A recent opposition to the felling of trees in a wooded area near Mumbai, called as the Aarey Colony, threw up some interesting debates and discussions amongst the citizens of India on Climate Change. Apart from the emotional aspect of cutting down trees to make way for a shed of a public transport project, which was important to note was the Climate Change argument.
Keeping aside the political reasons of this particular project, since the state of Maharashtra is going to the polls on 21 October, it is important for Indian citizens to understand the Climate Change politics and dynamics, before it is used an argument to protest against a much needed and important public infrastructure project, particularly an efficient public transport system like a Metro.
While I personally continue to question a lot of Climate Change models, the fact remains that we are causing grave damage to the natural resources around us. Our air and water is dirtier and just these should be reasons enough to act towards environmental conservation. Local action is needed much more than embroiling ourselves into a larger, global and possibly uncontrolled phenomenon of Climate Change.
Having said this, it is also important to understand India’s role in the Climate Change debate and dynamics. Because, without this understanding, citizens will continue to target the wrong things, while large emitters will get away by polluting.
The following data by USEPA gives us economic sectors that are the largest contributors of GHG (greenhouse gases) in the world today.
Electricity & Heat Generation – 25% of all the GHGs are caused due to our need to generate electricity and produce heat (for cold nations). So our everyday lives and our demand to have electricity for all our daily routine is what contributes to the emission of GHGs into the atmosphere.
Industry – 21% of all GHGs are produced because you and I want things for our daily lives – right from our phones to our clothes. This includes everything – all metals mined for our daily things like pens and utensils.
Agriculture, Forestry and Other Landuses – 24% of all GHGs are caused due to a variety of our activities with which we grow our food and poultry etc. So our demand for food primarily gives rise to these emissions. Forests, themselves, also emit GHGs as trees can sequester carbon only during a very short period of their life. Approximately, 20% of this 24% can be considered as its sequestration potential through biomass, soils and dead organic matter.
Transportation – 14% of all GHG emissions are due to our need for mobility, either by cars, rail, aeroplanes or buses. 10% of these emissions are due to private vehicles.
Buildings – 6% of all GHGs are emitted due to our need for a shelter. Our buildings and their services are responsible for these emissions.
Other – 10% of all GHGs are emitted by the Energy sector that is not directly counted during energy generation but is allied emissions.
From this data, it is seen that there are multiple ways in which we can reduce our contribution of GHGs. Putting the entire onus of GHGs on construction activity and particularly on essential infrastructure building is futile. In fact, with reference to the recent protests at Aarey against the Metro, it is important to note that within the Transport GHGs (14%), 10% are due to private vehicles. Hence, any projects and initiatives undertaken to reduce this 10% have to be a welcome step towards mitigating Climate Change. This is completely missed in the argument when protestors protested against an efficient public transportation system which will give the citizens a more environmentally friendly alternative to their cars.
The Climate Change dialogue amongst nations has recognized that Developing countries like India still need to put in basic infrastructure to bring its citizens out of poverty. The World leaders know that India’s current quest for complete electrification cannot be held as an action against Climate Change. In this quest of rural electrification by the Modi government, collateral conversion of land-use has been done, but the larger benefit to the people is recognized in the climate change debates across the world. Similar is the case with Indian cities and other sectors in India as well.
The vagaries of the weather are often cited as coming of a Climate Change apocalypse. Yes, we should certainly worry about these weather variations, but also accept the fact that our local level actions may not directly impact these phenomena when the developed countries are still putting out much more GHGs into the atmosphere than India. So linking a small scale forest conversion to avoiding Climate Change is not just futile, it is counterproductive to the entire debate when India is trying to put in efficient systems in place.
For India, particularly, for the urban elite, to embark on a Climate Change argument without addressing its intricacies is a dangerous game that can threaten India’s development and access of her citizens to good and necessary infrastructure. While, we as a nation accept and acknowledge that environmental conservation is important, to be held ransom to the argument of Climate Change is just plain unfair, particularly to people still living in poverty. It is only with good infrastructure, mobility and access to resources can we expect our economy to perform so that poor are lifted out of their misery. The focus of activism against Climate Change should be governments of developed countries who despite numerous conferences and treaties, have not managed to reduced their emissions to acceptable targets. It is said, and rightly so, that the urban elite of India is often more connected to the global dynamics than with their rural counterparts. They should use their connections and passion for demanding action against Climate Change to put pressure on developed nations to achieve their emission targets