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BRICS remains on course for bigger, more effective projects in the years to come

Updated: Oct 17, 2016 21:23 IST, Hindustan Times

Original link is here

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(From Left) Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma, at BRICS summit, Benaulim, Goa, October 16 (PTI)

Heading into the BRICS summit in Goa last weekend, Indian diplomacy sought four key objectives. First, use the forum to strengthen bilateral relationships with all four countries, especially Russia and China. BRICS as a grouping will undoubtedly be served well, and its mandate strengthened, as a result of political exchanges at the bilateral level. Second, stabilise the BRICS regime at a time when some of its major constituents have been perceived as disruptive forces in the international order. Third, leverage the platform to highlight concerns of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and lend momentum to India’s efforts to promote a comprehensive, multilateral instrument to tackle terrorism. And fourth, consolidate and build on the institutionalisation of intra-BRICS initiatives, aimed mainly at promoting economic growth.

All four objectives were materially advanced by New Delhi at the summit, with varying degrees of success. At a time of general turbulence in the international system, whether it is armed conflict in Syria, contestation in the South China Sea or the imminent overhaul of global climate and trading regimes, India can take credit that the summit concluded on a sober, even footing, without letting the political predilections of each power holding sway over the group.

On the subject of terrorism, the Goa declaration strongly endorsed multi-national efforts to tackle the spread of terror networks, and specifically urged countries to crack down on terrorist organisations designated by the United Nations Security Council. It is frankly besides the point that groups based in Pakistan. such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed did not find mention by name in the declaration, since they are groups that are listed by the UNSC under its anti-terror sanctions regime. The references to terrorism in Afghanistan in particular are significant, as they cast a shadow over Islamabad’s conduct in preventing its neighbour from pursuing its “independent political and economic course”. India’s pointed references to Pakistan’s less-than-constructive role in tackling home grown terror networks indicate New Delhi is prepared to sustain its recent efforts to draw ever more global attention to the subject.

The conversations on terrorism in Goa, however, should not detract from the substantial progress that BRICS countries have made in the last year in charting a common economic narrative. Thrown into sharp relief by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the diminishing appetite for integrated markets and indeed, globalisation as we know it, has not deterred BRICS countries from pushing ahead with key economic initiatives.

The Goa declaration correctly highlights the critical role of the New Development Bank (NDB) in attracting foreign investment and supporting renewable energy and infrastructure projects in the global South. Consensus on a BRICS credit rating mechanism was not forthcoming at the 8th summit, given that a consolidated view on perception of financial risk and regulation is a sensitive matter. It is worth noting here that the NDB itself was the product of many such BRICS meetings, both at the level of leaders and sector experts. The credit ratings mechanism is an important initiative that should be pursued with vigour when BRICS finance ministers, industry associations and independent experts now meet over the course of the calendar year to flesh out its details.

Among the biggest takeaways from the summit’s deliberations is BRICS’ continued willingness to take on the unfavourable economic headwinds together, whether by pushing towards greater integration of its markets, facilitating the mutual ease of doing business or providing accessible capital to its businesses. India’s hosting of the BRICS and BIMSTEC summits helped in highlighting that trade ties need to be significantly enhanced, not just among BRICS, but also between BRICS and BIMSTEC countries. On this count, the declaration’s heightened attention and call to build the capacity of micro, small and medium enterprises to ensure they are included in global value chains are significant as they are crucial sources of employment.

The summit declaration also brought the focus back to international norms that promote stability and inclusion in common spaces. At a time when mega-regional trading agreements have significantly altered the discourse on cross-border trade, the summit stressed the need for co-operation in crucial matters relating to Intellectual Property Rights and the digital economy. BRICS members have always attributed a position of “centrality” to the WTO-led trading system, but their endorsement this year is significant.

The Goa declaration reflects an important moment in the group’s history, which has seen the “alternative” powers weighing on the side of liberal, multilateral trading institutions that were conceived by the West. References to the “open and non-fragmented” nature of digital spaces should not be viewed from the prism of Internet governance alone. It is also a pointed reference to the need to keep cyberspace open for commerce, and prevent its “stratification” by exclusive trading regimes.

The BRICS summit in Goa reinforces India’s position as a “bridge” between the liberal institutional order and the potential disruptive impulses of major powers that have opened up the possibility for contestation. Its concurrent hosting of the BIMSTEC heads of state meeting allowed New Delhi to raise the grouping’s profile, and signal its importance to India’s neighbourhood diplomacy in the days to come.

As for the Goa declaration, India may not have had its way on every issue – this is only natural, just as New Delhi sought to moderate the influence of Moscow’s holding the pen at the BRICS Ufa summit last year, the gives and takes of diplomacy ensure a document that is acceptable to all. The Goa declaration ensured the BRICS ship continues to sail steady, and remains on course for bigger and more effective projects in the years to come.

Samir Saran is vice president, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

 

New Norms for a Digital Society

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While the state continues to exercise its regulatory capacity over digital spaces — a task it will likely keep in the coming years — the internet has magnified the rights and responsibilities of the private sector and end users across the world.

The interaction between states, non-state actors and transnational corporations necessitates the creation of a regime complex that clearly outlines their respective roles. This paper is a first step in that direction, articulating norms that may serve as the baseline for legal and political agreements on cyberspace. Inter-governmental gatherings like the UN Group of Government Experts have largely focused their efforts on the security of networks and ICTs. Multistakeholder organisations and platforms like the Internet Governance Forum, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and the Internet Engineering Task Force, have begun to re-orient their mandate, with a view to make their governance more inclusive and accountable.

The set of seven norms and their corollaries identified in this paper may inform the functioning of both intergovernmental and multistakeholder processes. This document also attempts to chart the role of the private sector in digital governance. The end user today is valuable to internet companies, since the data collected from consumers directly contributes to the creation of revenues. If user data is the basis of wealth generation, internet giants have a responsibility to invest in the user by offering local content and innovative technologies that are contextual. This is particularly true in the case of emerging economies and developing countries, where internet businesses should tailor to the unique needs of the next billion users.

This paper argues that effective internet governance requires shifting the locus of digital debates from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific and bringing in new voices and views of a new constituency of stakeholders. Similarly, all stakeholders must work towards building the capacity of growing digital economies and first-generation internet users. Efforts to fragment digital spaces by creating alternative “internets” must be avoided. Just as regimes that curtail the freedoms of internet users are undesirable, actions that raise the cost of local innovation and increase barriers to the unrestricted flow of technology, and thereby quality of access, should also be discouraged. These norms are a work in progress, and the author reserves the right to refine them through continued consultations with stakeholders across the spectrum.

1. Online = Offline + more

The protection of rights over the internet requires mechanisms that are unique, contextual and transformative. Rights on the internet should not be limited to those offline, and must build on the edifice of free speech and expression that already exists. Similarly, current regulatory frameworks must evolve in response to the digital medium. Just as traditional broadcasting regulations have become inadequate to regulate online speech, outmoded censorship laws often constrain free expression and impose a chilling effect. Contemporary conversations on privacy must reflect the need to protect sensitive data, while acknowledging its importance for technological innovations that benefit local communities.

NORM: Realising the transformative potential of the internet requires progressive online freedoms that move beyond rights granted offline.

COROLLARY: Real-world regulations must not constrain the advancement of technology; rather, they must evolve in response.

2. Let data flow

Affordable, universal and high-quality access to the internet is among the top policy prerogatives of governments today. Access will require substantial investments in the form of local data centres, internet exchanges and last-mile connectivity. As net exporters of data, developing countries represent a robust market for internet companies. For their digital economies to expand — thereby increasing the share of the global pie — the free flow of trans-boundary data must be coupled with the unrestricted flow of technology. Custodians of data should orient their research and development towards local solutions, and foster domestic entrepreneurship. Data flows, however, should respect the sovereign imperative of law enforcement and security.

NORM: The global free flow of information must necessarily lead to universal access to the internet in emerging economies that is affordable and qualitatively rich.

COROLLARY: Free flow of data must be complemented by free flow of technology that is tailored for local innovative solutions.

Saran_Corollary_2

3. Living in an encrypted world

Governments around the world are locked in debate with industry bodies and civil society for the right to access encrypted communications. Backdoors and forced localisation of data, however, can decrease the overall standard of security in the market, curtail free speech, and violate the integrity of data. Governments should welcome technological developments that incorporate security by design, with a view to preserve the integrity and stability of digital networks.

NORM: Encryption must be the norm.

COROLLARY: Decryption of data must be subject to rigorous standards of judicial review.

Saran_Corollary_3

4. The responsibility to inspect?

States are faced with increasingly dangerous and sophisticated threats from state and non-state actors in cyberspace. The technological and legal capacity for dealing with these threats is often disparate, caused in part by lack of access to proper forensic, investigative and prosecutorial tools. It is the sovereign function of a state to protect its own citizens and infrastructure from such threats, without undue interference or intervention in its affairs. The interconnected nature of the internet demands that governments and businesses across geographies cooperate towards norms of cooperation that mitigate the risk of conflict.

NORM: The responsibility of states to protect cyberspace is a sovereign function, commensurate to their capacity.

COROLLARY: The collective responsibility for protecting cyberspace requires global investments for building capacity in developing countries.

5. Strengthening the base

The ubiquity of low-end smartphones, the growth of affordable data networks in emerging economies, and the relative lack of awareness of cyber vulnerabilities among users leave networks and individuals vulnerable to exploitative practices. Enhancing cyber hygiene among internet users in emerging economies can help substantially decrease the vulnerability of the global digital space as a whole.

NORM: Cyber security must account for, and address technology limitations of the end user at the bottom of the pyramid.

COROLLARY: Local communities must be at the forefront of articulating policy solutions for cyber security.

Saran_Corollary_4

6. Three rules for internet governance

Despite attempts to decentralise and diffuse the management of global internet governance institutions, there are inadequacies in revised accountability mechanisms. The locus of internet governance must shift from big transnational corporations to start-ups, medium and small local enterprises, from governments to multistakeholder communities, and from trans-Atlantic conversations to Asia-centric debates.

NORM: Multistakeholderism should be institutionalised by accounting for diversity in gender, geography and sectors.

COROLLARY: International internet governance must undertake three transitions and accommodate new stakeholders:

  • States → Communities.
  • Trans-national corporations → Small & Medium Enterprises and Startups.
  • Atlantic → Asia and Africa

7. Against the Splinternet

The Domain Name System (DNS) represents a stable and contiguous platform of unique identifiers, comprising numbers and names. Attempts to fragment the internet by creating an “alternative” system or through interference in the functioning of the “root” should weigh its potential impact on internet users, businesses and governments. Just as technical efforts to create a parallel DNS should be discouraged, trade regimes around the digital economy should consider the effect of fragmenting the internet into differential pricing regimes. Affordable and universal internet access can be realised by removing policy barriers to the creation and strengthening of ICT infrastructure.

NORM: The internet should remain unfragmented.

COROLLARY: Differential trade regimes should not raise the cost of doing business in the digital economy nor impede low-cost connectivity to users in Asia and Africa.


ENDNOTES

  1. “Digital globalization: The new era of global flows” McKinsey Global Institute, February 2016, http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/ourinsights/digital-globalization-the-new-era-of-global-flows

The Great 21st Century Data Rush

Lawfare, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, 12:26 PM

 

In the digital age, data is currency and information is the energy that drives the 21st century economy. Today, 46.1 percent of the world’s population is online. These 3.4 billion Internet users collectively generate a significant amount of commercial and personal data that can be stored, collated, and analyzed. This data is the lifeline that charts users’ online identities: it can also be monetized by Internet service providers, social media platforms, and end user applications. As a necessary corollary, control over data and the flow of information has become highly politicized. One who controls this data retains the power to shape the global geopolitical order.

Data is intrinsically valuable. Data grants access to an individual’s online activity, lifestyle choices, consumption patterns and so on. It is for this reason that states have been vying to gain access to vast amounts of data either through legal mechanisms or surreptitiously. It is also the backdrop for the evolving global norms around encryption. In many ways, this conversation is reminiscent of the adage of energy politics of the 20th century: he who controls the oil controls the world. There is, however, one central difference: today, every Internet user is the owner of an unending oil field and every Internet non-user is sitting on a potential reserve.

Despite of the Internet being touted as a great “equalizer,” these global conversations are often skewed in favor of the countries that generate data or possess the technological capability to access it. The encryption debate in countries with advanced technical capacities is very different from the countries without them. Until recently, countries with strong technical capabilities were also the most ardent advocates of encryption. This approach was fueled by the belief that the state’s interception capability would always outpace the individual’s encryption capability. Increasingly, this notion is proving to be false. Even the United States realizes that impenetrable encryption could wrest control of data from the hands of the state. It is this insecurity that is causing the pitched battle between Silicon Valley’s encryption evangelists and U.S. law enforcement officials. This insecurity, however, is not unique to the West. Governments in Asia and Africa also drive their own encryption debates out of a fear of losing control over the social order and their capability to monitor their citizens. At the same time, these issues’ importance is also accentuated by the looming threat that their countries’ data will be gathered, stored, and exploited across oceans in another continent.

Cyber diplomacy and geopolitics in these nations is therefore determined by the need to retain control over information emanating from within their countries and the anxiety of this data’s potential misuse by actors outside their borders. As with the conversations around the erstwhile frontier technologies in the nuclear and space domain, this too has a strategic dimension. Unfortunately, these strategic necessities are often responsible for constraining the development of privacy and data protection norms governing the Internet. States insist on perceiving the control of data as a zero sum game. Encryption is perhaps the centerpiece of the falsely dichotomous conversation around security and human rights. Encryption, however, must fundamentally be about human rights.

Encryption is an idea that is grounded in the principles of data integrity and data ownership. The right to encrypt communications is central to the autonomy that we offer all citizens over their own data and who can use, analyze, and access that data and under what conditions. This right automatically grants them the opportunity of determining who can commercially exploit their data. While most of us are comfortable exchanging our personal data for services over the Internet, this decision does not automatically nullify our right to choose how our personal data is used. Naturally, this autonomy must be subject to certain exceptions for law enforcement purposes. However, these exceptions must be considered, pragmatic, and mindful of the human rights imperative. They must not be driven by paranoia and the need for absolute control.

Another noteworthy dimension in this debate is the commercial opportunity that encryption presents. Encryption technology is big business. If data is the new currency then encryption solutions are the new Swiss banks and the market leaders in the tech space like Apple, Facebook and Google are all vying for recognition as “digital Swiss banks.” They are cognizant of the need to protect data, but equally conscious of its commercial value. While they refuse encrypted information to law enforcement agencies, apps and platforms in Google and Apple’s ecosystems innovate and thrive on the availability of big data. It is not public policy that is driving this harvest of data. It is, ironically, the “privacy policies” of major players. Across the pond, European regulators have failed to distinguish the false choice between public and private data with potentially negative consequences for innovation. Indeed, European Internet providers have themselves demanded that privacy norms reflect the need to innovate digitally.

All this is not to question the assumption that the state constantly seeks to monitor digital networks. But the growing trend towards protecting data from the prying eyes of the state poses another important question: is encryption the end of innovation? Increasing law enforcement requests for data retrieval and the myriad ways in which the state collects data en masse are leaving the private sector apprehensive of collecting big data that they may later be required to give up. While this may sound good prima facie, it has a serious downside. Without access to data, the private sector has no means to innovate and tailor their products to the market. The boom in the app economy was fueled largely by creating markets for products and services based on data analysis. Is it possible that the ubiquity of that very data is foretelling the collapse of the market that trades in information?

Ultimately, the debate on encryption must keep three vertices in focus: law enforcement, data privacy, and innovation. The legal standards around data protection and surveillance may vary across jurisdictions—as will the ability of start-ups to innovate—but any policy measures on encryption must arrive at a floating median between these three indicators.

Policy short-sightedness exacerbates India’s water crisis

6 May 2016, the interpreter

Original link is here

While droughts can be written off as an ‘act of god,’ the fact that the ongoing drought in India has acquired its current intensity is a reflection of the sorry state of economic governance and planning in this country.

This state of affairs has its origin in four structural problems that plague India’s political-economic system at large, and are of immense consequence when it comes to managing India’s water:

  1. The continued use of government-mandated support prices and subsidies for farm produce and farmers.
  2. The de facto orientation of infrastructure projects towards industry, and not for lifeline support.
  3. The perverse effects of the rural employment guarantee schemes.
  4. The absence of innovation and finance around fresh-water recycling, desalination, and river-linking schemes, as well as the continued dominance of revenue expenditure over capital expenditure for the rural sector.

The negative externalities of agricultural subsidies

India is the second-largest producer of sugar in the world after Brazil. Last November, India’s cabinet approved a US$173 million subsidy for sugar cane producers supplying mills that export sugar and produce ethanol. This subsidy would, in effect, make sugar and ethanol produced in India cheaper relative to other countries, and thus make it more competitive at a time when the global commodities super-cycle is at an all-time low.

Such subsidies, along with mechanisms like government-guaranteed minimum support prices for agricultural products, incentivise producers to cultivate commodities that are natural-resource intensive. It is not an accident that Maharasthra, India’s biggest sugar-producing state, finds itself hit the hardest by the current crisis. The drought in the district of Marathwada, a region which accounts for 25% of the state’s sugar output, is the worst since 1972.

Temples for the few, and the lucky

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, once called dams the temples of modern India. It now transpires that these temples only serve a select few through a system of rent-seeking and patronage. The Jayakwadi dam in Maharastra is one of the largest of its kind in Asia. It was created in 1965 with the express purpose of providing relief to the drought-prone Marathwada district. Instead it seems, as India’s Agriculture Minister has claimed, that the biggest beneficiary of this dam is the sugar industry. Meanwhile 89 irrigation projects in the state have been on hold for more than 20 years.

It is not uncommon in India for these projects to be approved to placate certain sections of the population. Synching the approval and completion of lifeline projects to the electoral cycle leads to the kind of unmitigated disaster India is witnessing today. This electoral pandering, coupled with abysmal short-sightedness, leads to a situation whereMaharastra has 1845 dams (35% of all dams in the country), yet only 18% of agricultural land is irrigated (compared to the national average of 47%).

Wither rural employment guarantees?

But construction of dams and other large-scale irrigation engineering projects is only part of the solution. A sustained effort must be made to renew and rejuvenate traditional water bodies and harvesting systems.

The previous government’s much-vaunted rural employment guarantee (MNREGA) scheme took as its goal the provision of employment to the rural poor by directing surplus labour towards infrastructure projects. In principle, MNREGA should have been the perfect vehicle through which traditional water works could have been maintained. Instead, MNREGA has distorted labour markets by disincentivising rural industries and jeopardising the income potential of the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the scheme continues to bleed money. In 2006-07 (the first year of the scheme’s implementation), MNREGA allocation stood at US$1.53 billion. By 2010-11, the heyday of last government’s populism, it had reached an astonishing US$6.2 billion. The Modi Government seems to have fallen for the same trap: MNREGA’s budget estimate for the current financial year stands at US$5.8 billion.

The sad fact is that despite India’s considerable success in achieving food security (through the Green Revolution), very little effort has been made since to push India’s agricultural products up the value chain, which would have increased rural income as well as reduced the vulnerability of India’s farmers to climatic shocks such as the ongoing drought. Instead of infusing private capital and public infrastructure into the sector, a system of patronage through doles and waivers continues, which seriously compromises the very people it ostensibly seeks to protect. The archaic mechanism of minimum support prices continues to drain the exchequer while insufficiently contributing to the laudable goal of subsidising food. In 2011-12, the procurement subsidy accounted for 85%1 of all food subsidy. Under the Modi Government, this has come down to 43%2, a worthy first step.

Meanwhile, rural capital expenditure has fallen from US$71.3 million3 in 1999-2000 to a measly US$9 million4 in 2015-16. The sharpest drop happened between 2006-2007 and 2008-2009, from US$49 million5 to US$14.6 million6 — not surprising since between these two years, MNREGA allocations jumped three times. Even in irrigation and flood control, revenue expenditure growth overwhelmingly dominates capital expenditure growth: between 1998-1999 and 2015-2016, the former grew by 21%7 while the latter grew by 4%8 .

The need for large-scale innovation

A key challenge of a rapidly growing urban India will be the sustainability of its cities.

Modern India has never shied away from espousing faith in technology to meet its national challenges – a legacy of Nehru’s vision. However, as is the case with most ambitious national projects, the time-lag between announcing a vision and actually implementing it is often unacceptably large. An ambitious project to link 37 of India’s rivers in the north and the south is a case in point. First announced in 1982 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, this project had laid dormant for more than 33 years, to be once again taken up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year. But opposition remains rife, from the usual coterie of nay-sayers who have a vocal anti-technology stance in the name of environmentalism. This view carries political weight in India.

It is estimated that India’s water demand will rise to 1180 billion cubic litres by 2050, more than 1.6 times the current consumption. The increase in demand for fresh water will be exacerbated by the dwindling water table. A government that plans for the future ought to incentivise the entry of the private sector into large-scale desalination plants that caters to cities along the coasts. For this to be commercially viable, the target cities should be empowered to generate more revenue. Industrial demand for fresh water is increasing at 8% annually while India’s large cities alone generate close to 40,000 million litres of sewage every day. Recycled water can also be directed towards agriculture as Israel does with 86% of its waste water contributing to farm irrigation.

If the government’s ambitious renewable energy targets are an indication of national will, large-scale deployment of desalination technology may not be out of reach.

_______________________

Based on calculations derived from Yearly Account of Department of Food And Public Distribution 2011-12 and Food Subsidy, Expenditure by Broad Categories, Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2012-13.

Based on calculations derived from Yearly Account of Department of Food And Public Distribution 2014-15 and Food Subsidy, Expenditure by Broad Categories, Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2015-16.

Based on calculations derived from Expenditure budget for Ministry of Rural Development (Department of Rural Development 2000-01 + Department of Land Resources 2000-01) and Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Agriculture Cooperation 2000-01 + Department of Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Dairying, 2000-01).

Based on calculations derived from Expenditure budget for Ministry of Rural Development (Department of Rural Development 2016-17 + Department of Land Resources 2016-17) and Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Agriculture Cooperation 2016-17 + Department of Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Dairying 2016-17).

Based on calculations derived from Expenditure budget for Ministry of Rural Development (Department of Rural Development 2007-08 + Department of Land Resources 2007-08) and Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Agriculture Cooperation 2007-08 + Department of Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Dairying 2007-08).

Based on calculations derived from Expenditure budget for Ministry of Rural Development (Department of Rural Development 2009-10 + Department of Land Resources 2009-10) and Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Agriculture Cooperation 2009-10 + Department of Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Dairying 2009-10).

Calculated using Budget Provision by Heads of Accounts- Revenue 1999-00 and Budget Provision by Heads of Accounts- Revenue 2016-17.

Calculated using Budget Provision by Heads of Accounts-Capital 1999-00 and Budget Provisions by Heads of Accounts- Capital 2016-17.

Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

 

 

India — Re-Energized

Samir Saran Argues that India Must Hold Fast Against Western Climate Change Demands

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India has come in for harsh criticism in recent weeks for refusing to agree to limit its carbon emissions as part of climate negotiations set for next month in Paris. Then, last week, the Indian government revoked Greenpeace’s license to operate in India, claiming the environmental NGO had covered up the extent of its foreign funding. Seeking to understand the situation better Breakthrough’s Michael Shellenberger interviewed Samir Saran, an energy and environmental expert at the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank.

November 12, 2015 | Michael Shellenberger

Original line is here


What motivated you to write your recent essay about the double standard the West is trying to hold India to on climate change?

Earlier this year I was speaking at a premier Washington DC think tank around the time India announced it wouldn’t commit to overall emissions reductions at the climate negotiations. Someone in the audience said to me, “Why can’t India play by the same rules everyone else is agreeing to?” My response was “Why can’t India develop like everyone else did?”

Where are Indians when it comes to energy for development?

Today Indians with grid connectivity spend at least 20 – 25 percent of their income on energy. This only allows them a fraction of energy that the developed world consumes. Indians on an average consume one-fifth of the average coal consumption of an American and one-third of a European. The Chinese, Americans and Japanese all spend less on procuring renewable energy relative to their incomes than do Indians.

Do Indians view climate as the biggest environmental concern?

It is often said that India does not care about the millions who are dying of lung diseases due to pollution. Such a statement diminishes the moral agency of Indians and overlooks the fact that the biggest killer and cause of respiratory deaths is lack of energy. People die because they use informal fuels and inexpensive stoves. To begin any conversation on an issue as complex as Climate with truisms such as “clean air”, “blue skies” etc is to not have any conversation at all.

Beyond being annoying, does what the West says really matter?

Of course it matters! Discourse is still controlled in the Atlantic countries. And these conversations shape choices and imaginations and ultimately preferences — which in turn decide how nations approach issues around financing, lending and making grants.

The Atlantic debates ignore the West’s own “coal-fueled reality,” and seem determined to control others’ carbon choices. All of this is leading to a very constricted development debate for the countries that are beginning to urbanize and industrialize.

Climate debates within the OECD are impacting life choices in the developing world. For India these could be significant dampeners for its vital national projects in the coming years.

Why do you say the next few years are the most critical?

It is estimated that over the next two decades India will need to invest over $2.5 trillion in infrastructure and energy. A large part of this investment may be local and publicly financed. But a significant amount of commercial loans and equity will be needed from global investors. Our national capacities are not commensurate with our ramp-up requirements. During this take-off stage it would be fatal if availability and cost of money become an impediment.

Can’t India find the capital it needs somewhere else?

At a debt-to-equity ratio of, say, 2.33, over the next 20 years or so Indian projects in these sectors would need to borrow roughly $1.8 – 1.9 trillion.

The universe of sources may be restricted. The U.S. EXIM Bank says it will not lend to coal projects; soon the World Bank may follow suit. Other investors like insurance and pension funds in EU don’t want to invest in emerging economies generally due to their fiduciary requirements.

In short, the West is directing finance away from development and infrastructure and towards what resonates with its evolving climate sensibilities. There is a distinct green color to development finance these days. Such twenty-first century morals contest with twentieth century development imperatives.

Can’t the Indian government finance the infrastructure itself?

The Indian Finance Minister’s annual budget is roughly $260 billion a year. But most of it is already committed to military, government salaries and social schemes. That leaves the government with under $50 billion for discretionary spending.

And there is pressure from Europe and the US to direct that spending in a certain way. There is also pressure from within India. Various lobbies are at work and do contest for a sizable share of this pie. The social sector, supporting private sector investments in renewables, incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises are all competing.

Global agreements can have decisive impact. There is some additional room also available with the government-controlled enterprises. And many of these are in the forefront of investing in the bricks and mortar industries.

What about private investors?

The large corporates are linked to global financial regimes and their investments follow sectors for which funds are available. Even as far back as 10 years ago, the revenues of the top five Indian companies made up 16% of India’s GDP. The 2015 budget on the other hand makes up less than 15% of our GDP today. Clearly we have a case of the tail trying to wag the dog. The biggest resources are in domains that are outside global governmental processes and treaties. Due to these being linked to the global political economy, the Indian private sector is increasingly invested in renewables (over-invested, by the way: solar could be a huge bubble as technology and price change).

Can’t India borrow from China?

If you want capital to invest in non-solar energy you have to go to sources in East Asia: Japan, China, and Korea. You basically have three options. The result is we end up borrowing money at 7-9 percent as opposed to the 1-2 percent you can borrow money at in Europe.

High cost of debt is a big problem here even with renewable energy investments and when the costs are passed on to the consumer, renewables are not competitive with fossil fuels. A CPI study couple of years ago arrived at a conclusion that unfavourable debt terms are adding 24-32% to the cost of renewable energy in India, compared to similar projects in the US.

What should India do?

We need to secure finance from larger development and financial institutions and find ways to attract foreign direct investment for infrastructure. That’s what we have to fight for. We also need to ensure that global regimes that are being shaped as we move to COP21 at Paris and beyond are not going to stop 20th Century financing of roads, bridges, power plants, social infrastructure — for India and for the developing world.

At the same time we need to change the discourse in western capitals about India’s efforts on combatting climate change. We need to communicate clearly and boldly that we are committing to ambitious renewable energy targets and that we are punching above our weight and responsibility on climate mitigation.

Do you believe the accusations made by the Indian Intelligence Bureau that Western environmental funding is thwarting development projects?

Not just anecdotally but also based on an exercise we did a few years ago it became apparent that the same set of actors have been opposing India’s development agenda over a few decades. First they were against our large irrigation projects. Then they opposed hydro projects. Then thermal plants. More recently they are opposing our nuclear plants and now there is a general pushback against the entire infrastructure investment agenda of India.

Is there something sinister and conspiratorial behind these attempts by the same sets of actors? I do not know. Should we resort to banning them? Not at all. It is time to create the counter narrative and a counter discourse. Ideas and images must be countered by logic and reality. Are we good at that? No, but we should up our game and therefore I believe scholars and practitioners from India must contribute more frequently to western platforms. Which goes back to your first question on my motivation for writing generally and that particular column specifically.

The Bureau claims that opposition to development slows India’s growth by 1 – 3 percent per year. Is that a real number or just something they made up?

I don’t know how they got to that number but I assume they would compute on the basis of some relationship between investment in infrastructure projects and GDP growth. You have to remember that China’s big investments in infrastructure, bridges, steel, etc, put its growth on steroids.

We can’t do that because we undertook land reforms before we implemented economic reforms whereas China implemented bold economic policies and is still to reform its land laws. Result being that the Indian government can’t announce special economic zones and take over large tracks of land and create industrial areas. Here one man in a village can hold up a whole development initiative through legal recourse and in a sense that is also the strength of India’s development process.

So to answer your question – the number is not important. What is important is that there is a fundamental relationship between infrastructure spending and GDP growth.

So even without Western funding wouldn’t there be resistance to those projects anyway?

Of course! The “activism industry” relies on the politics of agitation. The problem is that not all of it is unfounded. And it is very difficult to agree to what is good agitation and what is damaging. The growing democratic ethos and more open institutional structures allow plenty of space to correct much of what is wrong but may allow also many to do a lot of harm (delays).

Can’t you do more natural gas?

Natural gas is great. We have good access to it by sea and it’s a pity that India isn’t being more aggressive to deploy this fuel. We have great scope to grow it in the coming decades. That is an exciting opportunity because it will help us replace coal and provide the bridge to a future with renewables. And recently this government has appreciated this potential as well.

What about nuclear?

The problem is we don’t have access to large quantities of uranium. That is changing but slowly. The nuclear deal was supposed to be a game changer but not even 1 KW has come out of that so far. The legacy of the Bhopal Gas tragedy means we will rightly insist on nuclear liability and that is holding up investment from Western companies.

Nuclear technology is also interlinked. For example, even though America and France are ready to build plants here, Japan is not yet ready to sign a civil nuclear agreement with us. Unfortunately, American and French plant designs use Japanese components. We are trying to find alternatives. Negotiations with South Korea have also been opened.

And then there is the looming presence of China as a supplier with whom India did open a line on cooperating in this sector. Unlikely to happen, but then stranger things have come about. But irrespective, If we were to do everything right on this front now, long lead times, approvals and safety considerations and availability of reactors imply that it will be a couple of decades before nuclear energy pulls its weight in the fuel mix and only in 2050 can it become a dominant option.


Global Summits: Where are we going? – Episode – 4

Global Summit

Original link is here

Development writer and international negotiations watcher Biraj Swain discusses with Samir Saran of Observer Research Foundation, Bidisha Pillai of SAVE the Children India, Amitabh Behar of National Foundation of India and Mukul Sanwal, career bureaucrat and India’s chief climate negotiator at 1992 Rio the recently concluded United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Summit which were gavelled in New York in the last week of September. They discuss the goals themselves and what they hold for us and our future and our children’s future. The panelists pick their favourite ones. They discuss India’s pitch and participation, and if the over-presence of private sector, is that making the global public good, the UN, a compromised entity. The close by discussing the road ahead for SDGs in India, for Indians.

They also listen in from one of India’s youth delegate at the UN, Anoyara Khatun, on her aspirations and expectations from India and world leaders.

The readings:

  1. Sustainable Development Goals, final outcome document
  2. Fit for whose purpose: Private funding and corporate influence on the United Nations
  3. The World’s search for sustainable development: A Perspective from the global South
  4. The Reality of Social Rights Enforcement
  5. The Global Goals
  6. A Note on the Optimal Supply of Public Goods and the Distortionary Cost of Taxation
  7. Indian teenager Anoyara Khatun joins Bill and Melinda Gates to combat child trafficking

India Pledges to Curb Greenhouse Gas Growth

Renewables will help the country power up with less pollution

By Lisa Friedman and ClimateWire| October 2, 2015


India has pledged to slash its emissions intensity relative to economic growth and make a massive push on clean energy by 2030 as part of its formal submission to the United Nations ahead of landmark global warming negotiations in Paris.

A solar-powered pump in India.

Ajay Tallam/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

India’s vow to unconditionally cut emissions intensity 33 to 35 percent below 2005 levels and boost the share of non-fossil-fuel energy sources more than threefold as long as it receives assistance from Western countries was widely praised by the environmental community, even as some said the world’s third-largest emitter could do more.

Referencing yoga, ancient Sanskrit texts and Mahatma Gandhi—on whose 146th birthday the plan is being formally unveiled today in New Delhi—the submission argues that India’s right to pull itself out of poverty is not necessarily incompatible with protecting the environment. At the same time, it lays out some hard-as-coal truths.

“In order to secure reliable, adequate and affordable supply of electricity, coal will continue to dominate power generation in future,” India’s intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) reads.

“One of the important areas of global collaborative research should be clean coal and fossil fuel, energy management and storage systems for renewable energy. Given the current stage of dependence of many economies on coal, such an effort is an urgent necessity.”

The blueprint outlines an action plan for decarbonizing energy-intensive sectors like transportation and building. It vows to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. It also details what India must do to protect water, agriculture and communities’ health and physical safety from floods, droughts and other increasingly devastating impacts of climate change.

Not part of the target but highlighted as a major undertaking was India’s current goal of expanding its current 35 gigawatts of clean energy capacity to 175 GW by 2022, while responding to a fourfold energy consumption growth.

The price tag for its clean energy efforts: around $2.5 trillion between now and 2030. The INDC does not say how much of that should come from the international community, but argues that “meaningful and adequate” finance will be key to achieving the targets.

“If the world indeed is concerned about its new investments to be climate friendly, it must consider the opportunity provided by a country like India,” the report argues. Wealthy countries, it admonishes, “can certainly bring down their emission intensity by moderating their consumption, and substantially utilize their investments by employing them for development activities in countries housing a vast majority of people barely living at subsistence level.”

‘This is a different India’
India’s down-to-the-wire submission at the end of the final day available to countries to file their plans to the United Nations makes it one of the last major economies to effectively take responsibility for tackling climate change. Among Group of 20 countries, only Saudi Arabia has now failed to turn in a plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The INDCs from 120 countries, including the 28-member-state European Union, will collectively make up a new global climate change accord that leaders hope to broker in Paris in December. India, long viewed by the United States and Europe as an obstructionist in the negotiations, is expected to play a key—and, activists insist, increasingly positive—role.

“This is a really significant step for India,” said Anjali Jaiswal, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s India Initiative, said of the INDC. She acknowledged that the government’s emissions intensity target could have been more ambitious—a target of 40 to 45 percent had been floated in the media. But, she noted, under the stated plan, India’s economy will grow seven times larger by 2030, while emissions will triple, rather than a typical 1-to-1 ratio.

“The targets are very important in that they make a big step to reducing emissions intensity while also allowing India’s economy to grow,” Jaiswal said. “We think this is a really strong step for India.”

Harjeet Singh, ActionAid International’s global climate policy manager, who is based in India, agreed. He called the INDC “extremely comprehensive” and said, “reading it, what came to mind is, this is a different India.”

Singh described India’s approach as making note of the historical responsibility of wealthy countries that have been polluting the atmosphere for decades while also going beyond the old rich-poor divide.

“It’s solution-oriented,” he said of the INDC. “It talks not just about national circumstances, but how energy needs are going to grow and the number of initiatives we have to make sure of a low-carbon pathway.”

India’s INDC is markedly different from China’s in both style and substance. Unlike China, India offers no peak year for halting emissions growth. Energy experts said that comes as no surprise, given the nearly 400 million people still living without electricity in India. It also was released on Indian soil, timed to the birthday anniversary of the leader of the country’s independence movement. Chinese President Xi Jinping, by contrast, made China’s two major climate change unveilings while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama, first in Beijing last year and later in the White House Rose Garden.

“India in some ways is the man in the middle. It’s an emerging economy, but it’s not a developed economy,” said Jaiswal.

Samir Saran, a senior fellow and vice president at the Observer Research Foundation, a leading think tank in India, praised India for coming up with what he called a “positive and novel” approach to fairness—or, as it is known in the U.N. climate negotiations, “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Rapid economic growth raises questions
“India has demonstrated leadership in sharing common responsibility … through a differentiated proposition on action that seeks global partnership on the means of implementation,” he wrote in an email.

Others were less impressed. Greenpeace India called the non-fossil target a “step in the right direction.” But, the group added in a statement, “India’s continued commitment to expand coal power capacity is baffling.”

Meanwhile, the goal of ramping up non-fossil energy to 40 percent also raised questions. Without hydropower, several energy analysts pegged India’s current levels at 12 to 14 percent. With large hydropower, however, the country is already at 30 percent non-fossil energy, making the jump less significant. The INDC does not specify what sources it is including—or if the projected growth also includes nuclear energy.

Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate staff member, said the plan “predictably” emphasizes growth through coal expansion, and called on India to truly show its commitment to climate action by agreeing to restrict hydrofluorocarbon gases (HFCs), a potent contributor to climate change, under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

“India must also do more to encourage private-sector investment in solar and other clean energy, including by reforming their notoriously corrupt and inefficient government bureaucracy, or investors will stay away and throw serious doubt [on] their laudable renewable energy goals,” Bledsoe said.

Varun Sivaram, Douglas Dillon fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said India is in a difficult position. Without moving away from coal and enacting major structural reforms in the utility sector, he noted, it’s unclear if even meeting the 175 GW of renewable energy goal would do much to reduce India’s emissions.

“If they meet it, it will be a miracle. But even if they meet it, they will have to produce a lot more power from coal plants just to keep up with a 7 percent growth rate,” he said. “It’s not clear that just investing in renewables will result in a 1-to-1 reduction of emissions.”

Reporter Gayathri Vaidyanathan contributed.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

India Vows to Cut Carbon Intensity in Paris Pledge

OCT. 2, 2015, 11:16 A.M. E.D.T., The New York Times

Original link is here

NEW DELHI — India’s long-awaited pledge for a global climate pact shows how the world’s No. 3 carbon polluter is making significant efforts to rein in the growth of emissions linked to its fast-surging demands for energy, analysts said Friday.

India vowed to reduce its emissions intensity by 33-35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, primarily by boosting the share of electricity generated by sources other than fossil fuels such as coal and gas to 40 percent.

That means India’s emissions will continue to grow as its economy expands, but the increase relative to economic output will be lower than it is now.

“Our every action will be cleaner than what it was earlier,” Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters Friday, insisting that Indian traditions and culture are already “at one with nature.”

India was the last of the major economies to present its offer for the U.N. climate deal that’s supposed to be adopted in December in Paris.

Javadekar said India held its submission back so it could coordinate its filing with the Indian holiday celebrating the birthday Friday of the country’s forefather, Mohandas K. Gandhi, an ardent environmentalist.

As of Friday, 146 nations accounting for 87 percent of global carbon emissions had submitted their pledges.

Environmental groups following the U.N. climate talks welcomed India’s offer.

“India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy, and is poised to play an active and influential role in the international climate negotiations this December,” said Rhea Suh, president of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

Some said the carbon intensity target was conservative and projected that India would exceed it if it meets its renewable energy goals.

“This shows that key economic and infrastructure ministries have been closely engaged in formulating climate policy, which is an important break from the past,” said Navroz Dubash of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Climate analyst Samir Saran at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank, also described India’s targets as ambitious and “rooted in Indian reality,” given the fact that at least 300 million citizens — a fourth of the population — still have no access to electricity at all, while hundreds of millions more make do with just a few hours a day.

India’s submission also made that point, noting that “it is estimated that more than half of India of 2030 is yet to be built.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made manufacturing and job creation a key promise of his administration, and has implored foreign companies and governments, with the slogan “Make in India,” to help.

India also promised aggressive reforestation efforts, with enough new trees to absorb up to 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, and laid out plans for adapting to changing weather and temperatures.

“This is a positive and novel Indian approach,” Saran said, adding that India was effectively sharing responsibility for taking action to protect the climate while seeking global partnerships on implementing those plans.

India plans a fivefold boost in renewable energy capacity in the next five years to 175 gigawatts, including solar power, wind, biomass and small hydropower dams.

Even with a major boost in renewable energy, India is also planning to expand coal power — the biggest source of emissions — to satisfy its energy needs. Coal-fired power plants account for about 60 percent of India’s installed power capacity.

By 2030, the government said its installed capacity from “non-fossil fuel-based energy resources” would grow to 40 percent. Currently non-fossil sources account for about 30 percent — half of it solar and wind power and the other half large hydropower and nuclear.

India said boosting its renewables would require help with transfer of clean technology and financing — two of the crunch issues before the Paris deal, which is supposed to apply to all countries but also include provisions for rich countries to help poor countries fight climate change and adapt to its consequences.

Scientists say the heat-trapping carbon emissions released by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — are a key driver of rising temperatures that could lead to potentially catastrophic impacts, including flooding of island nations and intensifying droughts.

China and the U.S. are the only countries with higher emissions than India. As a bloc, the 28-nation European Union’s emissions are also higher.

Like other developed countries, the U.S. and the EU committed to absolute reduction targets, while China pledged that its emissions would stop growing by 2030. India, with hundreds of millions still living in poverty, wasn’t expected to offer a peak year because its emissions are projected to increase for decades as energy demand rises along with economic growth.

Javadekar said industrialized countries should be setting even more ambitious targets than what’s been pledged so far.

“The developed world has polluted the world, but we will help even though we are suffering,” he said.

Two climate research groups this week said the pledges put forth before the Paris conference would slow global warming but projected that temperatures would still rise by between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees C (4.9 and 6.3 degrees F).

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Ritter reported from Stockholm.

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This report has been revised to correct quote from Javadekar.