What next for climate change?

Oct 07 2013, 02:28 IST
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SummaryThe serious manifestation of man-made climate change can only be solved by cost effective, reliable renewable energy technologies as well as emerging, safer nuclear technology

about the global climate regime being negotiated. Hitherto, the storyline from several developed countries has been that “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”, and that all countries, including the developing world, the mega-states of India and China in particular, must understand that the greater global good lies in saving the world here and now no matter that their development aspirations go unfulfilled, their poor wallow in misery several more generations, and that the developed world stays rich and escapes being held to account for its historical responsibility for the problem. Such an approach has, unsurprisingly, been strongly resisted by the developing world in general, and India and China in particular. A saner approach is now called for. The probable eventual, serious manifestation of man-made climate change, as well as the depletion of fossil fuels, can only be solved by cost effective, reliable renewable energy technologies (and emerging, inherently safer nuclear energy technologies). There are several successful examples of international technology cooperation. An outstanding current example is the ITER project, which aims to develop fusion based nuclear reactors which will rely on (heavy) hydrogen available inexhaustibly in the earth’s oceans. The commercial application of this technology is several decades away, but a number of countries, India included, are contributing human and material resources to the project after agreeing to share in the resulting IPRs. Cost-effective solar, wind, tidal, biomass, transportation, and energy storage technologies may be similarly developed by international cooperation—most are probably just a decade away from full commercialisation.

In the meanwhile, the existing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), itself provides the basis for a new approach—the Precautionary Principle—that in the face of scientific uncertainty countries should take cost-effective steps to address the problem. A number of measures make economic, social, and environmental sense as of now—most energy efficient appliances and lighting, mass transport, net conferencing, niche applications for renewable energy, less packaging of consumer goods, recycling and reuse of materials, conserving water, vegetarianism. These will bust neither the fisc nor the current account nor household budgets. At the same time they will enhance growth, social progress and environmental conservation.

The author is the director of the earth science and climate change division at TERI

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