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Poverty Is A Bigger Problem Than Climate Change
Liberty Institute, India Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Barun Mitra
I think the big problem facing poor countries is poverty. If you climb out of poverty, you are equipped to deal with any change that might take place with or without human intervention. I think this discussion here in Copenhagen is short circuiting that relationship, that it is poverty that makes people vulnerable, Says Barun Mitra.

At the Copenhagen Climate Conference, Martin Agerup, President and CEO of the Centre for Political Studies (CEPOS) interviewed Barun Mitra, the Director of the Liberty Institute. Here is it, shortly:

Martin Agerup: Assuming a human influence, would you say that climate change is a big problem facing people in the third world?

Barun Mitra: No. I think the big problem facing poor countries is poverty. If you climb out of poverty, you are equipped to deal with any change that might take place with or without human intervention. I think this discussion here in Copenhagen is short circuiting that relationship, that it is poverty that makes people vulnerable.

Martin Agerup: One argument is that droughts are a problem. Why is poverty more important?

Barun Mitra: India has a recorded history of droughts in the past thousand years. A drought as a meteorological phenomenon has happened in the past, and is likely to happen in the future. In the last forty years, rainfall has varied in different years. But, India has definitely made famine history. People are not dying from droughts anymore. The first major change that happened was the green revolution. Next were irrigation, agrochemicals, and now the genetically modified seeds. This has made agriculture less dependent on the natural environment.

Martin Agerup: You are saying that even African’s can do that. A lot many people would say that African’s can’t do that. Africa is different. What would you say?

Barun Mitra: Firstly, I think people underestimate African’s. The things which made India undergo these changes were primarily political. Africa will do it, and parts of Africa are already doing it. You can contrast how institutional stability in South Africa is making it different to Zimbabwe, where the rule of law has virtually collapsed. Droughts will always happen. Drought is a natural phenomenon. Famine is a man made phenomenon. India has shown in our lifetime that it is possible to break the linkage between drought and famine. And if India can do, it I am sure that any other country in a similar situation should be able to do it.

Martin Agerup: Do you think climate change policy should be based only on adaptation?

Barun Mitra: Adaptation is of course the key component of human existence. Economic efficiency translates into energy efficiency, and also into carbon efficiency. After India and China liberalized the economy, there was a huge improvement in carbon intensity. No one attempted to improve carbon intensity. Everyone attempted to improve the economy. Here, environmental improvement is projected as a goal, without thinking of the mechanism or the means through which environmental improvement would come.

Martin Agerup: The issue of climate change causing flooding for third world countries. What is your take on that?

Floods have been there from biblical times. What is important is how we deal with it. Before 1970’s In India the death toll from floods every year would be around 10,000. Now it is around 1000. Bangladesh, had death tolls in the range of hundred thousands. The one that happened last year killed around 3000 people. The death tolls have been coming down and some simple interventions have done wonders.

Martin Agerup: What changed?

Barun Mitra: In Bangladesh, for instance, a simple intervention such as building schools on stills.

Martin Agerup: The alternative strategy to avoid flooding is to avoid carbon emissions into the atmosphere which will cause less severe cyclones. How do you compare those two strategies?

Barun Mitra: Reducing carbon emissions to reduce the intensity of cyclones, I think is like saying that you are going to switch off the sun as you deem required. That is to me completely impractical and completely unnecessary, and will not even achieve the results.

Martin Agerup: Why are people in poor countries more vulnerable?

Barun Mitra: I think one reason for the vulnerability of the poor countries is that In villages, the land records are extremely sketchy.

Martin Agerup: Farmers staying on the land to make sure that someone is not going to come in and claim ownership to that land?

Barun Mitra: Exactly!

Martin Agerup: There is a tendency to blame all the problems on the west, climate change and other external factors.

Barun Mitra: In 60’s and the 70’s Anti-colonial movement led to development aid from the west which had swollen the Swiss accounts of many rulers. But the people and population had not benefited from this aid. Now we are talking on climate on the scale of forty or fifty years. No politician would be alive then to be held accountable for their policies.

India is a functioning democracy and there is a political accountability built in. But many of the countries in Africa don’t have that sort of political institutions.  They are more vulnerable to the tyranny of the political leaders. That may be a bigger challenge than the climate change.




This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Tuesday, January 12, 2010. Please read the original article here.
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Tags- Find more articles on - Barun Mitra | carbon emissions | Climate Change | droughts | famine | floods | India | Martin Agerup | poverty

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