and other extreme weather events is facing a range of problems related to land. Coastal areas right up to the Himalayas suffer land degradation, and the problem involves all the governments in the region.

India, host to this year’s conference, has a major problem, with 30% of its land affected. It has 2.5% of the Earth’s land area, yet supports 18% of its total human population and roughly 20% of its livestock. But 96.4 million hectares (almost 240m acres)of India’s land is classed as degraded, nearly 30% of its total geographical area.

A study published in 2018 by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) for the government of India put the cost of the country’s desertification and land degradation at 2.5% of India’s GDP (2014-15).

This year a robust response is planned. “To fight this menace, India will convert degraded land of nearly 50 lakh (5m) hectares to fertile land in the next 10 years; it will implement the provisions of the New Delhi Declaration which is to be adopted at the end of the conference,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change told the Climate News Network.

The land due for conversion is just 5.2% of India’s total degraded land, but the minister hinted that the target could go up before the conference’s final declaration is agreed on 13 September.

Demanding target

Another south-east Asian country, Sri Lanka, has arid parts which are drying out further, and wetter regions which are becoming wetter as erratic rains and high temperatures have made the soil vulnerable.

“Sri Lanka has about one-fifth of land which is either degraded or showing signs of degradation,” said Ajith Silva of the environment ministry. “We are carrying out various government schemes that have a focus on soil conservation in plains and watershed management in hill areas,” Silva told the Climate News Network.

Sri Lanka has set a target to restore and improve degraded forest: 80% in the dry zone and 20% in the wet zone. Just as in Sri Lanka and India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh also have targets and programmes aimed at land restoration.

While governments have targets, local people, realising the dangers to their way of life, are acting independently and taking their own actions to save their land. Dhrupad Choudhury, of ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, said: “Many good things are taking place across these countries. But apart from government efforts, those that happen at the community or village levels are not recognised.”

Across South Asia most government programmes are planned top-down, with almost no community partnership. Without ownership by the community, an important stakeholder, these remain poorly implemented. Many NGOs, on the other hand, do it right.

Rich world uninvolved

There is some resentment among the countries affected by desertification that their plight gets scant attention and very little finance from the richer states untroubled by deserts. An official of one of the South Asian nations commented: “This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries.”

Javadekar, the Indian minister, said he believed there should be public finance from the developed world for land restoration. But to help to plug the gap he announced plans for a Centre of Excellence for Capacity Building of Developing Countries, to be created in India to help developing countries to achieve land degradation neutrality, with India offering training to other countries on financing solutions.

To try to move things along, the convention has already adopted a gender action plan and is working on innovative financing opportunities and ways to improve communications.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to make an appearance at the 14th Conference of the Parties, as the Delhi meeting is formally known.

With the New Delhi Declaration due to be announced, India has already said it will, as the host of the conference and during its two years as the convention’s president, lead from the front to ensure its goals are achieved. − Climate News Network

Indian army helps battle climate change

Soldiers of the Eco Task Force are playing a key role in forest, soil and water conservation to help India meet emissions reduction targets set at the Paris climate summit.

NEW DELHI, 30 May, 2016 – As part of its effort to improve forest cover and so soak up climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, the government in India has an unlikely partner – the Indian Army.

At the UN climate conference in Paris last December, India made enlarging and improving its forest cover a central part of its pledge on fighting climate change.

One of the many agencies – apart from the forest department – the government has recruited to carry out the work of forest improvement is a part of the Indian army known as the Eco Task Force (ETF).

According to India’s Ministry of Defence, units of the ETF have, over the last 30 years, already planted 65 million trees across the country. The ETF is also involved in rehabilitating degraded forests, conserving soils and managing water resources.

Forests act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up quantities of climate-changing carbon dioxide. When forests are destroyed, that stored CO2 is released into the atmosphere, adding to emissions of greenhouse gases and further exacerbating the problem of climate change.

Carbon sink

The total amount of CO2-equivalent at present stored in India’s forests is estimated to be more than 7 billion tonnes. As part of its commitment to meeting the targets put forward in Paris to fight climate change, India plans to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various greenhouse gases on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect (usually over a century).

Latest statistics contained in the India State of Forest Report 2015 indicate that the country has a total of just over 7 million square kilometres of forest cover – more than 21% of its geographical area. The government says it plans to increase this figure to 33%.

The area has seen a complete transformation,
with degraded forest land now returned
to an area of rich biodiversity”

The ETF is involved in a variety of projects, such as efforts to reclaim forest land polluted by illegal mining activities on the outskirts of New Delhi, the capital.

In the forests of the lower Himalayas near Mussoorie, in the state of Uttarakhand, it is attempting to rehabilitate severely degraded areas of woodland, and near Tezpur in the north-eastern state of Assam – part of the country that has experienced various insurgency outbreaks – it is trying to stop settlers encroaching on protected forest areas.

Assignments follow a similar pattern. In the first year, there is ground preparation and trees are planted. In the second year, a tree count is carried out and dead saplings are replaced. At the end of five years of monitoring developments, the area is handed over to the forest department.

At one ETF site in the Himalayan foothills in the north-east of the country, near the border separating the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, patches of forest are spread across a landscape dotted mainly with paddy fields and small clusters of houses. Villagers cut trees for firewood, and have also cleared stretches of forest for farming.

But, thanks to the efforts of a battalion of ETF soldiers, the area has seen a complete transformation, with degraded forest land now returned to an area of rich biodiversity.

Land parcels

“The area allotted is not a continuous stretch of land but small land parcels across the district handed over to us one after another,” says Colonel K S Jaggi, the battalion commander.

The land parcels vary in size and condition. The government’s forest department is consulted throughout the rehabilitation process – selecting species to be planted, helping raise awareness among local villagers of the importance of forest conservation, and dealing with flooding and other problems. Forest department personnel also help train the army units in forest conservation and management.

The ETF battalions were established in the early 1980s as part of a scheme to tackle forest problems, particularly in more remote areas, or in parts of the country with law and order problems.

The scheme – jointly implemented by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change – was the idea of Dr Norman Borlaug, the American Nobel laureate and biologist who is often referred to as the father of the green revolution. The scheme was later taken up by the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar, an independent journalist based in New Delhi, India, writes on environmental, developmental and climate change-related issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter @nivedita_Him

Soldiers of the Eco Task Force are playing a key role in forest, soil and water conservation to help India meet emissions reduction targets set at the Paris climate summit.

NEW DELHI, 30 May, 2016 – As part of its effort to improve forest cover and so soak up climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, the government in India has an unlikely partner – the Indian Army.

At the UN climate conference in Paris last December, India made enlarging and improving its forest cover a central part of its pledge on fighting climate change.

One of the many agencies – apart from the forest department – the government has recruited to carry out the work of forest improvement is a part of the Indian army known as the Eco Task Force (ETF).

According to India’s Ministry of Defence, units of the ETF have, over the last 30 years, already planted 65 million trees across the country. The ETF is also involved in rehabilitating degraded forests, conserving soils and managing water resources.

Forests act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up quantities of climate-changing carbon dioxide. When forests are destroyed, that stored CO2 is released into the atmosphere, adding to emissions of greenhouse gases and further exacerbating the problem of climate change.

Carbon sink

The total amount of CO2-equivalent at present stored in India’s forests is estimated to be more than 7 billion tonnes. As part of its commitment to meeting the targets put forward in Paris to fight climate change, India plans to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various greenhouse gases on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect (usually over a century).

Latest statistics contained in the India State of Forest Report 2015 indicate that the country has a total of just over 7 million square kilometres of forest cover – more than 21% of its geographical area. The government says it plans to increase this figure to 33%.

The area has seen a complete transformation,
with degraded forest land now returned
to an area of rich biodiversity”

The ETF is involved in a variety of projects, such as efforts to reclaim forest land polluted by illegal mining activities on the outskirts of New Delhi, the capital.

In the forests of the lower Himalayas near Mussoorie, in the state of Uttarakhand, it is attempting to rehabilitate severely degraded areas of woodland, and near Tezpur in the north-eastern state of Assam – part of the country that has experienced various insurgency outbreaks – it is trying to stop settlers encroaching on protected forest areas.

Assignments follow a similar pattern. In the first year, there is ground preparation and trees are planted. In the second year, a tree count is carried out and dead saplings are replaced. At the end of five years of monitoring developments, the area is handed over to the forest department.

At one ETF site in the Himalayan foothills in the north-east of the country, near the border separating the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, patches of forest are spread across a landscape dotted mainly with paddy fields and small clusters of houses. Villagers cut trees for firewood, and have also cleared stretches of forest for farming.

But, thanks to the efforts of a battalion of ETF soldiers, the area has seen a complete transformation, with degraded forest land now returned to an area of rich biodiversity.

Land parcels

“The area allotted is not a continuous stretch of land but small land parcels across the district handed over to us one after another,” says Colonel K S Jaggi, the battalion commander.

The land parcels vary in size and condition. The government’s forest department is consulted throughout the rehabilitation process – selecting species to be planted, helping raise awareness among local villagers of the importance of forest conservation, and dealing with flooding and other problems. Forest department personnel also help train the army units in forest conservation and management.

The ETF battalions were established in the early 1980s as part of a scheme to tackle forest problems, particularly in more remote areas, or in parts of the country with law and order problems.

The scheme – jointly implemented by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change – was the idea of Dr Norman Borlaug, the American Nobel laureate and biologist who is often referred to as the father of the green revolution. The scheme was later taken up by the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar, an independent journalist based in New Delhi, India, writes on environmental, developmental and climate change-related issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter @nivedita_Him

Sun’s lifeline for remote Indian hospitals

An experiment using solar panels to provide electric power so that blood banks can be run in rural areas could save many thousands of lives across India.

NEW DELHI, 15 April, 2016 − The perennial problem of power cuts in India makes the storing of blood for transfusions virtually impossible in rural areas, forcing seriously ill patients to travel many miles for treatment. But now an experiment with solar power in a remote Himalayan hospital has changed that.

The erratic electricity supply in the Ziro Valley’s Hapoli general hospital, in the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India, meant that its blood bank could not operate as its stock needs to be kept at a constant 2°C to 6°C.

The hospital, at an altitude of 5,357 feet, is about five-hour drive away from the state capital, Itanagar. The area is heavily dependent on the central grid as it does not produce enough of its own power, and many areas in the mountains are still without any electricity supply.

But with India rapidly increasing the use of solar power to meet its climate change commitments, costs are coming down, so Hapoli hospital decided to experiment to see if it could use solar electricity to get a stable supply to store blood and also to carry out the necessary tests to screen for diseases.

Medical facilities

The blood bank was started in October last year with a private sponsor for a five-kilowatt solar power system. It provided enough power to make blood tests and storage possible, and the idea is now being extended within this hospital and in many other more remote medical facilities across India.

Dr Joram Khopey, the blood bank officer at Hapoli hospital, says: “Screening tests for transfusion-transmissible infections − especially HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and malarial parasites − are carried out before blood is okayed for transfusion. The results take three days and, with no refrigeration, it would not be possible to store the collected blood units for future use.”

Before the blood bank started, patients were referred to a tertiary care hospital if they needed blood, and that meant at least half a day’s journey. So many went directly to hospitals in bigger towns in the neighbouring state.

“Solar energy can be a good option to run those blood banks waiting for power. We can now aim for more blood banks across the country”

With the solar-powered facility, the local population can now look forward to not having to send patients − including pregnant women needing Caesarian sections − to faraway places because of the lack of blood stocks.

Not that the idea caught on instantly. Only four people came forward at a blood donation camp held last December. But more volunteered later and, by January, a total of 14 units of blood were received. Five of these were used in transfusions, so the project was deemed a success.

Dr K Horming, medical superintendent at Hapoli hospital, says: “The government has now sanctioned solar panels for 10 kilowatt power generation for the hospital’s delivery, emergency, immunisation, occupational therapy, and the nurses’ rooms.”

In addition, the Arunachal Pradesh state government has incorporated plans for solar-powered blood banks for its two general hospitals and 13 district hospitals. “We have already sanctioned funds for it in the 2016-17 budget,” says Ramesh Negi, Arunachal Pradesh’s chief secretary.

Good option

Of the 650 districts in India, about 60 do not have a blood bank because of lack of electricity or human resources. But that will now change.

Dr Apurba Ghosh, secretary general of the Federation of Blood Donor Organisations of India, says: “Solar energy can be a good option to run those blood banks waiting for power among these 60 districts. We can now aim for more blood banks across the country.”

India has 2,760 recognised blood banks for a population of approximately 1.25 billion, and most of the blood banks are in urban or metropolitan centres.

Mobile solar panels can also be used for cooling blood in donation camps held in rural areas.

The Indian government has endorsed this idea. Dr Manisha Srivastava, a member of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Technical Resource Group on blood transfusion, says: “This will be really useful for remote areas, which have a perennial power shortage.

“The blood storage centres in the plains will be run on solar energy (using portable photovoltaic panels), and for those in the hills there can be a combination of solar and ice-lined boxes.” – Climate News Network

An experiment using solar panels to provide electric power so that blood banks can be run in rural areas could save many thousands of lives across India.

NEW DELHI, 15 April, 2016 − The perennial problem of power cuts in India makes the storing of blood for transfusions virtually impossible in rural areas, forcing seriously ill patients to travel many miles for treatment. But now an experiment with solar power in a remote Himalayan hospital has changed that.

The erratic electricity supply in the Ziro Valley’s Hapoli general hospital, in the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India, meant that its blood bank could not operate as its stock needs to be kept at a constant 2°C to 6°C.

The hospital, at an altitude of 5,357 feet, is about five-hour drive away from the state capital, Itanagar. The area is heavily dependent on the central grid as it does not produce enough of its own power, and many areas in the mountains are still without any electricity supply.

But with India rapidly increasing the use of solar power to meet its climate change commitments, costs are coming down, so Hapoli hospital decided to experiment to see if it could use solar electricity to get a stable supply to store blood and also to carry out the necessary tests to screen for diseases.

Medical facilities

The blood bank was started in October last year with a private sponsor for a five-kilowatt solar power system. It provided enough power to make blood tests and storage possible, and the idea is now being extended within this hospital and in many other more remote medical facilities across India.

Dr Joram Khopey, the blood bank officer at Hapoli hospital, says: “Screening tests for transfusion-transmissible infections − especially HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and malarial parasites − are carried out before blood is okayed for transfusion. The results take three days and, with no refrigeration, it would not be possible to store the collected blood units for future use.”

Before the blood bank started, patients were referred to a tertiary care hospital if they needed blood, and that meant at least half a day’s journey. So many went directly to hospitals in bigger towns in the neighbouring state.

“Solar energy can be a good option to run those blood banks waiting for power. We can now aim for more blood banks across the country”

With the solar-powered facility, the local population can now look forward to not having to send patients − including pregnant women needing Caesarian sections − to faraway places because of the lack of blood stocks.

Not that the idea caught on instantly. Only four people came forward at a blood donation camp held last December. But more volunteered later and, by January, a total of 14 units of blood were received. Five of these were used in transfusions, so the project was deemed a success.

Dr K Horming, medical superintendent at Hapoli hospital, says: “The government has now sanctioned solar panels for 10 kilowatt power generation for the hospital’s delivery, emergency, immunisation, occupational therapy, and the nurses’ rooms.”

In addition, the Arunachal Pradesh state government has incorporated plans for solar-powered blood banks for its two general hospitals and 13 district hospitals. “We have already sanctioned funds for it in the 2016-17 budget,” says Ramesh Negi, Arunachal Pradesh’s chief secretary.

Good option

Of the 650 districts in India, about 60 do not have a blood bank because of lack of electricity or human resources. But that will now change.

Dr Apurba Ghosh, secretary general of the Federation of Blood Donor Organisations of India, says: “Solar energy can be a good option to run those blood banks waiting for power among these 60 districts. We can now aim for more blood banks across the country.”

India has 2,760 recognised blood banks for a population of approximately 1.25 billion, and most of the blood banks are in urban or metropolitan centres.

Mobile solar panels can also be used for cooling blood in donation camps held in rural areas.

The Indian government has endorsed this idea. Dr Manisha Srivastava, a member of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Technical Resource Group on blood transfusion, says: “This will be really useful for remote areas, which have a perennial power shortage.

“The blood storage centres in the plains will be run on solar energy (using portable photovoltaic panels), and for those in the hills there can be a combination of solar and ice-lined boxes.” – Climate News Network

Solar club builds up powerful alliance 

Indian and French leaders fulfil pledges made at the Paris climate talks to help 122 solar-rich nations reach their potential in renewable energy production.

New Delhi, 27 January, 2016 − The foundation stone of a new solar power club of 122 nations has been laid in Gurgaon, India, by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the French President, François Hollande − cementing an agreement the two leaders made at the Paris climate talks last December.

The idea of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), which promises a massive increase in investment in solar power in the tropics, started with the coming together of countries between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn that have 300-plus days of sunshine a year.

For all of them, solar power is potentially the cheapest form of generating electricity. And the plan is to provide electricity to millions of people who do not have access to power at present, while at the same time preventing the building of dozens of power plants that burn fossil fuels.

Foundation stone

The ISA will be an inter-governmental body on the lines of the UN, with headquarters in India. This building will be on a five-acre plot of land at the National Institute of Solar Energy campus at Gurgaon, Haryana.

At the laying of the foundation stone, the two heads of state – President Hollande was in New Delhi as the chief guest for India’s Republic Day Parade yesterday – reiterated their commitment to the development of solar energy.

Modi has already proved to be a solar enthusiast, with more than 5,000 megawatts of installed capacity in India − the equivalent of five of the largest type of coal-fired plants.

He says: “If fossil fuel is used, it adds to global warming. If not used, the world would plunge into darkness. But the entire world says we need to reduce the temperature. The need is for alternative, sustainable and affordable energy.

“One of the ways to reduce temperature here is to use the sun’s temperature. We need to use one form of energy to fight the negative effects of another form of energy.”

Hollande praised the idea of the Alliance, which he described as “India’s gift to the world for combating climate change”. He said it “came from a country where, for millennia, yoga practitioners have greeted the sun every morning so that it shares its energy with the Earth.

“The challenge now is to raise at a global level the €1,200 billion in investment required to develop this energy by 2030. The aim is for 1,000 gigawatts to be installed over the next 10 years.”

“India’s electricity will grow threefold by 2030, but its non-fossil electricity sources will grow fourfold”

Hollande also listed the expectations from the Solar Alliance: pooling the demand for high potential countries to bring down financial costs; harmonising and opening up the solar markets to reduce the cost of investment; and, most important, enabling the necessary technology transfer between developed and developing countries.

The Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency and the Solar Energy Corporation of India each announced a $1 million donation to finance the new ISA headquarters and towards its running costs for five years.

Over the same period, the French Development Agency will allocate €300 million to developing solar energy in order to finance the initial projects.

Emission intensity

Continuing development of solar is important for India, which has 17% of the world population and is the third largest polluter, after the US and China.

India’s climate plan, published last year, promised to reduce the emission intensity of the country’s gross domestic product by 33%-35 % by 2030 from 2005 levels. It is aiming at 40% cumulative power from renewables by 2030, including a target of 100 GW of solar energy by 2022.

So how are these developments and plans expected to change India’s energy mix?

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, explains: “India’s electricity will grow threefold by 2030, but its non-fossil electricity sources will grow fourfold.

“This means that there will be proportionately faster deployment of non-fossil (including solar) energy than coal or gas-based power. This transformation will be reflected in reduced emissions (against business as usual scenarios) and reduced emissions intensity of GDP.” – Climate News Network

Indian and French leaders fulfil pledges made at the Paris climate talks to help 122 solar-rich nations reach their potential in renewable energy production.

New Delhi, 27 January, 2016 − The foundation stone of a new solar power club of 122 nations has been laid in Gurgaon, India, by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the French President, François Hollande − cementing an agreement the two leaders made at the Paris climate talks last December.

The idea of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), which promises a massive increase in investment in solar power in the tropics, started with the coming together of countries between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn that have 300-plus days of sunshine a year.

For all of them, solar power is potentially the cheapest form of generating electricity. And the plan is to provide electricity to millions of people who do not have access to power at present, while at the same time preventing the building of dozens of power plants that burn fossil fuels.

Foundation stone

The ISA will be an inter-governmental body on the lines of the UN, with headquarters in India. This building will be on a five-acre plot of land at the National Institute of Solar Energy campus at Gurgaon, Haryana.

At the laying of the foundation stone, the two heads of state – President Hollande was in New Delhi as the chief guest for India’s Republic Day Parade yesterday – reiterated their commitment to the development of solar energy.

Modi has already proved to be a solar enthusiast, with more than 5,000 megawatts of installed capacity in India − the equivalent of five of the largest type of coal-fired plants.

He says: “If fossil fuel is used, it adds to global warming. If not used, the world would plunge into darkness. But the entire world says we need to reduce the temperature. The need is for alternative, sustainable and affordable energy.

“One of the ways to reduce temperature here is to use the sun’s temperature. We need to use one form of energy to fight the negative effects of another form of energy.”

Hollande praised the idea of the Alliance, which he described as “India’s gift to the world for combating climate change”. He said it “came from a country where, for millennia, yoga practitioners have greeted the sun every morning so that it shares its energy with the Earth.

“The challenge now is to raise at a global level the €1,200 billion in investment required to develop this energy by 2030. The aim is for 1,000 gigawatts to be installed over the next 10 years.”

“India’s electricity will grow threefold by 2030, but its non-fossil electricity sources will grow fourfold”

Hollande also listed the expectations from the Solar Alliance: pooling the demand for high potential countries to bring down financial costs; harmonising and opening up the solar markets to reduce the cost of investment; and, most important, enabling the necessary technology transfer between developed and developing countries.

The Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency and the Solar Energy Corporation of India each announced a $1 million donation to finance the new ISA headquarters and towards its running costs for five years.

Over the same period, the French Development Agency will allocate €300 million to developing solar energy in order to finance the initial projects.

Emission intensity

Continuing development of solar is important for India, which has 17% of the world population and is the third largest polluter, after the US and China.

India’s climate plan, published last year, promised to reduce the emission intensity of the country’s gross domestic product by 33%-35 % by 2030 from 2005 levels. It is aiming at 40% cumulative power from renewables by 2030, including a target of 100 GW of solar energy by 2022.

So how are these developments and plans expected to change India’s energy mix?

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, explains: “India’s electricity will grow threefold by 2030, but its non-fossil electricity sources will grow fourfold.

“This means that there will be proportionately faster deployment of non-fossil (including solar) energy than coal or gas-based power. This transformation will be reflected in reduced emissions (against business as usual scenarios) and reduced emissions intensity of GDP.” – Climate News Network

India faces trillion-dollar climate squeeze

COP21: Tackling the often devastating impacts of climate change is a challenge that India says will require a massive injection of funding between now and 2030.

NEW DELHI, 8 December, 2015 – The floods that have devastated the state of Tamil Nadu are a stark reminder that while India’s priority is development, it also needs to spend prodigious sums on adaptation to climate change.

A study by the country’s own experts shows that there are 800 million people living in areas where the temperature has already risen by 2°C, and where increasingly serious flooding is now a fact of life.

The report published in New Delhi came as India was announcing at the COP21 climate summit in Paris that it is launching the International Solar Alliance, a club of 120 countries aiming to boost the use of solar power

Even if this initiative succeeds, experts point out that India would still need more than US$1 trillion between now and 2030 to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Extreme events

The report says: “Government spending on developing capacity and adaptation in India has grown consistently over the last decade, and a mammoth US$91.8 billion was spent on adaptation in 2013-14 alone. This spending would have to reach US$360 billion (at 2005 prices) by 2030. The loss and damage from extreme events were estimated additionally at US$5-6 billion per annum.”

The study identifies India’s preliminary financial, technology and knowledge gaps in adaptation to climate change. It was jointly conducted by the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water thinktank.

As many as 800 million people living across 450 districts of India are currently experiencing significant increases in annual mean temperatures, exceeding warming of 2°C, the study said.

They warned: “India as a whole will experience 1°-1.5°C in mean annual temperatures from 2016 to 2045, which can have profound implications for agriculture and crop production. Extreme precipitation can result in flooding and significant damage to infrastructure.”

Before the Paris summit, India continually stressed the “polluter pays” principle, arguing that the industrialised countries that caused climate change should help the developing countries to adapt financially.

“India as a whole will experience 1°-1.5°C in mean annual
temperatures from 2016 to 2045, which can have
profound implications for agriculture
and crop production

Adaptation and the money pledged by the rich countries to pay for it are key areas of negotiation during the Paris negotiations. The richer countries are reluctant to help countries such as India, which they say are generating large incomes of their own. They say they would prefer to help the poorest nations.

But both Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment and climate change minister, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi say that developed countries have to come forward to provide new and additional financial resources for technology transfer to plug India’s adaptation gap.

The launch of the International Solar Alliance – with the Indian government paying to set up its secretariat in India – will help to disarm some of the country’s critics. But many are aware that India also wants to exploit its coal reserves, and rich countries continue to urge the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases to cut down further on emissions.

National plans

However, India’s central government has trouble administering such a vast and complex country. Because of the federal structure, a lot of the measures aimed at mitigating and adapting to climate change effects − such as in disaster management − hinge on the actions of India’s 36 states and union territories.

The importance of devolving national plans to state levels was pointed out by Chandra Bhushan, deputy director at the Centre for Science and Environment, a major thinktank based in New Delhi.

He said: “Linkage between national and state action plans is too poor. The state action plans were prepared on the basis of the National Action Plan of 2008, which does not reflect enough topics, such as renewables and forestry management.”

The former director of the Geological Survey of India, VK Joshi, drove home the point by using as an example his home state, Uttar Pradesh, which has two major rivers − the Ganga, partially glacier-fed, and the Gomati, which relies on groundwater.

He said: “Even when the state government can and should, there is no check on groundwater withdrawal. The rainfall pattern in Uttar Pradesh is already erratic because of the changing climate and tomorrow there would be no water to recharge the ground table. What happens to the huge population then?” – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a New Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues.
    Email: 
    nivedita_him@rediffmail.com Twitter: @nivedita_Him

COP21: Tackling the often devastating impacts of climate change is a challenge that India says will require a massive injection of funding between now and 2030.

NEW DELHI, 8 December, 2015 – The floods that have devastated the state of Tamil Nadu are a stark reminder that while India’s priority is development, it also needs to spend prodigious sums on adaptation to climate change.

A study by the country’s own experts shows that there are 800 million people living in areas where the temperature has already risen by 2°C, and where increasingly serious flooding is now a fact of life.

The report published in New Delhi came as India was announcing at the COP21 climate summit in Paris that it is launching the International Solar Alliance, a club of 120 countries aiming to boost the use of solar power

Even if this initiative succeeds, experts point out that India would still need more than US$1 trillion between now and 2030 to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Extreme events

The report says: “Government spending on developing capacity and adaptation in India has grown consistently over the last decade, and a mammoth US$91.8 billion was spent on adaptation in 2013-14 alone. This spending would have to reach US$360 billion (at 2005 prices) by 2030. The loss and damage from extreme events were estimated additionally at US$5-6 billion per annum.”

The study identifies India’s preliminary financial, technology and knowledge gaps in adaptation to climate change. It was jointly conducted by the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water thinktank.

As many as 800 million people living across 450 districts of India are currently experiencing significant increases in annual mean temperatures, exceeding warming of 2°C, the study said.

They warned: “India as a whole will experience 1°-1.5°C in mean annual temperatures from 2016 to 2045, which can have profound implications for agriculture and crop production. Extreme precipitation can result in flooding and significant damage to infrastructure.”

Before the Paris summit, India continually stressed the “polluter pays” principle, arguing that the industrialised countries that caused climate change should help the developing countries to adapt financially.

“India as a whole will experience 1°-1.5°C in mean annual
temperatures from 2016 to 2045, which can have
profound implications for agriculture
and crop production

Adaptation and the money pledged by the rich countries to pay for it are key areas of negotiation during the Paris negotiations. The richer countries are reluctant to help countries such as India, which they say are generating large incomes of their own. They say they would prefer to help the poorest nations.

But both Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment and climate change minister, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi say that developed countries have to come forward to provide new and additional financial resources for technology transfer to plug India’s adaptation gap.

The launch of the International Solar Alliance – with the Indian government paying to set up its secretariat in India – will help to disarm some of the country’s critics. But many are aware that India also wants to exploit its coal reserves, and rich countries continue to urge the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases to cut down further on emissions.

National plans

However, India’s central government has trouble administering such a vast and complex country. Because of the federal structure, a lot of the measures aimed at mitigating and adapting to climate change effects − such as in disaster management − hinge on the actions of India’s 36 states and union territories.

The importance of devolving national plans to state levels was pointed out by Chandra Bhushan, deputy director at the Centre for Science and Environment, a major thinktank based in New Delhi.

He said: “Linkage between national and state action plans is too poor. The state action plans were prepared on the basis of the National Action Plan of 2008, which does not reflect enough topics, such as renewables and forestry management.”

The former director of the Geological Survey of India, VK Joshi, drove home the point by using as an example his home state, Uttar Pradesh, which has two major rivers − the Ganga, partially glacier-fed, and the Gomati, which relies on groundwater.

He said: “Even when the state government can and should, there is no check on groundwater withdrawal. The rainfall pattern in Uttar Pradesh is already erratic because of the changing climate and tomorrow there would be no water to recharge the ground table. What happens to the huge population then?” – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a New Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues.
    Email: 
    nivedita_him@rediffmail.com Twitter: @nivedita_Him

Forests move centre stage in India’s climate plan

India, the world’s third-largest polluter, is planning to balance development with environment protection as it tackles climate change.

NEW DELHI, 23 September, 2015 – India is to put forests at the centre of its plans to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by encouraging more “green cover” and reducing the carbon intensity of its development.

India comes behind China and the United States in the most polluting countries’ list and defends its record by saying that emissions per capita are far below most developed countries’, and its priority is still to lift millions of citizens out of poverty.

However, the country has 13 of the 20 most-polluted cities on the planet, according to the World Health Organisation, and for that reason alone it needs to cut down on fossil fuel use.

The government is expected to announce its long-awaited national plan to reduce emissions ahead of the 1 October deadline set by the United NationsThese plans, known in UN jargon as Intended Nationally Determined  Contributions (INDCs), must be produced by all countries so that scientists can assess whether their sum total is enough to keep the world from overheating by 2°C – the limit agreed by politicians to prevent dangerous climate change.

Promising a “new prescription” from India to reduce greenhouse gases, Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, said the country’s plans would go ahead whatever the outcome of the UN’s climate talks.

He expressed disappointment that the recent preparatory talks in Bonn had not made more progress ahead of the summit in Paris in December which is designed to produce an international agreement to reduce world emissions beyond 2020.

Dual strategy

He said: “We want to clean our air, our water, our environment, so we are addressing a  challenge which takes care of our climate change mitigation and adaptation measures as well.

“India has already started reducing emission intensity, reducing the energy intensity of development, increasing energy efficiency and also increasing the forest cover (to take more carbon out of the atmosphere). We are also having more renewables.”

One of the important subsidiary agreements on the agenda of the climate talks is about preserving the world’s forests, and India is putting great emphasis on this. Called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), it allows for replanting existing forests and preserving them from logging to be counted as part of a countrys efforts to reduce its emissions.

“Our national plan will give you a new prescription from India on this issue. We will grow our forests, we will raise our forests, we will raise our carbon sinks … we will raise our benefits. We want to have more green cover,” Javadekar told the Climate News Network.

“I have a definite plan for the next 15 years. The forest quality will improve. We will improve it with people’s participation, with innovation, with technology, with many things.”

Suspicious

Despite his enthusiasm and promise of public participation, environment groups are suspicious of the proposed guidelines from the environment ministry (MoEF) stipulating that 40 % of “identified” degraded forests could be leased to private companies for plantations.

Pravin Mote and Debjit Nandi of the All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM) claimed the “ambitious corporatised plantation programme” will be used to greenwash India’s emphasis on coal mining and the continuing use of coal as the primary source of electricity.

“The proposed private plantations can also be used in the dubious game of domestic carbon trading. This will feature as a REDD+ activity because it will help restock the depleting carbon stores in degraded forests.

“But in reality, the plantations will disempower and dispossess people, not only through land grab but also by promoting new mining throughout our forests,” the Forum said in a statement.

India has undertaken to reduce its emission intensity by 20-25% by 2020 compared with 15 years ago. In December 2014 it launched its ambitious solar power programme which aims to provide 100 GW by 2022. It also has plans to harness other renewables, including wind.

Incurious

Javadekar claimed not a single country had asked when India’s emissions would peak, although China is committed to 2030 and with the US has agreed that both will converge at 14 tons of CO2 per capita.  

He said India would not have reached even two tonnes per capita by 2030, and emissions per head would always be less than the average in the developed world, which needed to do more on finance and technology for the poorer countries.

But environmental activists claim that India can always do much more. “Without disturbing its developmental interests, India can always increase its emission trajectory and maintain its leadership position for the developing countries,” said Ajay K. Jha, coordinator of the countrys Beyond Copenhagen Collective

And a new study, Assessing the missed benefits of countries’ national contributions, by the NewClimate Institute, says that with an increased emission reduction target India can save much more on fossil fuel, cut premature deaths caused by pollution,  and create green jobs.

Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), said: “If India is supported by rich countries to act in line with its full potential, then it can continue to build on its emerging plan to secure a sustainable development pathway for the country that lifts its most vulnerable out of poverty.” – Climate News Network

India, the world’s third-largest polluter, is planning to balance development with environment protection as it tackles climate change.

NEW DELHI, 23 September, 2015 – India is to put forests at the centre of its plans to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by encouraging more “green cover” and reducing the carbon intensity of its development.

India comes behind China and the United States in the most polluting countries’ list and defends its record by saying that emissions per capita are far below most developed countries’, and its priority is still to lift millions of citizens out of poverty.

However, the country has 13 of the 20 most-polluted cities on the planet, according to the World Health Organisation, and for that reason alone it needs to cut down on fossil fuel use.

The government is expected to announce its long-awaited national plan to reduce emissions ahead of the 1 October deadline set by the United NationsThese plans, known in UN jargon as Intended Nationally Determined  Contributions (INDCs), must be produced by all countries so that scientists can assess whether their sum total is enough to keep the world from overheating by 2°C – the limit agreed by politicians to prevent dangerous climate change.

Promising a “new prescription” from India to reduce greenhouse gases, Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, said the country’s plans would go ahead whatever the outcome of the UN’s climate talks.

He expressed disappointment that the recent preparatory talks in Bonn had not made more progress ahead of the summit in Paris in December which is designed to produce an international agreement to reduce world emissions beyond 2020.

Dual strategy

He said: “We want to clean our air, our water, our environment, so we are addressing a  challenge which takes care of our climate change mitigation and adaptation measures as well.

“India has already started reducing emission intensity, reducing the energy intensity of development, increasing energy efficiency and also increasing the forest cover (to take more carbon out of the atmosphere). We are also having more renewables.”

One of the important subsidiary agreements on the agenda of the climate talks is about preserving the world’s forests, and India is putting great emphasis on this. Called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), it allows for replanting existing forests and preserving them from logging to be counted as part of a countrys efforts to reduce its emissions.

“Our national plan will give you a new prescription from India on this issue. We will grow our forests, we will raise our forests, we will raise our carbon sinks … we will raise our benefits. We want to have more green cover,” Javadekar told the Climate News Network.

“I have a definite plan for the next 15 years. The forest quality will improve. We will improve it with people’s participation, with innovation, with technology, with many things.”

Suspicious

Despite his enthusiasm and promise of public participation, environment groups are suspicious of the proposed guidelines from the environment ministry (MoEF) stipulating that 40 % of “identified” degraded forests could be leased to private companies for plantations.

Pravin Mote and Debjit Nandi of the All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM) claimed the “ambitious corporatised plantation programme” will be used to greenwash India’s emphasis on coal mining and the continuing use of coal as the primary source of electricity.

“The proposed private plantations can also be used in the dubious game of domestic carbon trading. This will feature as a REDD+ activity because it will help restock the depleting carbon stores in degraded forests.

“But in reality, the plantations will disempower and dispossess people, not only through land grab but also by promoting new mining throughout our forests,” the Forum said in a statement.

India has undertaken to reduce its emission intensity by 20-25% by 2020 compared with 15 years ago. In December 2014 it launched its ambitious solar power programme which aims to provide 100 GW by 2022. It also has plans to harness other renewables, including wind.

Incurious

Javadekar claimed not a single country had asked when India’s emissions would peak, although China is committed to 2030 and with the US has agreed that both will converge at 14 tons of CO2 per capita.  

He said India would not have reached even two tonnes per capita by 2030, and emissions per head would always be less than the average in the developed world, which needed to do more on finance and technology for the poorer countries.

But environmental activists claim that India can always do much more. “Without disturbing its developmental interests, India can always increase its emission trajectory and maintain its leadership position for the developing countries,” said Ajay K. Jha, coordinator of the countrys Beyond Copenhagen Collective

And a new study, Assessing the missed benefits of countries’ national contributions, by the NewClimate Institute, says that with an increased emission reduction target India can save much more on fossil fuel, cut premature deaths caused by pollution,  and create green jobs.

Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), said: “If India is supported by rich countries to act in line with its full potential, then it can continue to build on its emerging plan to secure a sustainable development pathway for the country that lifts its most vulnerable out of poverty.” – Climate News Network

Too few specialists to track loss of Himalayan glaciers

Millions of people rely on meltwater from the Himalayas, but lack of expertise and manpower is hampering the study of climate change impacts. DELHI, 11 July, 2015 − Studying ice loss in the vast, inhospitable region of the Himalayas can be a very tricky business as most glaciers are found above 12,000 feet. While much of the data is derived from satellite surveys, reliable field data is also vital − but skill shortages mean that only four of the approximately 9,500 glaciers spread across the Indian section of the Himalayas are being studied in detail. Gathering field data involves a combination of skills that include high-altitude mountaineering. Weather restricts such work to about four months of the year, and there is also the constant danger of avalanches. The mighty Gangotri glacier, in the far northwest of the country, is one of the four glaciers monitored in detail by field researchers.

Rapidly disintegrating

Recent studies indicate that the Gangotri, one of the Himalayas’ largest glaciers and a primary source of the Ganges, is rapidly disintegrating. Nearly 30 kilometres long and between 0.5 and 2.5km wide, it is at present retreating by between 12 and 13 metres a year. To analyse the impacts of climate change, and to predict what will happen in the future in glacial regions, it is necessary to carry out what glaciologists refer to as surveys of mass balance – analysing the relative difference between the accumulation and melting of ice and snow on a glacier over a given period. Collecting and interpreting data – from satellite imagery and from field surveys – is highly specialised. And Indian institutions say a big knowledge gap has developed, with only limited field data being collected and a lack of trained personnel available to interpret the results of remote sensing and other data. A determined effort is now being made by several institutions to produce more trained glaciologists.

“There is evidence of changing climatic patterns leading to changing water flow patterns that could have serious impacts”

The Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology is undertaking a project with the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation to train young scientists in glaciology as part of a Himalayan climate change and adaptation programme. The Indian Space Research Organisation, which has been collecting satellite data on glaciers for many years, has a fully-fledged climate change department that is becoming more involved in monitoring glacier size and mass balance data. The Divecha Centre for Climate Change, part of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, is also combining studies of glaciology and climate change. The generally accepted view is that the majority of glaciers in the Himalayas – an area often referred to as “The Third Pole”, due to its vast ice mass – are in retreat.

Reliable conclusions

Yet in some areas, such as the Karakoram Range in the west of the Himalayas, satellite data indicates that glaciers are advancing. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional organisation based in Nepal and specialising in the Himalayas/Hindu Kush region, says much more field work is needed to draw reliable conclusions about the extent of glacial loss across the Himalayas. It points to data collected in Nepal and to studies in China that clearly show a decrease in glacial area. At the same time, fragmentation means that more smaller glaciers are being created. The world should be concerned about glacial melt in the Himalayas, ICIMOD says, because “there is evidence of changing climatic patterns leading to changing water flow patterns that could have serious impacts”. − Climate News Network

Millions of people rely on meltwater from the Himalayas, but lack of expertise and manpower is hampering the study of climate change impacts. DELHI, 11 July, 2015 − Studying ice loss in the vast, inhospitable region of the Himalayas can be a very tricky business as most glaciers are found above 12,000 feet. While much of the data is derived from satellite surveys, reliable field data is also vital − but skill shortages mean that only four of the approximately 9,500 glaciers spread across the Indian section of the Himalayas are being studied in detail. Gathering field data involves a combination of skills that include high-altitude mountaineering. Weather restricts such work to about four months of the year, and there is also the constant danger of avalanches. The mighty Gangotri glacier, in the far northwest of the country, is one of the four glaciers monitored in detail by field researchers.

Rapidly disintegrating

Recent studies indicate that the Gangotri, one of the Himalayas’ largest glaciers and a primary source of the Ganges, is rapidly disintegrating. Nearly 30 kilometres long and between 0.5 and 2.5km wide, it is at present retreating by between 12 and 13 metres a year. To analyse the impacts of climate change, and to predict what will happen in the future in glacial regions, it is necessary to carry out what glaciologists refer to as surveys of mass balance – analysing the relative difference between the accumulation and melting of ice and snow on a glacier over a given period. Collecting and interpreting data – from satellite imagery and from field surveys – is highly specialised. And Indian institutions say a big knowledge gap has developed, with only limited field data being collected and a lack of trained personnel available to interpret the results of remote sensing and other data. A determined effort is now being made by several institutions to produce more trained glaciologists.

“There is evidence of changing climatic patterns leading to changing water flow patterns that could have serious impacts”

The Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology is undertaking a project with the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation to train young scientists in glaciology as part of a Himalayan climate change and adaptation programme. The Indian Space Research Organisation, which has been collecting satellite data on glaciers for many years, has a fully-fledged climate change department that is becoming more involved in monitoring glacier size and mass balance data. The Divecha Centre for Climate Change, part of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, is also combining studies of glaciology and climate change. The generally accepted view is that the majority of glaciers in the Himalayas – an area often referred to as “The Third Pole”, due to its vast ice mass – are in retreat.

Reliable conclusions

Yet in some areas, such as the Karakoram Range in the west of the Himalayas, satellite data indicates that glaciers are advancing. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional organisation based in Nepal and specialising in the Himalayas/Hindu Kush region, says much more field work is needed to draw reliable conclusions about the extent of glacial loss across the Himalayas. It points to data collected in Nepal and to studies in China that clearly show a decrease in glacial area. At the same time, fragmentation means that more smaller glaciers are being created. The world should be concerned about glacial melt in the Himalayas, ICIMOD says, because “there is evidence of changing climatic patterns leading to changing water flow patterns that could have serious impacts”. − Climate News Network

India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

There is no sign from President Obama’s visit that India will be pressured into making any immediate plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. NEW DELHI, 27 January, 2015 − Hopes that India and the US might announce ambitious plans to co-operate in tackling climate change have proved wide of the mark. A meeting here between the visiting US president, Barack Obama, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, showed India determined to follow an independent line − although Modi said it does intend to increase its use of renewable energy. Mod did not offer any hint of a reduction in coal use. And on possible targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, he said nothing beyond agreeing to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, while insisting that India demands equal treatment in cutting GHGs. India is the third largest GHG emitter, after China and the US, but generates only two tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, compared with 20 tonnes in the US and eight in China.

Limited liability

The two leaders smoothed the way for further Indian use of nuclear power, outlining a deal to limit the legal liability of US suppliers in the event of a nuclear power plant catastrophe. Referring to the recent agreement between the US and China to work together on CO2 cuts, Modi said: “The agreement that has been concluded between the US and China does not impose pressure on us; India is an independent country. But climate change and global warning itself is huge pressure.” Analysts here point out that there has been little time yet for Modi and Obama to develop a strong working relationship, and that it could be premature to dismiss the outcome of this meeting as disappointing.

“The agreement . . . between the US and China does not impose pressure on us; India is an independent country.”

Before last month’s UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, India said it had put in place several action plans for achieving Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are key elements of the bold climate agreement that many governments hope will be signed at the next round of talks in Paris in December. India continues to maintain that its INDCs will be announced “at an appropriate time with specific contributions”. Last week, Modi called for a paradigm shift in global attitudes towards climate change – from “carbon credits” towards “green credits”. He urged nations with the greatest solar energy potential to join India in innovation and research to reduce the cost of the technology and make it more accessible. “Instead of focusing on emissions and cuts alone, the focus should shift to what we have done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency, and what more can be done in these areas,” he said. Modi and Obama announced action to advance India’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and India reiterated its goal of increasing its solar target to 100 gigawatts by 2022, which the US said it would support.

Ambitious agreement

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said they had “stressed the importance of working together and with other countries to conclude an ambitious climate agreement in Paris in 2015”. Anu Jogesh, a senior research associate with the Centre for Policy Research’s Climate Initiative, said: “There was a lot of buzz in policy circles and the media that there might be some kind of announcement, not on emission cuts per se but on renewable energy. However, apart from the nuclear agreement, little else has emerged.” Answering fears that India might become a ready market for US companies, Dr Pradipto Ghosh, Distinguished Fellow at the Energy and Resource Institute, said: “The large scale will inevitably bring down costs and companies will offer competitive prices, and also bring in more reliability, efficiency and product quality.” − Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

There is no sign from President Obama’s visit that India will be pressured into making any immediate plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. NEW DELHI, 27 January, 2015 − Hopes that India and the US might announce ambitious plans to co-operate in tackling climate change have proved wide of the mark. A meeting here between the visiting US president, Barack Obama, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, showed India determined to follow an independent line − although Modi said it does intend to increase its use of renewable energy. Mod did not offer any hint of a reduction in coal use. And on possible targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, he said nothing beyond agreeing to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, while insisting that India demands equal treatment in cutting GHGs. India is the third largest GHG emitter, after China and the US, but generates only two tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, compared with 20 tonnes in the US and eight in China.

Limited liability

The two leaders smoothed the way for further Indian use of nuclear power, outlining a deal to limit the legal liability of US suppliers in the event of a nuclear power plant catastrophe. Referring to the recent agreement between the US and China to work together on CO2 cuts, Modi said: “The agreement that has been concluded between the US and China does not impose pressure on us; India is an independent country. But climate change and global warning itself is huge pressure.” Analysts here point out that there has been little time yet for Modi and Obama to develop a strong working relationship, and that it could be premature to dismiss the outcome of this meeting as disappointing.

“The agreement . . . between the US and China does not impose pressure on us; India is an independent country.”

Before last month’s UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, India said it had put in place several action plans for achieving Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are key elements of the bold climate agreement that many governments hope will be signed at the next round of talks in Paris in December. India continues to maintain that its INDCs will be announced “at an appropriate time with specific contributions”. Last week, Modi called for a paradigm shift in global attitudes towards climate change – from “carbon credits” towards “green credits”. He urged nations with the greatest solar energy potential to join India in innovation and research to reduce the cost of the technology and make it more accessible. “Instead of focusing on emissions and cuts alone, the focus should shift to what we have done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency, and what more can be done in these areas,” he said. Modi and Obama announced action to advance India’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and India reiterated its goal of increasing its solar target to 100 gigawatts by 2022, which the US said it would support.

Ambitious agreement

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said they had “stressed the importance of working together and with other countries to conclude an ambitious climate agreement in Paris in 2015”. Anu Jogesh, a senior research associate with the Centre for Policy Research’s Climate Initiative, said: “There was a lot of buzz in policy circles and the media that there might be some kind of announcement, not on emission cuts per se but on renewable energy. However, apart from the nuclear agreement, little else has emerged.” Answering fears that India might become a ready market for US companies, Dr Pradipto Ghosh, Distinguished Fellow at the Energy and Resource Institute, said: “The large scale will inevitably bring down costs and companies will offer competitive prices, and also bring in more reliability, efficiency and product quality.” − Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him