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Abstracts of papers : Session 4 : April 9-10:Climate Change: Understanding Himalayan Ecology
India Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Institute of Himalayan Glaciology, University of Jammu, and Liberty Institute, New Delhi, in partnership with Friedrich Naumann-Stiftung fur Die Freiheit is organising a national conference on Climate Change: Understanding the himalayan Ecolgyew at the University of Jammu, on 9-10 April 2012.

Abstracts of papers to be presented in session on Climate Change and Public Policy


The Policy and Legal Framework for Combating Climate Change in India

By: Bharat Desai

India faces the challenge of sustaining its rapid economic growth and guaranteeing the country’s energy security while dealing with the global threat of climate change. The paper seeks to provide an overview of the policy and legal framework for combating climate change in India and to identify areas in which strengthening the implementation and enforcement of existing environmental law in India can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It reviews existing national legislations, relevant overarching policies as well as institutional framework in the environmental field so as to deduce their impact specifically on climate change in general and mitigation of greenhouse gases in particular. Two recent policies (National Environment Policy 2006 and National Action Plan on Climate Change 2008) have set the stage for focused domestic response to climate change, but the actual impact of these two major steps is yet to fully unfold. In view of the sensitivity and priority of India’s development requirements and in consideration of the international climate framework based on ‘differentiated responsibility,’ the presentation seeks to identify opportunities to improve compliance with existing laws that have a side benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a corollary to it as well as to augment protective shield for current post-2012 multilateral climate change negotiations before and after the UNFCCC COP 17 (Durban), it would be prudent to consider adoption of a comprehensive ‘umbrella’ national climate change legislation that could provide a regulatory and institutional framework for already existing GHG mitigation activities. This will provide a concerted response to address the issue of climate change domestically, neatly fit into and strengthen the Prime Minister’s NAPCC 2008 as well as a serve as an effective ‘shield’ to thwart growing pressure from the industrialized countries to fall in line by undertaking legally binding GHG reduction commitments.   


Climate Change and Economic Policy: The Role of Institutions

BY: Dipanker Sengupta

While a debate rages as to whether the phenomenon of climate change is actually occurring and whether this phenomenon is anthropogenic if it is indeed occurring, there is a corresponding debate in economics as to the optimal manner in which climate change can be prevented or coped with. Conventional Methods range from the neo-classical approach of taxing polluting industries or the cruder method of quantitative restrictions like capping carbon emissions. Such methods fail to distinguish between the “good” created by the polluting industry vis a vis the “bad” created by the pollution that is a by-product and as such creates no incentive to devise techniques/technologies to reduce pollution. Thus there is no incentive to maximise the net benefit that accrues to society either by maximising the good given a level of “bad,” minimising the level of “bad” produced given the output of “good” or both.

This paper investigates whether there is a single template for public policy formulation where Climate Change is concerned. The approach followed by this paper divides the potential impact of climate change if such a change is occurring into two parts:
1.  on the global commons which may lead to losses on a global scale.
2. On local common property resources which may affect local communities.

This paper surveys traditional economic approaches to these “externality” problems as well as those that advocate “caps” and the severe shortcoming with these strategies.

This paper discusses the Coasean approach that focuses on institutions/set of rules/property rights which induce appropriate behaviour from optimising economic agents so that the collective outcome of such behaviour is what is required for coping with, mitigating or preventing climate change. This is contrasted with the Tort approach that advocates the agents who suffer from the actions of polluters approach courts for compensation.

This paper argues that given informational imperfections in the market and because there exists economies of scale in collecting information about the potential impact of climate change, the Tort approach is less efficient that the Coasian approach. Secondly it is also argued that the expected gain from assuming climate change in occurring, is anthropogenic and will cause economic damage is greater than leaving the question open, the Coasian approach is better. None the less, the Coasian approach has some severe lacunae which have to be addressed.

The local effects of Climate Change are felt by local communities and may require set of institutions/rules distinct from those that affect the global commons. It is in this context that forms of governance especially democratic decentralisation and community empowerment also have significant impact on the strategies that individuals and communities adopt (or do not adopt) to cope with climate change are also analysed. The paper looks into approaches adopted by observers like Ostrom and analyses case studies to come up with recommendations that are appropriate in the Indian context.

Specifically it argues that democratic decentralisation and the institution of the three-tier level of democratically governance has had the effect of creating the very conditions that Ostrom postulated being necessary for stable common pool resource management thus making the evolution of coping strategies by local communities more likely. It is argued no matter what the specific arrangements evolve, better information and technical progress is likely to lead to the development of a Coasian regime.

The paper concludes by arguing that with greater clarity on the matter of Climate Change on both its causes and its effects, the Tort approach may actually share space with the Coasian regime.

Climate Change: Exploring the Dimensions of Justice and Law

By: Arvind Jasrotia

Climate change, “the defining human development challenges for the 21st century” represents the greatest existential threat for the present and future generations, as well as for non-human nature. The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR4) concluded that “the warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid twentieth century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations”. The global grief perpetuates as IPCC predicts that the resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change and other global change drivers that will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world – access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms. There could be increase in the severity of droughts, land degradation, desertification, intensity of floods, tropical cyclones, incidence of malaria and heat-related mortality, and decreased crop yield and food security. The ‘Stern Report on the Economics of Climate Change’ also warned against proceeding under business-as-usual scenario and suggested an imperative shift towards a low-carbon economy as the benefits of stabilizing the climate far outweigh the costs.

Climate change deliberations have become an important forum for discussions of distributive justice so that considerations of fairness are incorporated into efforts to protect global climate and to prevent socio-economic policies that contribute to its destruction. Political philosophers have traditionally assumed that ideals of distributive justice should operate within countries that require the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy within the state or nation to the less advantaged members of that society. Recently, however, this assumption has been enthusiastically challenged and a number of political philosophers have argued that there are global principles of justice, i.e., principles of distributive justice should have a global scope. The continued emissions of greenhouse gases are causing fundamental changes to earth’s climate. Since the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, the issue of historical responsibility and principle of distributive justice play a vital role for facilitating collective action against climate change. Justice requires not only that emissions be cut but also that burdens of doing so are fairly distributed. For instance, are countries entitled to equal per capita emissions, or emission rights according to their historical responsibility, or who are the legitimate recipients of benefits and burdens and how are they to be justly shared? Against this backdrop, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and the related legal instruments represent the legal architecture that has been established by the states to address the issue of climate change. One of the central goals of the climate change regime is the redistribution of the global atmospheric space. The UNFCCC set as its ultimate objective the stabilizing atmo¬spheric concentration of greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The Climate architecture was deeply rooted in the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR) that guided the future development of the climate regime.  The ultimate objective of the Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of Parties may adopt is “to achieve in accordance with the relevant provisions of the convention stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. This underpins the importance of cumulative emissions and the historical responsibility that goes along with the contribution to the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that is, a problem of distributive(and restorative) justice.  

An adequate theory of justice must explain in what ways climate change affects persons’ entitlements in a way that is sensitive to the particularities of the environment, explores the issues that arise from applying principles at the global level, and explores the intergenerational dimensions of global climate change. The interests harmed by climate change are basic and provide substantive basis for holding one State responsible for the impacts of its greenhouse gas emissions on the global environment and on environment of other state. The human rights framework also remind us that climate change is about suffering; about the human misery that results directly from the damage mankind is doing to the nature, and help us build human rights criteria into our future planning and perspectives. Thinking about climate change from a human rights perspective is not only a fundamental necessity in terms of guiding our international development policy framework, but also offers us an invaluable opportunity to reappraise the most pressing needs of a highly inequitable global society, with greatly differing social, environmental and economic levels of development. The existing body of human rights norms and principles offers a solid foundation for responsible and effective thinking and action in this regard. The IPCC Reports warn that warming of the climate system will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world; access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms. Considering that, sixty percent of the world’s population lives within forty miles of the coastline, such tragic events are projected to increase in number. As a result, the pattern of severe weather linked to climate change will have consequences for the whole international community because the demands for assistance from environmental refugees will increase in number. In failing to tackle climate change with urgency, rich countries are effectively violating the human rights of millions of world’s poor people. Human rights provide a framework within which to think through the risks of climate change and the policy structures and mechanisms required to provide effective responses to those that most need them.

The paper sketches the contours of a wider justice debate about the responsibility for climate change and the fairness in distribution of benefits from emissions in order to have a secure climate future.


Climate Change: Science, Perception and Response

By: Milap C Sharma

Climate Change is the buzzword of the 21st Century, the word transformed into a colloquial dictionary even in the far flung Indian villages after the IPCC reports (2001, 07). The term has been hijacked by the media and politicians without even understanding the true meaning of “Climate Change” per se. Climate is defined as the average of all weather elements for at least three Solar Cycles, i.e. 31 years. Instrumental data available for the last one Century or so does not suggest that the changes in climate have been as per the standard definition of “Climate”. There has been large variability in weather elements from cooler in the beginning of the 20th Century to warm periods of the “Great War Eras”. There was again a cooling phase at the time of India’s Independence that lasted until the “End of the Emergency in 1977”. This was also the period that had led scientist to believe that the “Ice Ages” were returning !! Such processions in the weather and climate is least understood even for the recent century, talking the least in terms of the future trend. But what is more scientifically acknowledged is that the increases in CO2 were preceded by the intense cold phases governed by the Ice Ages last thousands of years. Therefore, to say the least, we yet are far from understand the nature’s cycles in climate, be it the changes in CO2, solar-cycle, ocean oscillation or role of volcanoes and tectonic mechanism.

We, as one of the advanced animal species, have a very short memory, to say the least on the Sixth Sense. There are only few who would remember what had happened on the ninth of April in 2011 !! Chances of remembering events beyond few days are not our cup of tea unlike elephants. Modern means of video-communications bring us the news of the world 24x7x12 live into our room!!! But only a three decades ago it what just the newspaper and radio. How many our fathers were literate enough to read these papers and how many others afforded the transistor sets? But today the media runs the state, be it politics or economy. Market economy is supported by news and other media, given the hefty advertisement price to our Cricketing Heroes !! Sponsors make it sure to grab the national celebrity to advertise their products whether these are fuel guzzling luxury cars or health-risking hydrated drinks. Similarly, the nation-states are sponsoring programmes to sell their products, so called ‘Green Food’ or ‘Technology’. Therefore, the media needs to be highly responsible and critical on such issues so that the people of the world know the right recipe !!
The Himalayan glaciers are also in the similar procession of changes in the frontal areas in the last century. These changes are also poorly understood at the global level or local regional level changes over millennial scales. At the centennial scale, there are unequivocal evidences of changes both in the archaeological forms and folk history. Now assuming an average velocity rate at ~ 25 meters a year in the Himalayan glaciers, the present trend of frontal retreat in some of the glaciers can be worked out to be 1000 years old response of climate amelioration related to the middle ages warm period between 900-1300 AD. Irrevocable evidences of glaciers staying at the same position for at least one thousand years come from the Lahaul Himalayas where glaciers still cover over 17% of the total area. Many villages migrated to higher areas next to the glacier terminuses in some cases during this period about 900-1100 years ago, while in the others; they shifted to lower areas, abandoning their hearths. What is more startling is that the villages fed by ice-caps and glacierets went totally dry. These events are all there in the form of ruins and folk histories of the region. On a decadal scale, we have just about lost a minuscule 0.13 km2 since 1975 from these glaciers that cover about 170 km2 of the basin, notwithstanding frontal retreat ranging between 14 meters/year to no change at all for the period of observation/analysis. It means that forecast of the Himalayan glaciers melt-down by 2035 or 2050 was very well intended and a targeted move to get unknown objectives achieved by the unknown nation-states !!!! Given the topographic, altitudinal and precipitation character of the Himalayan glaciers, there can be no forecast on their demise as long as the Himalayan mountain heights remain. 

Considering humans as the most diligent species, adaptability and resilience is our forte. We live at boiling Timbuktu in the Saharan desert to Arctic Circle in the frigid north. If the humans could evolve and expand their territories beyond limits for many millions of years, it is because of the very adaptive capability and resilience characterized in our blood. Traditional knowledge and technologies need to be preserved so that these would come handy in our rescue at the time of ‘Climate Driven Exigencies’ rather than relying purely on genetically modified ‘Green Food’ or ‘Disaster-draped ‘Energy Technologies’. The advanced nations to have moral responsibility to transfer at no cost the safer technologies to the less developed, considering such transfers as a fundamental human duty.


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