Sunday, October 18, 2009

The future bus system

Everyone is talking about climate change. With the big meeting just 2 months away and no good deal in sight because of countries waiting of their counterparts to take the first step, it now becomes every individual’s responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint if the government can’t come up with a plan. One of the most advised methods are to use public transportation or use bio-fuels for household chores or ride a bicycle to work. Every responsible citizen wants to reduce their carbon footprint but why do we still find it so difficult to shift to public transportation? Didn’t we wish public transportation was more comfortable and fast? In India, there is no certainty of when the bus or trains would arrive or for how long you would be stuck in traffic as we don’t have separate lanes for buses or cycles. Riding a cycle in big cities like Delhi (in India) isn’t a safe option as most of the people have very little sense of traffic rules. With two wheelers available at prices as low as 550 USD and the cheapest car coming at 2000USD and inefficient bus transportation system, it just has become very easy for people to use personal vehicles rather than use public transport. 

The government understands this and since past few years it has made efforts to make public transportation much reliable than before.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

The bus rapid transit means a high-capacity transport system with its own right-of-way, which means high-capacity buses are operated in lanes reserved for their exclusive use. BRT system exists in many countries like Australia, Northern America, Europe, China, Indonesia, Brazil and a few more in South America. It’s a new concept in India with Pune being the first city in India to implement it in 2005. BRT system has been operational in Delhi since 2008 june. Several other states in India are also trying to replicate the idea of BRT system.

                                                                    A daily sight in large cities

Roads constitute 20% of land in Delhi, the highest road to land ratio in the world. The number of motorized vehicles has increased by 9 folds since last 3 decades thus decreasing the average speed, increasing congestion and pollution. The need for BRT arose when it became clear that it makes no sense for the cars to occupy 70% of the road space given that they just move less than10% of people. BRT managed to provide cheap, efficient and fast means of communication but at the cost of slower movement of car traffic. According to TRIPP (Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme), if people are stuck in jams in their cars, and see buses speeding by, they would realize that it is more costly to travel in car in terms of time.

                              A BRT lane v/s general purpose lane


After the introduction of BRT system, the demand of travelling by buses has increased by 20% in those regions with BRT system. The average traveling time has reduced by almost 30mins and 80% of bus commuters have approved for BRT system in other parts of Delhi. These buses also run on CNG which further continues in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Total length of road that has been dedicated for BRT is a little less than 100k.m. The government has plans for 292k.m. of BRT by 2020.  But, I believe, if there could have been a 20% increase for just 100k.m, they should cover a larger portion as total road length of Delhi turns out to be over 28,000k.m!

BRT comes as an easy solution for the government to encourage public transportation as it costs 8 times less than construction of metros. The government also plans to increase its metro rail length to 493k.m by 2020 from the existing 128k.m long route.

It hasn’t been easy for the government to introduce BRT and has faced a lot of resistance from some sections of the society, and also want the government to scrap off the plan of BRT. Inspite of the approval by a large chunk of daily travelers, there voices remain unheard as majority are from the lower economic classes. This has slowed down the expansion process. Hopefully, people will understand its importance soon. 


Anindita Nayak

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Where is Australia?

Australia was one of the three countries under the Kyoto protocol which could actually increase their emissions above the 1990 base year. But now Australia’s energy and pollution is spiraling out of control and now the world’s largest per capita emitter of polluting gases! Just a comparison: Some data state that Australia’s 19 million people pollute environment as much as Indonesia’s 200million people.

Inspite of Australia now being the largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, I don’t see t Australia in picture as often as we see China or India or E.U or United States. There is a lot of pressure on India, which is just a developing country and has a per capita emission lesser than world’s average per capita. Reports also say that it would lesser than world’s average per capita emissions even in 2020. The Australian government itself agrees that it is on the road to increase the greenhouse pollution by 20% by 2020, but has agreed for only 5% cut in emissions below 2000s levels which is approximately around 4%below 1990s levels by 2020. It might agree for a maximum cut of 15% emissions below 2000levels if all major economies commit to substantially restrain emissions.

When US is hell bent upon India to commit to emissions limits, it hasn’t objected Australia’s decision. India is the home for over one-sixth of world’s population and contributes just little less than 5% of total greenhouse emissions compared to US’s and China’s20%(each) contribution to global greenhouse emissions. Yes, India is one of the largest emitter of green house gases but is it fair to consider India on par with US or Australia? One should consider per capita emission of a country not the total.

Australia’s low participation in climate talks has been objected mostly by their citizens, there is hardly any pressure from other countries. This is making it very difficult for the people in Australia who are persuading the government to take substantial steps to fight climate change.

The responsibility of mitigating climate change largely lies in the hands of all developed countries now. Also, it doesn’t mean that developing nations shouldn’t take measures to reduce their emissions and should ensure that steps taken to for their country’s development are not going to very harmful for the environment. Whats disheartening is watching Australia and other developed nations deciding on their emissions targets depending on what the developing nations would agree to. It is not feasible for developing nations to cap their emissions to as much as developed nations should. If at all developing nations and developed nations agree to similar cuts in emissions then it would either drastically slow down developing nations’ economic growth or make it impossible for mankind to do any good to the environment.

Anindita Nayak

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Last week, I went for a 2-day conference, TH!NK ABOUT IT, in Copenhagen which was held by European Journalism Center. There were 90 other participants from over 20 different countries.

On the first day, all of us went to Bella Center. This is where this year’s most important treaty will take a new shape, the COP15. We started off with a brief speech by Svend Olling, Head of Department of COP15 Logistics on how they were tackling problems to ensure a good conference in December and their importance. Then we had a panel discussion on a journalist’s perspective on climate change with Tasha Eichenseher, editor of; RameshJaura , director of Inter-Press Service Europa; Gerald Traufetter, editor of Spiegel magazine; Asbjorn Jorgenson, professor at Arhus school of Media and Journalism; Mads Christensen, Head of Greenpeace Nordic region and Andreas Barkman from European Environmental Agency and the Head of the Group for Climate Change Mitigation.

Ramesh Jaura spoke developing nations' stance on Green House Gases emissions and agreed that its not possible for them to cap their emissions when the question of economic development comes into picture. Tasha Eichenseher discussed about some of National Geographic influential stories, Gerald Traufetter worries that some journalists are restricted from taking sides in the matters of climate change and that it would hurt a journalist's credibility. Mads Christensen threw light on EU's efforts to mitigate GHG emissions and its success of reaching Kyoto Protocol's target of 8% less emissions than 1990 by 2010. Andreas from Greenpeace believes that developed, industrialised nations should try reducing their emissions by 40% by 2020 and developing nations by 15-30%. He wishes for a fair and ambitious deal at the end of COP15 though he doesnt see that from happening. He fears that COP15 will lead to greenwashed plan (a bad deal made to look good) thereby leading to faster growth in global temperatures and threatening the of survival of islands. Gradually the discussions grew on whether Sahara was greening because of climate change, Obama sounding no different from Bush, if science was a valid tool to convince people, if US was holding up UN meetings, pressure on media, et cetera.We were later joined by Francois Roudie, policy coordinator of European Commission who gave an insight on EU’s future goals and its past achievements. EU plans to increase its renewable energy use by 10%, reduce carbon emissions by 20-30%. With their existing regulation on energy performance standards for buildings, they plan to make buildings more efficient and sustainable. While he spoke about Europe reaching its Kyoto Protocol’s targets, he unfortunately couldn’t give a good justification of why weren’t they including carbon emissions produced by the goods they imported into their annual emissions.

In the afternoon, Soren Hermansen who was ‘TIME magazine’s Hero of the Environment 2008’ gave a presentation on Samsø Island. Samsø is a small island that in 1997 won the Danish government contests to become a model renewable energy community. Today all its power comes from the wind.The next day, we went to Dyssekilde, an eco-village. Dyssekilde is a small village of 120 people near Copenhagen that generates most of its own electricity and manages its own waste. They claim to have a better waste treatment plant than the municipal. They have over 30,000 willow trees to purify waste water. The houses are so designed that consumes energy as less as possible and villagers are encouraged to use organic products.

You can read more about Samsø Island and Dyssekilde from here:

Anindita Nayak

Friday, September 18, 2009

Policy approach for Sustainable lifestyle

Today, Humanity uses over a third more resources than what nature can regenerate; the ecological deficit is widening. Levels of per capita consumption of developed world are considered unsustainable and inequitable. On the other hand million of people are dying due to hunger. And pressures on global resources are increasing from the emerging middle classes in developing countries, who aspire for consumer lifestyles of the west. In developing countries like India people are blindly following the life-style of west. They aspire to attain various lifestyles which are more or less consumer centric. People in rural area aspire to live the life of town and people of town aspire for Metro lifestyle.
Shifting behaviours in Developed and Emerging world to more sustainable lifestyles is proving difficult. Today a consumer’s choices are not isolated actions of rational decision-making Rather they are embedded in individual ideas about status and identity, influenced by contextual social forces, such as the media and advertising, and subject to larger structural features of the economy, environment, and policy. Policies, whether economic, environmental, or social, affect consumer choices. Moral suasion is most commonly used to motivate social change.
Moral suasion or social policy instruments currently used to support a shift in attitudes and behaviours fall into three groups:
1.     Information- To fill a perceived public information deficit on causes and consequences of environmental change and actions that individuals can take. Information instruments provide an “information wrap” around products (e.g., labels, environmental product profiles, standards) to influence consumer choice.
2.     social marketing/mass communications- encourage positive behaviour change by applying marketing principles to target audience interventions, usually involving mass media (e.g., energy conservation programs, recycling programs, and so forth)
3.     Education- support the inclusion of relevant content in teaching curricula at all levels of the formal education system. They also support non-formal processes to increase knowledge and understanding.

Economic signals usually equate a better quality of life with economic growth. But, is this an only criterion for better life? How about the social and moral quality? Better quality of life with ecosystems destroyed! Today people are starting to realise “Better Happy than Rich”.So there is an urgent need to take into consideration the changing lifestyles following different development trajectories of people belonging to the various classified settlement.This is time that we should think about the changing present development indicator (which are mainly based on consumption) to better suit the humanity and whole eco-system. Providing the livelihood security should not be at the cost of environment so there is need for Superimposition of livelihood security with the environment friendly methods and approaches.
By setting people on the course of making decisions that are right for sustainable development, many problems can be solved or avoided. The social instruments currently in place related to sustainable development are scattered, vary widely in terms of their intended audience, and often lack integration and long-term commitment.
Mechanisms to stimulate cleaner production, the polluter pays principle, are matters tried by policy maker but nobody had yet tries the Life-style issue in public policy making (Influencing consumer demand).Combinations of tools are needed and must work in concert. Information access, new technologies and supportive regulatory measures are required to make this planet sustainable. Rather than projecting environment as moral obligation or value system we should project this as a way to innovate. Citizens are less willing to take voluntary action unless they see positive examples set by government and, in particular, by business. Social instruments should lead to mutual change in preference to individual change; responses to instruments should be collective not just individual.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What on Earth is it with Growth and Economics?

Many people (hopefully!) are aware of climate change. Some of them know about the Kyoto Protocol (and its failure) and even fewer about the ongoing negotiations leading up to the COP15 summit (a situation that is thankfully changing, with people committed to the environment making their voices heard). But nobody can plead ignorance to global recession, “India Shining” (supposedly) and the GDP….which brings me to the crux of the matter: economic growth and the GDP. The nations of the world are locking horns against each other. The developed nations (read USA, etc) who have made such great economic progress, quite a bit at the expense of the climate, refuse to make substantial cuts in their emissions and provide a suitable amount of assistance to the developing nations (read India and China), who are in the process of making more than substantial growth at the cost of Earth (which as we all know is buckling under this gargantuan pressure).

I confess that I’m not an economist. What I am is not a little curious about why GDP is the yardstick of growth. Why does growth have to be defined in the terms of currency? If growth and the climate (as we knew it a while back) could coexist peacefully, the nations of the world would not be at loggerheads with each other. So why can’t we have one, not at the cost of the other? Why can’t we change our mindsets and think instead of a “Green economy”. I don’t mean isolated pockets of environment friendly industries (hmm, environment friendly and industries…they don’t gel well together, do they?). What I mean is a change in our paradigm of growth. As Stephen Harding (2008) put it, “We will seriously destabilize the Earth by continuing to increase the flow of her wild molecules through our economic machine”.

Stephen Harding puts forth the concept of suicidal growth (the one we are pursuing at the moment) and intelligent growth. In his own words, suicidal growth “involves the conversion of Nature’s highly ordered surface with its rich, deeply convoluted geological domain and its teeming biosphere into the appalling disorder of a destabilized atmosphere and the piles of rusting, discarded industrial products that are accumulating on our landfill sites and waste dumps”. Where as intelligent growth recognizes that “as climate change and peak oil begin to bite, we need to rapidly grow ecologically knowledgeable industries such as ones that generate renewable energy; we need to exploit geothermal power”. It also involves the growth and recovery of soil and the restoration of free nature, which provides climate stabilization, soil retention and the recycling of nutrients. I’ve provided a link to his article at the end.

Arun Shourie couldn’t have put it better when he said “obsession with growth rates obscures what is growing at these rates. India produces more and more automobiles today; and that is growth. As a result, traffic moves slower and slower in its cities, burning up more and more petrol; that is even higher growth. Pedestrians and passengers inhale the fumes; they contract respiratory ailments; as a consequence, they spend more on doctors and medicines — thereby they contribute doubly to growth. If, as a result of illnesses and expenses, their marriages come under strain and fall apart, they make another contribution to growth by the amounts they spend on lawyers and courts... Assume for a moment that the persons in question are industrialists and, driven out of their minds by these traumas, they wind up their establishments in Delhi and set up industries in the NorthEast. They cut down all the trees, and start shipping the processed timber back to Delhi — that is growth thrice over: the destruction of wealth, the forests, does not count; the value they collect for the timber, including the amounts expended on transporting it all that distance, is what counts, and the value of buildings which the timber would have facilitated.

"Is this the “growth” that India will be celebrating twenty years from now?


Stephen Harding (2008) Intelligent growth; Resurgence; No. 247

By Nistara Randhawa

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Geo-engineering as an alternative

The problem of global warming has been known to mankind over last 5 decades. Growth rate of CO2 and other emissions are accelerating and that it's accelerating even faster that what we thought was the worst case just a few years back. Carbon reduction is turning out to be a very slow process to combat climate change and targets set seem unreachable. With Kyoto protocol to be replaced at COP15, countries have geared into finding sustainable solutions and policies. The question is is reducing emissions the only way? No, its not. We have Geo-Engineering. David Keith, an environmental scientist, describes it as intentional, large-scale manipulation of the environment. It is believed to be a cheap, effective and inexpensive solution to climate change.

Geo-engineering isn’t being discussed much and has been kept away public since long. Its been at times considered as a moral hazard by economists because they've failed to weigh correctly the merits and demrits of geo-engineering. Geo-engineering has come up with solutions like: releasing sulfates to cool the atmosphere based on how volcanoes work; carbon capture and storage (CCS); fake trees that absorb CO2;cloud seeding, cloud albedo; ocean iron fertilization, etc. Without doubt, geo-engineering can trigger unforeseen results without further scientific study simply because of the complexity of ecosystems involved. With the dearth of funds and support for such research, it’s hard to proceed. We certainly should not put all of our efforts into just carbon reductions.
Geo-engineering will provide countries with extra time for further research into ways of reducing emissions or to stabilize their economies before signing some protocol similar to Kyoto's. However, we know that the negative impacts of global warming are distributed unevenly, and what may be acceptable levels of climate disruption for the major states may be utterly devastating for poorer, smaller nations. It is in this context that a scientifically-powerful developing nation like India or Brazil, for example may decide that it is unwilling to abide by UN decisions about re-terraforming, and begin to undertake such a strategy.
Geo-engineering is also now seen as a political issue in terms of control, liability and projects existing for the similar cause. It's also entirely possible that a state with the capacity to undertake such a project independently might decide that international restrictions are irrational, or that its survival is so threatened that the bureaucracy of a transnational body is unacceptable. When a hegemonic nation does it, such as the United States or China, there may be little the international community can do in response.
There will be blocks and obstructions, but they have always been even while discussing carbon reductions. But geo-engineering will be more quicker and inexpensive way to sort problems.

Anindita Nayak

Friday, September 4, 2009

India’s per capita GHG emissions

There has been much hype that India will overtake the developed countries to become one of most polluting country in coming year But recently released"India’s GHG emissions profile: results of five climate modelling studies" said something expected and contrary to western view.The report is based on five studies, done by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), a New Delhi-based think tank; the Kolkata-based Jadavpur University; the New Delhi-based The Energy Research Institute (TERI); McKinsey &Company, a global management consulting firm; and the New Delhi-based think tank Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe).

Main finding of report which was released on September 2, 2009 by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Shri Montek Singh AhluwaliaIndia’s were
  • Per capita emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) will continue to be low until 2030-31.So low that it would be less than the 2005 per capita global emission of GHG.
  • India’s per capita GHG emissions in 2030-31 would be between 2.77 tonnes and 5 tonnes of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide equivalent).
  • In 2031, India’s per capita GHG emissions would stay under 4 tonnes of CO2e. (Four of the five studies say this.)
  • This is lower than the global per capita emissions of 4.22 tonnes of CO2e in 2005.
  • This would mean that even 20 years from now, India’s per capita GHG emissions would be below the global average of 25 years earlier.
  • In absolute terms, estimates of India’s GHG emissions in 2031 vary from 4bn tones to 7.3bn tones of CO2e.
  • Even two decades from now, India’s GHG emissions will remain under 6 billion tones. (Four of the five studies say this.)
The key drivers of the range of these estimates are the assumptions on GDP growth rates, penetration of clean energy, energy efficiency improvements etc.
All the five studies show evidence of a substantial and continuous improvement in India’s energy efficiency of GDP. India’s energy use efficiency has been steadily improving over the years which is reflected in the decline of its energy intensity of GDP from 0.30 kgoe (kilogram of oil equivalent) per $ of GDP in 1980 to 0.16 kgoe per $ GDP in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms. This is comparable to Germany and only Japan, UK, Brazil and Denmark have lower energy intensities in the world. An Enhanced Energy Efficiency Mission has recently been approved in principle under the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

These studies were taken up with a view to develop a fact based perspective on climate change in India that clearly reflects the realities of its economic growth, the policy and regulatory structures and the vulnerabilities of climate change.Since the international debate on climate change is influenced to a significant extent by studies that estimate the GHG emissions trajectories of the major economies of the world.This could give a moral boost to Indian stand that we are not going to accept the cap on the emission at the same time we will try to make our economy less dependent on carbon oriented development.But this may also divert the attention from becoming the leader in low-carbon economy and setting a example in making a Evergreen Economy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

China India Cooperation in Climate Change issue

Climate change and International trades are two issues on which two largest demographic countries had come together for coorporation and a common stand in international platform.
When these two countries say something jointly in International negotiation then it matters.One of major issue of concern for both countries is the melting of Himalayan Glaciers.India and China have agreed to fight with this problem by callobarative working.Towards the first step they have agreed to jointly conduct research on the impact of climate change on the glaciers in the Himalayan and Tibetan regions.Jairam Ramesh Said after the meeting with his counterpart from China“We discussed institutionalisation of collaboration. The Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and its Chinese counterpart the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research will conduct joint research".With the majority of South Asian rivers emanating from the Tibetan plateau, climate change can have a devastating impact in the region.A Chinese team will come to India in the last week of October to finalise the details of the project.“The Chinese have invested a lot in terms of human resources to study glaciology. We are just beginning. A joint research will be better for in-depth findings of what is happening to our glaciers,” Ramesh said.
The minister added that the collaboration between India and China in combating climate change goes beyond this joint research project. Both have staunchly opposed the US Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill. The bill has a provision that would grant the US president the power to slap tariffs on imports that have a carbon footprint larger than American-made goods.
“We (India and China) reject the premises of the bill. There is unanimity among developing countries and we will continue fighting it. The Chinese response was instantaneous and they (Chinese) said we will take countermeasures,” Ramesh said.
Shyam Saran, the prime minister’s special envoy on climate change, also said: “In view of the UNCCC (UN Convention on Climate Change), any such move (like the provisions in the US bill) will be illegal…. It is WTO incompatible and deal-breaker for Copenhagen.”
India coming together with china in International negotiation may be good for both China and India in short term but in the long term it may force India with China to accept the binding cap on carbon emissions.India's stand with china is not a choice but neccesity due to unfair politics on international level.China is largest emitter of GHG with global share of 20% while India having almost same population contribute only 5 % to global GHG.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Little Johnny wants to play – the case of the missing monsoon

Johnny is a young, budding Assamese football enthusiast. The last fifteen have witnessed clear skies and therefore, wonderful playing conditions. Johnny’s happiness is clearly visible as he tackles his opponent defenders and takes repeated successful shots at the goal.

What is making Johnny happy is actually a great cause of worry for the rest of India. So far, there has been a cumulative shortfall of 29% in the rains received due to the southwest monsoon, causing great amount of clamour in the ministry. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, last Thursday set up a group of ministers to chalk out a contingency plan to deal with the situation.
The officials at the Indian Meteorological department all agree on one thing – the situation for the rest of the monsoon is grim. Unless the country received more than 30% more rains than usual, we will inevitably be facing a drought; and a drought spells doom for India in which 90% of the agricultural areas depend on rain for irrigation.
A recent article in the Science Daily (March 2, 2009) mentions a study in Purdue University (original publication Suppression of south Asian summer monsoon precipitation in the 21st century. Geophysical Research Letters, 2009 )which used a climate modelling study to conclude that the South Asian summer monsoon - critical to agriculture in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan - could be weakened and delayed due to rising temperatures in the future. The research team used a high-resolution climate model believed to have the greatest detail currently available for this region. The model projected a delay in the start of monsoon season from five days to 15 days by the end of the 21st century and an overall weakening of the summer monsoon precipitation over South Asia. Moetasim Ashfaq, the author of the study, said increasing temperatures in the future strengthen some aspects of large-scale monsoon circulation but weaken the fine-scale interactions of the land with the moisture in the atmosphere, which could lead to reduced precipitation over the Indian subcontinent.

"It is the more subtle, local-scale processes that are key in this case," he said . "Our model shows a decrease in convective precipitation, which is critical for summer precipitation in this region.”
"In the past when we have seen extremely hot days, we have observed a similar circulation anomaly," Ashfaq said. "These circulation changes decrease moisture flow over the land, and we see longer periods without rain, along with hot conditions."

So what does this imply for India? Is this phenomenon of missing monsoon just an exception to the rule for this year or is is here to stay? If the Purdue study results are to be believed, even partly ,then we should certainly have a reason to worry. Even if this monsoon shortfall is an exception to the rule, we must be prepared to take appropriate measures the next time such an event takes place. Currently, the Agriculture ministry is debating release of food-stocks iinto the open market to stabilise prices. We must realise that in the event such rain shortages do arise in future, we should think beyond price stabilisation and adequacy of food reserves; we must think of sustainability of food production itself. Do we have the ability to adapt to a 29% reduction in monsoon from now on? Can the government invest in irrigation infrastructure in such a short time-span? Another question is: what is the plan of action to be taken? Should we take the monsoon reductions as a given and adapt to these changes by seeking to irrigate our nation by alternative means or is there a way to tackle the root cause of the problem – controlling greenhouse gas emissions? This is an important point of consideration to be made by governments of South Asia. Whether the strategy used is either one of the two or a combination of both, it has to be done on an urgent basis. The Indian economy is till too fragile to be able to withstand monsoon vagaries on a regular basis. Every grain of food produced is of vital importance.

The point is that, the world climate is degenerating continuously, affecting the points of formation of various subtle equilibria that determine annual phenomena like the southwest monsoon, which is just one among many.

Nations had better come up with good solutions to such problems or else, in front of Johnny’s eyes, the rain will go away and might never come again another day.