July 25, 2009

India Heats Up Climate Debate

The chasm further widened between rich and poor nations as dialogue centered on how to approach the climate change has turned into debate.

The European Union insists that more action be taken in developing states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; however India refused to accept key scientific findings used to support global warming.

The environmental minister of India, Jairam Ramesh, claimed that the industrialized nations of the world are causing unnecessary fear about the melting Himalayan glaciers in predicting they may be gone within 40 years due to global warming.  

"We have to get out of the preconceived notion, which is based on western media, and invest our scientific research and other capacities to study Himalayan atmosphere," said Ramesh.

"Science has its limitation. You cannot substitute the knowledge that has been gained by the people living in cold deserts through everyday experience."

He also said that India would not take on targets to cut its emissions, even though the developed countries are only asking for a curb in their ever increasing emissions, rather than huge cuts.

Ramesh took an extreme position against his Swedish counterpart Andreas Carlgren.

Sweden currently presides over the European Union until December when a conference will be held in Copenhagen in an attempt to make a new pact to take the place of the expiring Kyoto protocol that aims to stabilize greenhouse emissions.

According to Carlgren, if developing countries such as India, China and Brazil expect to receive any financial support from wealthy nations, they must impose more ambitious emission reduction plans.

The issue of financing has been a source of contention between the rich and the poor countries for months, which puts the outcome of the Copenhagen talks in danger. Rich countries have yet to agree to front the money that poor nations say is necessary to assist them in cut their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

On Thursday, Carlgren firmly stated that poorer countries must come up with plans to cut emissions before financing will be provided.

Plans to curb growth in emissions have been produced by states such as China and India, but these plans have yet to be finalized within the process of negotiation.

Rich countries also received criticism from Carlgren because of their failure to agree to sufficiently reduce their emissions.

"So far, what we have seen from other countries is too low. We expect more from developed countries," he said.

"We are prepared to put money on the table, but it should also be said that if we don't see significant reductions that will really deviate from business as usual"¦then there is no money," Mr. Carlgren said.

"We are also prepared to deliver financing, but we must see that there is something to pay for."

India has been the most unyielding party in the negotiations so far. Both China and India refused to sign up to a target of reducing global emissions in half by 2050 at the meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations this month. They are waiting until the wealthier nations give in on the financing debate.

Ramesh's claims that Western science missed the mark regarding the melting Himalayan glaciers seemed to further encourage Delhi's defiance.

On Friday, Ramesh repeated that India would not submit to emissions caps to reduce global warming, Bloomberg reported.

"The world has nothing to fear from India's development ... An artificial cap is not desirable and not even necessary as we haven't been responsible for emissions in the first place," he said.

Earlier this week, he even challenged U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton about her appeal to India to seek a low-carbon future and not follow in the steps of the developed world by pursuing quick industrialization.

The glaciers of the Himalayas feed seven of the world's greatest rivers, such as the Ganges and the Yangtze.. Supplying water to about 40 percent of the world's population, the consequence of melting glaciers would be severe.

Both India and China will likely see water supply as more of a national security priority as they try to maintain high economic growth rates and sustain large populations dependent on farming. Some scientists have cautioned that global warming could cause rivers such as the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra to become seasonal.

The weakening monsoon rains are also causing much concern for Indians. Some parts of India are still anxiously awaiting this year's rain to come. If the monsoon is weak or late, it will have a negative impact on the economic growth of the nation.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, has referred to the melting glaciers as a "canary in the climate-change coal mine", noting that there are billions of people relying on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, power generation and agriculture.

Ramesh said the rate at which the Himalayan glaciers retreat varied from a couple of inches each year to a couple of yards, but that this is a process that had taken place naturally for centuries. He even insists that some are even growing.

According to Ramesh, the glaciers estimated to number around 15,000 by India's space agency have also been affected by debris and large numbers of tourists.


Image Caption: This image shows the termini of the glaciers in the Bhutan-Himalaya. Glacial lakes have been forming rapidly on the surface of the debris-covered glaciers in this region during the last few decades. NASA