Water / Climate

The finance sector must sign the Paris pact

live mint, Dec 28, 2016

Original link is here

Without increased climate funding to the global South, the poor will end up underwriting a green future for a privileged few

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The infrastructure gap, global financial sustainability, and a green future are recognized to be common global problems. Photo: Bloomberg


The Paris Agreement on climate action has an Achilles heel: the lack of a buy-in from the financial community. This absent and crucial signatory will need to play a significant role if any ambitious response to climate change has to be achieved.

This is easier said than done. “Sustainability” in financial market jargon has a very different meaning to when it is used in development-speak. In the market, this term largely disregards issues pertaining to employment generation, poverty eradication, inclusive growth and environmental considerations. Instead, it is monomaniacal in enhancing the “basis points” of the returns it generates for the community it serves—with only perfunctory interest in the “ppm (parts per million)” of carbon (mitigated or released) associated with the deployment of finance, or the human development index (HDI) effects of investments.

The regulatory responsibilities and the fiduciary duties that drive the functioning of this community are focused mostly on protecting the interests of investors and consumers (of financial instruments and banking services) by de-risking the financial ecosystem. Together, these present two specific hurdles, both of which make it difficult for the world of money to serve the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. The first hurdle pertains to geography, more specifically political geography. And the second pertains to democracy, more specifically the politics of decision making within institutions that shape and drive global financial flows.

Together, they have deleterious consequences. For instance, the major chunk of climate finance labelled as such finds it tedious to flow across borders. Thus, it is mostly deployed in the locality of its origin. This tendency is even starker for financial flows from the developed world to the developing and emerging world. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—Climate Policy Initiative (OECD—CPI) study found that “public and private climate finance mobilized by developed countries for developing countries reached $62 billion in 2014”. A separate study by CPI estimated that global flow of climate finance crossed $391 billion in the same year—implying that only about 16% of all flows moved from developed to developing countries.

This represents the most significant “collective action problem” that confronts the global community on the issue of climate change. While there is a near universal recognition that a) climate change is a global commons problem, b) the least developed countries are likely to be most affected, and c) significant infrastructure will need to be developed in emerging and developing countries to improve their low standard of living, the flow of money is (not surprisingly) blind to each of these. It recognizes political boundaries, responds to ascribed (and frequently arbitrary) ecosystem risks within these boundaries and flows to destinations and projects that enhance returns—as it was meant to.

The travails of this constrained flow of capital do not end here. In a discussion paper published by the climate change finance unit within the department of economic affairs at the Union ministry of finance, it has been highlighted that even this modest cross-border flow, which also accounts for pledges and promises made, does not adhere to the “new and additional” criteria. Flows of conventional development finance and infrastructure finance are on occasion reclassified as climate finance. And on other occasions these conventional flows are cannibalized to generate climate finance. The size of the pie remains the same.

Unless we are able to increase the total amount of resources available to cater to both the development priorities and climate-friendly growth needs of emerging and developing economies, we may only be able to build a future that is both green and grim. Everywhere, low-income populations will underwrite a green future for a privileged few.

Additional finance for meaningful climate action may be generated by simultaneously working on three fronts as we move to 2020. Successful climate action will first and foremost be predicated on the domestic regulatory framework within each country. Currently, a slew of regulations, from the flow of international finance into the domestic economy to those related to debt and equity markets, disincentivize capital from investing in climate action. It is imperative for policymakers to get their own house in order and create financial market depth and instruments that allow savings to become investible capital even as they continue to demand a more climate-friendly international financial regime.

Second, there currently exists a vast pool of long-term savings—which can be labelled “lazy money”. According to a recent International Monetary Fund report, much of this lies with pension, insurance and other funds, which have accumulated savings of approximately $100 trillion. Due to lack of political will and appropriate mechanisms, this money is neither invested in the climate agreement objectives nor in the sustainable development goals agreed to at the UN last year. This helps nobody. As a result of its inability to flow across borders, developed-world savers earn sub-par returns. And due to this source of finance remaining outside the climate purview, the investment gap in infrastructure, particularly in developing countries, has continued to increase. It now stands between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion each year. Making this “lazy money” count will be extremely important.

And finally, it is time to bring the big boys controlling banking standards into the tent. The Basel III Accords, designed to create a more resilient international banking system through a suite of capital adequacy, leverage, and liquidity requirements, contribute little to global climate resilience. Given the dependency of emerging economies like India on commercial finance for capital-intensive projects, the Basel Accords need urgent review.

The infrastructure gap, global financial sustainability, and a green future are recognized to be common global problems. But the world cannot continue to solve them on three different tracks. If so, each of them will fail. Only once they are seen as inter-connected can they be addressed effectively.

Samir Saran is vice-president at the Observer Research Foundation.

India’s perspective on post-Paris climate negotiations

ORF, Expert Speak, Nov 8, 2016

Original link is here

Fletcher Forum: How do you propose an amenable bridge between global responsibilities of combatting the legacy of historic emissions from OECD countries versus controlling increases in current (and future) emissions of BRICS nations?

Samir Saran: The pre-Paris paradigm of “strict” differentiation with regards to mitigation responsibilities has now evolved into that of “universal action.”

However, the induction of the term “climate justice” still attempts to ensure the existence of a bridge between global historical responsibilities and the future emissions of developing and emerging economies. Climate justice, defined as the recognition of equitable rights to use the atmospheric global commons, is weighed in terms of mitigation and adaptation costs. Any effort to redistribute the emissions between the OECD and the global south will need to account for the cost of differential impacts caused by reduction or avoidance of emissions. In many ways, climate justice takes forward the moral arguments of the CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibility) and Equity debate while discarding the rigid politics that have evolved around these concepts and made agreements impossible.

That being said, there are four distinct yet overlapping future potentials of “just” climate action:

One, developed countries will have to achieve their self-designed pledges on climate finance and support for technology transfer. Greater political leadership and action from the global north will encourage developing countries to walk an extra mile in meeting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). For instance, Indian and Brazilian NDCs have mentioned additional commitment to climate action provisional to availability of finance and technologies from the industrialised economies.

Second, a global set of rules could be developed to tax or regulate the higher emissions by corporations, institutions, and other parties across the globe, irrespective of their country’s development status. This type of normative framework must be universally agreed upon. All corporations above a certain size in certain sectors and irrespective of their geographical location must adhere to a framework of efficiency and climate awareness.

Thirdly, technology transfer from the west won’t be enough to strengthen climate action to the level that is required to limit global temperatures at two degrees or below two degrees Celsius. Indigenisation of technology innovation — both products and processes — will be critical to resolving the climate-development nexus. A more transparent knowledge sharing approach along with technology transfer will have to be put in place to support long-term climate resilience.

Fourth, “loss and damage” in the longer term must be operationalised. The Paris Agreement’s weak language regarding loss and damage, mainly the exclusion of a non-liability clause, was perhaps part of an effort to generate consensus on minimum level of commitment. Going forward, we can’t escape from setting an institutional apparatus to compensate for climate related losses that especially affect Small Island States, Least Developed Nations, and developing countries.

Global per capita emissions are negligible for India, but 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. What is your take on the environmental policies undertaken by some of the state governments? Do you feel there is sufficient political intent to address environmental concerns at the central level, particularly on issues like forest cover?

SS: Environmental policies alone cannot resolve India’s urbanisation challenge. There is an underlying structural and political issue, which gets veiled under the supposed “techno-managerial” clarification. A case in reference is the odd-even license plate scheme in Delhi aimed to decongest traffic and reduce air pollution. In the absence of robust infrastructure and comprehensive regulatory measures, the odd-even scheme hit a dead end. Lack of an efficient public transport system, misdirected notions of how the mega-city’s transport system should work, and the conception of the scheme itself, wherein the focus was on the number of vehicles on the road rather than the time they spent, are a few shortfalls that failed the broader intended impact of the odd-even scheme. But as I have written elsewhere, this scheme needs to be re-introduced accompanied by a slew of other measures including ‘congestion charge’, ban on diesel vehicles, rationing of vehicles per household and relooking at the notion of ‘home office’ which becomes increasingly an attractive option with communication technology and digital connectivity.

Such structural problems are mirrored by the water and waste management sector. Yamuna Action Plan I, II, and III, and the latest “Maili se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalisation” Project 2017 have endeavoured to clean one of India’s most polluted rivers. None so far have produced the desired results. This is a result of infrastructural shortcomings for waste disposal, derisory and fraudulent penalties and punishment for polluting, and growing waste generation. So we now have a situation where judicial and socio-environmental activism has maintained the pitch of the debate, but political deafness to the challenge is palpable.

How would you suggest enacting reforms in India’s overburdened and inefficient utilities or the coal sector?

SS: The Indian coal power sector is growing. In 2015–2016, coal production rose to 638 million tons (from 70 million tons in 1970s), and imports dropped by 43 percent from the previous year. The current government’s thrust on modern technologies combined with reforms in coal imports, auction, mining, extraction, and evacuation have started showing signs of sectoral improvement. However, an ambition to double coal production to 100 crores tons by 2020 will require massive improvement in the efficiency of both the product and process. Investments in research and development for clean coal technologies, improvements in boiler efficiency, and super critical technology are the lowest hanging fruits. Two aspects are critical in this sector from a climate perspective.

First, since OECD countries are neither investing in nor are mandated to develop coal technologies, the emerging economies will have to pick up the baton on research on mining technologies and boiler efficiencies. Second, every percentage gain in coal energy across the mine to power plant value chain will reduce Indian annual emissions equivalent to the entire annual emissions of some countries in Europe and elsewhere. This is a low hanging fruit that is not being bagged due to the evangelical anti-coal sentiment that is blind to its inevitable use in OECD countries and developing world.

There is much enthusiasm surrounding India’s focus on renewable energy — what lessons can India provide to other countries to develop their renewable energy sector?

SS: India’s renewable energy development trajectory presents a unique case. The country is endowed with an estimated 896 GW of renewable energy potential in the form of biomass, solar, wind, small hydro, and tidal. Besides this, the energy deficit in rural areas, increasing energy demands, and climate concerns have been the key drivers of renewable energy development in India.

To exploit this potential, India created a separate Ministry of New and Renewable Development, set national goals for biomass and solar generation, and made ambitious targets to increase the share of renewables in the total energy mix from 32 GW (2014) to 175 GW by 2022.

To provide further thrust to the sector, Prime Minister Modi along with France launched the International Solar Alliance in Paris in 2015. This group of 121 countries aim to mobilise one trillion dollars for solar investments by 2030 and improve access to solar technologies.

While it too early to present India as a successful case to learn lessons from, its vision to balance green growth along with the sovereign obligation to meet at least the lifeline energy needs of its population is an endeavour with no precedence. In a country of 400 million energy poor people, renewables offer only a fraction of a solution for energy security and economic growth. Yet, an impressive 175 GW target from renewables demonstrates the new ambition of India’s political leadership and the sense of responsibility towards global climate action. To put this ambition in perspective, India is seeking to install more renewable capacity in the next decade than the total capacity installed in Germany over multiple decades of industrialisation.

If India can pull this off, its model will be unique. India would be the first country in the world to move from a low-income society to a middle-income economy, driven significantly by renewable energy and climate conscious infrastructure. It would also be a model that is exportable to other countries similarly placed on growth ambitions and development priorities.

This interview originally appeared in The Fletcher Forum of International Affairs.

Indian climate policy in a post-Paris world

2 Feb 2016| and

Original link is here

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Most experts agree that the consensus achieved at COP21 in Paris, like most global agreements, produced a sub-optimal outcome, and by itself, is unlikely to limit global average temperature rise to two degrees centigrade (much less 1.5 degrees). The real work will happen within nations, as countries begin to roll out the implementation of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Going forward, India’s climate policy and energy policies are likely to be shaped by three documents: the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda and the Indian NDC submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). All three have implications for India’s national ambitions to grow infrastructure, ensure inclusive development and maintain sustained economic growth. The agreements also raise questions around financing, namely whether the global financial architecture can respond to the needs of this new development paradigm.

India requires in excess of $1 trillion in the next five years for meeting its stated national goals. Besides the domestic mobilisation of resources, there are two fundamental challenges that need to be resolved if the country is to meet its climate and energy goals. The first is to ensure steady global funding for its traditional infrastructure and energy projects in a carbon-constrained world. That will be difficult. The World Bank has already restricted loans for building coal-fired power plants since 2013; and in November 2015, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed to limit most state financing to ‘ultra-supercritical plants,’ which burn less coal to produce the same amount of electricity.

The second challenge is to reform the structural bias in the global financial architecture, which, since the global crisis, pays more attention to ‘credit adequacy’ rather than the ‘credit enhancement’ that India and other developing countries so urgently require. Aligning those banking needs and the global banking mood is an imperative for traditional, renewable and low-carbon projects.

Understanding India’s energy options is also a crucial task. On the mitigation front, the Indian NDC commits to reducing the emissions intensity of its economy by 33–35% by 2030 from 2005 levels and achieving 40% of its installed electrical capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. The latter commitment is conditional on receiving adequate technological and financial support. The NDC also signals that India’s per capita energy consumption may grow up to more than six times beyond 2015 levels.

As of the end of 2015, the installed capacity of clean energy sources (renewables, hydro and nuclear) in India was 30% of the total installed capacity. Therefore, even if that were to be scaled up to 40% by 2030, 60% of capacity would still be based on fossil fuels. The real room for India to maneuver is in this large block of base-load conventional generation, which will account for a majority of the actual power generation, given the low capacity factors of renewable sources of power.

According to analysis done by the Centre for Policy Research, India could have something between 600–800 GW of total electrical capacity by 2030. Taking the median figure of 700 GW, 60% of fossil fuel capacity would add up to 420 GW. The current fossil fuel capacity stands at 198 GW with 173 GW of coal and just over 24 GW gas. India is therefore likely to more than double its fossil fuel capacity by 2030, alongside the impressive commitment on increasing renewable installations.

To ensure that India’s path to development doesn’t compromise its climate action, India has a few options. First, it can ensure that the additional 200 GW of fossil fuel capacity that’s to be added up to 2030 is significantly fueled by gas. Gas-based power has roughly half the emissions of coal fired power plants. 24 GW of current gas capacity points to the limited presence of gas in India’s current energy mix and also to the potential to dramatically scale that up.

Two market conditions allow India to pursue that policy path aggressively. First, the slump in global gas prices following the restart of Japanese nuclear reactors and an oversupply in the market means that it’s the perfect time for India to negotiate new gas deals and secure long term supply at competitive prices. In fact, a lot of Indian gas plants were idle in 2015 as the prices of importing gas was more expensive than the cost of selling power. The Indian government has had to recently renegotiate the price with Qatar, its main supplier, and achieved a price reduction of about 50%. The second follows from the Iran nuclear deal, which could see Iranian gas becoming available as a viable source. Just last month, it emerged that India and Iran are considering a US$4.5 billion undersea pipeline that would connect Iran to India’s west coast via the Oman Sea. Iran has the largest gas reserves in the world and the availability of Iranian gas changes India’s energy calculus significantly.

India’s second option is to significantly scale-up nuclear power. Nuclear energy has the advantage of being both carbon free and, like gas power, available all the time. It’s therefore the only clean energy option to substitute coal in the electricity grid. However, India’s tardy rate of growth in the nuclear sector so far, with only 5.8 GW of current capacity, as well as issues with the liability law, procurement of technology and long construction times, mean that gas remains the only viable and cleaner option over the short term.

However, to make this shift to gas India needs to work on three key areas. First, the country’s gas infrastructure needs to be scaled-up so that it can link to transnational pipelines, draw from regasification terminals of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and develop last-mile connectivity to consumers.

Second and more importantly, the political will to allow for the development of an integrated gas market is needed. The difficult decision to remove direct and quasi control over pricing and end-use needs to be taken. Such a move will create conditions where benefits and costs are accrued through market operations and will help attract interest from investors, producers and distributors.

Finally, India’s geopolitical overtures need to support this new energy agenda. Financing and infrastructure development require strong global support and partnerships. India’s relationships with Iran, Qatar and Turkmenistan among others also needs to be re-energized and must be seen as part of the national imperative of seeking energy security and more robust climate action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tyranny of technology: time to change old systems to align with new realities

4 December 2015 4:20PM

Original link is here 

In September this year, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed upon by world leaders in New York and this month, countries will attempt to agree on a global deal to combat climate change in Paris. The actual success (going beyond the symbolic consensus) of both the SDGs and a potential climate agreement is contingent on technology and the extent to which it is shared, adopted and dispersed successfully.

Technology innovation, development and transfer are key to eradicating poverty, striving for equity in global lifestyles, and avoiding dangerous levels of climate change. For technology to be effectively applied to the global development and climate agenda, however, a few systemic flaws and some new realities need to be acknowledged and then responded to. A technology-centric response to the problems of the 21st century will require formulation of policies that reflect the changing nature of global technology flows, production and consumption paradigms.

The regimes of technology innovation and transfer currently in use are from a period when developed countries were both producing and consuming the products of technology innovation. This meant innovation led to increased purchasing power in the local community and the extended neighbourhood. It was therefore easier for people to absorb such innovation and pay for it. These structures are incongruous with the consumption realities of today, underpinned by globalisation. Technology innovation and production still occur in developed countries but the largest group of consumers are now in developing countries.

The scale of consumption in Asia in particular is creating new markets for corporations from the OECD countries. This trend is going to become a new reality in coming years. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that nearly half of the economic growth between 2010 and 2025 will come from 440 cities in emerging markets. China and India will naturally lead this new consumption paradigm. And Asia will soon be joined by Africa in the shopping aisle.

Alongside these new consumers is another nuance that must be factored into the debate around technology. The largest economies of tomorrow will comprise large numbers of low income and poor households. Big economies will remain poor societies for some time to come in this century. Therefore, technology and royalty regimes around technology must cohere with development assistance paradigm and the global development agenda that seek to improve the lives of the poor.

Developed countries have provided Official Development Assistance (ODA) (defined as financial flows administered by governments towards economic development and welfare of developing countries) of about 0.29% of their own gross national products. However, what would be interesting to uncover is the amount of returns that have been repatriated to the rich economies by way of royalties that allow technology access for the developing world. For example, as per figures from the World Bank, India received US$2.4 billion in ‘net official development assistance and official aid’ in 2013. To put such figures in context, Merck, a global pharmaceutical giant, reported pre-tax profits of just under $1.6 billion in 2014. The contribution of technology royalties earned from the developing world to that figure needs to be calculated. Imagine 500 such companies which are leaders in their domain, and it is easy to see why the developmental aid flowing to parts of Asia and Africa simply does not match the scale of the money flowing out to pay for access to technology. The OECD countries, their corporations and institutions are giving with one hand and taking back with both.

A recent example of the burden of technology access are the Nokia royalty payments that flowed from India to Finland. Between 2006 and 2014, Nokia’s Indian subsidiary paid over INR 20,000 crore to its Finnish parent as royalties for the technology used in its manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu. In 2013, Indian authorities alleged that Nokia owed over INR 2,000 crores to India on tax on the royalty payments. While this tax dispute continues, the outflow of $3 billion as royalty for handsets made by Indian factory workers — that Nokia was selling to lower and middle class Indian consumers – clearly demonstrates the profit motive of the parent is supreme.

Since royalty outflows far outweigh inflows from developmental assistance, it might make more sense for developed countries to subsidise technology diffusion in developing countries by paying their own corporations, to allow for open access to technology in developing country markets. That would perhaps deliver a better return on the money being spent by Western nations to support development in the global south, particularly given the increasing linkages between technology access and economic development.

In order to achieve the SDGs, it is also time to re-evaluate the global patents regime. For instance, Michele Boldrin and David K Levine, two economists from Washington University, St. Louis, have pointed out that the current patent/copyright system discourages inventions from actually entering the market. They opine the intellectual property rights (IPR) system only helps large corporations and multinational corporations rake up profits, noting that the majority of patents are registered by corporations rather than individual innovators. Boldrin labels intellectual property ‘intellectual monopoly’, arguing that it hinders innovation and wealth creation.

All of this does not mean that India and other developing countries do not need to look inwards and explore policies and practices for creating a culture and system that encourages innovation. The demographic dividend offers these countries a chance to develop a generation of technologists innovating for the bottom of pyramid needs. At the same time, real cooperation with the OECD countries on joint R&D will enable a blending of product innovation capabilities of the developed world and process innovation that some of the developing countries have excelled in. India’s position is that technology transfer is not enough in itself, just like Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Domestication and indigenisation of technology are prerequisites to development as well as for a non-liner growth trajectory.

Joseph Stiglitz has noted that the most defining innovations of our time were not motivated by profit but rather by the quest for knowledge. The patent system was created to reward innovators but is now stifling innovation, feeding the hunger for profits and perpetuating the north-south divide. In order to support the development agenda, combat climate change, achieve parity in global lifestyles and shape an equitable planet, the tyranny of technology must be replaced by the technology panacea.

Governmental resources and policies must be directed towards encouraging open innovation so as to avoid the incumbent’s monopoly on the current system, which is compromising the ability of developing countries to fight poverty and guarantee the right to life. There is a need for studies that examine the impact of the IPR regime on economic activity in specific sectors that will demonstrate where IPR can stimulate innovation and where it does not. The SDG and climate agendas, perhaps the defining themes of the next few decades, cannot be held hostage to the ability to pay, for a perceived entitlement to profit perversely. It is time to examine the economic distortions that have altered the founding principles of patent and intellectual property right regimes. And it is absolutely the time to re-price innovation, to deliver for the bottom of the pyramid.

A longer version of this article appeared in Global Policy and can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user World Bank

Deconstructing Indian Leadership on Climate Change

Original link is here

07 Dec 2015, My Gov, Blog

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The Indian proposition at Paris is fairly apparent and uncomplicated; it is also ambitious and steeped in India’s reality. The proposition which is delineated in India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), can be seen to be responding to three core principles. The first foundational principle of any Indian contribution to the global effort on combatting climate change has to be to ensure that India’s wealthy – individuals, corporations and institutions — must not hide behind the country’s poor. They must bear the same level of responsibility and adhere to the same set of rules (agreed or normative) as global elites anywhere else in the world.

This can be accomplished in fairly simple ways, and certainly by taxing conspicuous consumption at many transaction points (rather that making production costlier and thereby socialising the cost of climate mitigation). This is already underway. The bulk industrial user pays comparable commercial tariff to similar users in the developed world. Indian cities have introduced consumption-based graded electricity tariffs and this principle is being, and needs to be extended to transportation fuels, gadgets and appliances and indeed to other spheres where embedded energy use tends to be socialised. Already, on an average, an Indian spends more on procuring renewable energy relative to their incomes than the average American, Chinese and Japanese. India is determined to showcase its leadership in renewable energy consumption. It is today, the world’s largest biomass, third-largest solar, and fourth-largest wind energy producer. The INDC outlines India’s ambition to significantly scale up renewable energy capacity in the country with a target to achieve 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. The elite and entrepreneurial Indians form part of this first INDC proposition.

The second principle is that India does not see any fundamental incoherence between being structurally dependent on coal while also leading a global green transition. These are mutually exclusive realities and if India can get this transition right, it will have a unique model of industrialisation that can be shared with many other countries that are further down the development pathway. Coal is still a necessity for multiple lifeline initiatives of the country to lift millions out of poverty. Clean energy, on the other hand, is a transformational opportunity – a moment for India to not only assume moral leadership but to develop competitive advantage in a new paradigm for growth in a fast-changing world. The INDC document recognises that India’s electricity demand is set to increase from 774 TWh in 2012 to 2,499 TWh in 2030.

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This increase is necessary if the country is to industrialise, eradicate poverty and provide its population with better living standards. This growth in energy base is predicated not only on the exponential ramp up of the clean energy generation capacity as mentioned earlier, but also through a steady and calibrated increase in its fossil fuel based generation. And as facts indicate, the unnecessary alarmism on India’s ramp-up of coal is shallow. An average Indian today burns less than 20 percent of the coal consumed by an average American or Chinese and about a third of the per capita OECD appetite1 . Further, India’s peaking per-capita emissions even after this four-fold growth in energy consumption is not likely to cross the threshold of between five to six tons per capita. In fact, based on the INDC submissions, none of the major developed nations will achieve this level of per capita emissions. The bottom line then is that, while India will “Go Green” and is seeking to lead the green transition (Solar Alliance is an example), it will also have to “Grow Coal” to meet its development objectives.

And while it is doing that, there is no reason why the veil of faux moralism that envelops the lazy European political class should prevent India from seeking efficiency gains in the coal sector. If we are to grow coal, it makes sense to do it in the cleanest way possible. 111 coal-fired power plants in India resulted in 665 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 – 2011 from an installed capacity of 121 GW. In 2030, it is estimated that India’s coal capacity will be anywhere between 300 – 400 GW. The World Coal Association (WCA) estimates that a 1% improvement in the efficiency of a coal power plant results in reductions of 2-3% in CO2 emissions. Investment in improving efficiency of coal-fired power stations through improvements in boiler efficiency and support for purchase of super critical technology is the low hanging fruit in the climate battle. A 1% improvement over 10 years in the efficiency of just currently operating coal power plants in India will save the entire current emissions of Belgium. A 1% improvement in future coal capacity will save the entire current emissions of Australia2 . At the same time, the irrational alarmists residing within India and in the developed world must note that despite the necessary growth of coal, India’s emission will peak lower than any other country that would have industrialised before it and its transition time will be much quicker.

Finally, India, due to its diverse agro-climatic regions, is already experiencing the negative impacts of climate change and extreme weather conditions. It will need to create innovative social policies and business models that are able to increase the resilience of local communities and help fund and strengthen the nation’s adaptive capacities to climate change. Any development policy implemented today must always be to increase the ability of the poor and weak to respond to climate change. Despite the adverse impact climate change will have on sectors such as agriculture and coastal economies, the Indian government recognises that assistance from the developed world on climate change adaptation will not be forthcoming. Taking this into consideration, the Government of India has indicated its intention to set up its own domestic adaptation fund in its INDC. If global partnerships contribute in this effort, vital resources can then be diverted to further bolster mitigation actions.

Having outlined the Indian proposition, let me now define three structural infirmities in the global system that must be resolved if collective action on climate change is to be successful. The first stems from the tyranny of incumbency. Carbon space capture by incumbents has created limited room for the development needs of those who require this space to breathe and grow. Therefore, before carbon space or resource space can be retrieved, the discursive space needs to be reclaimed for a sensible conversation on climate change. The discourse needs to change from the unavailability of carbon space in light of climate realities to one where carbon space is vacated by developed countries so as to accommodate the needs of developing nations. For every new coal plant that comes up in India, one in the West should be shut down. The early raiders of the 19th and 20th century got away with the carbon loot but it’s time that carbon space is reclaimed. When a shift from unavailability to accommodation takes place and when incumbents within and across nations are encouraged and compelled to cede space, we will find that there is new room to manoeuvre.

Second, if green energy is seen as a collective global response to mitigate carbon emissions, it is self-defeating to sustain a global system where the cost of green energy installations in countries that have the potential to ramp up such installations quickly and more widely, such as India. Is 24% to 32% more costly? In essence, we are perpetuating a system that reduces mitigating capacities by a fourth. To correct this, we will have to seriously re-organise the alignment of banking norms, global financial institutions, and climate and development imperatives at a granular level. The bankers, investors and innovators must be made co-stakeholders and must bear similar responsibilities to those borne by nations and communities. At present, the financial system is agnostic, if not explicitly climate-unfriendly.

This brings me finally to the vexed issue of technology. If access to technology has a price tag (by way of royalty payments) higher than the forthcoming development aid or climate finance, then we must realise we are in a system where the poor are underwriting the cost of mitigating climate change and we have succeeded in creating a system where the polluter profits and victim pays. This not only undermines the moral pivot of responsibility but turns the idea of differentiated responsibility on its head. Difficulties in technology flows will also compromise ambitious action by developing countries such as India.

India’s INDC predicate the success of India’s ambitions on the availability of technology (some of which are listed) and financial flows (not aid) at commercial, competitive rates from the financial system. Specifically on financial flows, the INDC’s call for new and additional finance for climate change, recognising the fact that there is currently a huge shortfall in supply and demand for climate finance. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that except for a “breakthrough at the Paris UN climate conference in 2015,” the existing international framework and market structures will be unable to mobilise funds for climate action at the required pace or scale. Simply put, the fewer the impediments to access technology and finance, the greater the probability of success for India to lead an ambitious effort on climate change.

Samir Saran is vice president at the Observer Research Foundation

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1European Council on Foreign Relations, Samir Saran & Vivan Sharan, The false debate on India’s energy consumption,
http://www.ecfr.eu/what_does_india_think/analysis/the_false_debate_on_indias_energy_consumption.

2Based on author calculations

COP21: Can India reconcile growth and environment?

Original Link is here

India is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. But as a developing nation, it also faces a balancing act between reducing CO2 emissions and boosting economic growth. DW examines India’s role in COP21.

A factory chimney in a residential area emits smoke as haze casts a blanket over Bangalore on December 11, 2009 (Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Already one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world, India is also likely to be hit hard by the effects of global warming. The South Asian country has very dense coastal populations vulnerable to rising sea levels.

And the freak weather patterns which already taking place – such as extreme heat, drought, and the record-breaking floods in Chennai – will not only affect agricultural and food security, but also cause water shortages and disease outbreaks.

The Indian government has reacted to the growing threat by rolling out an ambitious clean energy plan. New Delhi has pledged to invest $100 billion in clean energy investments over the next five years as well as to source 40 percent of its electricity from renewable and other low-carbon sources by 2030.

Delhi's road engulf with smog-forming weather on October 31, 2015 in New Delhi, India (Photo: imago/Hindustan Times)

India is already the world’s fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US and the EU

 

Although it hasn’t specified a cap on its emissions, the South Asian giant wants to reach 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022 – up from currently 38 GW – of which 100 GW will be from solar energy. In fact, at the outset of the UN climate summit taking place in Paris from November 30 to December 11 (COP21), Indian PM Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande launched an alliance of 121 countries to dramatically boost the use of solar power.

‘We still need conventional energy’

But will this be enough? Analysts point out that while New Delhi is well aware of the dangers posed by global warming, it also wants to make sure that any deal in Paris doesn’t restrict the country’s ability to expand its economy, with PM Modi saying that rich countries should not force the developing world to abandon fossil fuels completely.

“We still need conventional energy. We need to make it clean, not impose an end to its use,” said Modi at the start of the Paris talks, calling on developed nations to meet their commitment to muster $100 billion a year from 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change.

Moreover, India sees itself as one of the most vocal proponents of “climate justice” – the notion that historical responsibilities as well as present-day capabilities matter greatly in shaping the climate governance regime.


 

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“From the perspective of New Delhi, it bears little responsibility for the exponential increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution, and also has very little capacity to address the problem when much of the country still lives in abject poverty and hundreds of millions of Indians still lack access to electricity,” David Livingston, an associate at the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told DW.

It is precisely this balancing act between boosting economic growth and reaching environmental goals that poses the greatest political challenge to leaders of developing nations such as India – which is already the world’s fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US and the EU, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Hard to abandon coal

India is home to one-sixth of the world’s population, and its third-largest economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, but accounts for only six percent of global energy use, with one in five Indians – 240 million people – still lacking access to electricity, according to the IEA.

But the government’s plans to lift millions out of poverty will likely to change this, as efforts to modernize and industrialize India will trigger dramatic increase in energy demand. In fact, the IEA estimates that the country’s energy demand will account for roughly a quarter of the global increase in consumption by 2040.

The problem is that coal – the key source of power in the country, accounting for around 60 percent of total electricity generation – is also a key source of carbon emissions. And due to the relatively low cost and large reserves of domestic thermal coal, it remains the key fuel source in India’s long-term energy strategy, as Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific Chief Economist at the analytics firm IHS, told DW.

The IEA estimates the expansion of coal supply will make India – which has some of the most polluted cities in the world – not only the second-largest coal producer in the world, but also the largest coal importer, overtaking Japan, the EU and China in the coming years.

India moves to tackle Air Pollution

Watch video01:39

India moves to tackle air pollution

“India is a coal-focused country, and it plans to double its consumption in the next 15 years. This is the crux of the problem, given that it’s hard to imagine India substantially bringing down its emissions if it plans to scale up one of the most emissions-intensive energy resources out there,” Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center told DW.

But while this may seem like a dire prospect, Livingston explains that from India’s perspective, New Delhi’s long-term climate strategy makes sense as it not only puts the country on a growth path, but also keeps per-capita emissions far below those of other industrialized countries such as the US. Today, India’s per-capita emissions are only one-third of the global average.

“The paradox here is that while India’s implied emissions growth rate to 2030 is the largest in absolute terms of all large economies, the country still ends up with the smallest per-capita emissions of all these economies in 2030,” Livingston told DW.

Around $2.5 trillion needed

That’s why the key to the climate talks in Paris will be the level of support developing countries such as India can get from the international community to lower their dependency on fossil fuels, says climate policy expert Samir Saran.

There are two ways this can happen, the analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation told DW: “Either the West can provide the necessary scale of finance and clean technology that will enable India to rapidly deploy renewable energy to power its development, or, the West needs to drastically cut its emissions to allow for rising Indian emissions in the coming years.”

Indian representatives at COP21 have said the country would cut back on coal if the Paris agreement ensures it receives international support that brings down the cost of expanding renewable energy.

“Solar and wind is our first commitment. Hydro, nuclear, all of these non-carbon sources are what we will develop to the largest extent we can,” Ajay Mathur, the director of India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “What cannot be met by these would be met by coal,” he added.

A preliminary estimate by Indian authorities suggests that at least $2.5 trillion will be required for meeting India’s climate change actions in the next 15 years. They are to be met from domestic sources and leveraging of financial commitments made by developed countries, said Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in early December. Three-quarters of that investment is expected to go into the power sector.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech during the launching of the International Solar Alliance on the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen)‘We still need conventional energy,” says PM Modi

 

Bill Hare, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and founder of climate research group Climate Analytics, believes the financial effort would be worth it. The expert warns that India would be making a very risky investment for its sustainable development by going too much further into coal when the alternatives are not only cheaper and more cost effective but also place a much lower environmental, health and damage burden on the country.

“So from the development point of view, I think India has some stark choices ahead of it. If it goes into coal it will not contain its air pollution problems; if it goes into renewables, it will have a much better chance of a sustainable future,” said Hare.

There’s currently a lot of talk about liquefied natural gas (LNG) opportunities in India. LNG is not as polluting as coal and oil, and India has explored possible cooperative opportunities with Australia and other countries to allow for import arrangements, said analyst Kugelman. But this is all preliminary. “For now, coal will remain king in India. And that’s a troubling prospect for the delegates in Paris,” said the India expert.

Pivotal role in COP21

India’s role in the ongoing COP21 talks is seen as pivotal – not least by virtue of its size, stature and emissions record. “India enters this climate summit with such looming development challenges, such capacity for innovation, and on such a growth trajectory that it is an indispensable nation in any meaningful global approach to climate change”, said analyst Livingston.

An agreement without India’s participation would not only be “practically impossible” under the legal structures of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) but would also lack credibility, the climate expert added, “The country on pace to becoming the world’s largest emitter in a few decades time simply cannot be left behind,” he said.

Indian labourers prepare the flooded field for rice farming as chimneys of Kolaghat Thermal Power Plant are seen in the background in Mecheda around 85 kms south-west of Kolkata on July 26, 2011 (Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/GettyImages)

India’s role in the Paris climate talks is seen as pivotal

 

Analyst Saran has a similar view. “India’s role at COP21 is critical. Unless a global agreement takes into account the concerns of one-sixth of humanity, it is destined to end in failure,” he said. Without financial support and technology flows from developed nations it is likely that developing nations such as India will continue to turn to cheap, highly-polluting coal to meet their development needs.

A change in economics?

But experts say that over time, the relative economics of conventional energy and new, clean technologies will change dramatically. A recent study from MIT has shown that we can expect the cost of wind energy to fall by around 25 percent, and solar by around 50 percent, based on anticipated investment, past trends and technology cost floors.

“The implications of this are tremendous – it means that by 2030, both technologies would represent a negative cost of carbon abatement relative to coal in many areas. The logic of climate action would finally be articulated in the crude but compelling logic of economics, and this is a development that India, nor any other nation, could afford to ignore,” said Carnegie expert Livingston.

‘India needs its own share of carbon space to grow’

CLIMATE

Original link is here

With climate talks underway in Paris, DW talks to expert Samir Saran about the role New Delhi can play in the success of a global deal. Saran says that India’s concerns need to be addressed to yield positive results.

An Indian bystander watches as smoke rises from a cast iron factory at Howrah on the outskirts of Kolkata on July 9, 2008 (Photo: DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)

DW: What role can India play in the ongoing UN climate summit in Paris (COP21)?

Samir Saran: India is the world’s third largest emitter and those emissions are only likely to grow over the coming decades. India’s population size means that unless a global agreement takes into account India’s concerns, it is destined to end in failure. The success of a global agreement is contingent on Indian participation and engagement.

India is also in the unique position of relating to both the developed and developing world and acting as a bridge between the two. Its arguments of common but differentiated responsibility strike a chord with poor countries vulnerable to climate change and its own poor, who comprise one-third of the global poverty stricken populace.

Samir Saran

Saran: ‘The success of a global agreement is contingent on Indian participation and engagement’

 

On the other hand, its entrepreneurial and industrial classes are throwing their weight behind ambitious action and leadership on climate change, which is increasingly matching that of developed nations, and in some cases even outstripping them.

For example, India spends more of its GDP on renewable power than US, China or Japan. India’s role at the COP21 is critical for these reasons.

How can India ensure that its economic development does not have a negative impact on the environment?

This is a false debate. The dichotomy of development and environmental impact is an orientalist concept. India needs its own fair share of carbon space to grow. There are two ways that can happen: either the west can provide the necessary scale of finance and clean technology that will enable India to rapidly deploy renewable energy to power its development, or, the West needs to drastically cut its emissions to allow for rising Indian emissions in the coming years.

As for what is at stake, we live climate change realities every day in India, whether it is rising air pollution levels in Delhi or floods in Chennai. We are acutely aware of human impact on the environment and its consequences. You won’t find any climate change deniers in India.

Climate impacts are inequitable and India’s poor are the most vulnerable to extreme weather events and natural disasters that are linked to climate change. In India there are three types of victims, those who are victims of poverty, those who are victims of climate change, and those who are victims of both. Developmental plans and economic prosperity has to be safeguarded through adequate adaptation measures and ambitious climate action in the country.


 

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On a global level, if India’s renewable energy industry takes off and we are able to scale up our clean energy capacity in line with the ambitious targets outlined by the government, it will be an example to the world.

We would be the first country in the world to transition to a middle income economy without having burnt its fair share of coal. That is an example that we can then export to other countries in Africa and Asia and help them along that same path, the benefits of which will be global. So the success of climate action in India is something the world has a stake in, not just Indian citizens. Which is why, receiving adequate support is crucial.

What is New Delhi’s position in the summit? What can government offer, and what does it demand from richer nations?

New Delhi’s position at COP21 is progressive, ambitious and forward looking. For its part, India is undertaking a massive, ambitious program of clean energy expansion, with a target of 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. To put that number in perspective, India is basically planning to add more renewable energy capacity in the next seven years than Germany has added energy capacity in the previous 200 years of industrialization.

It has launched the Solar Coalition along with France to further push the solar agenda among countries receiving abundant sunshine. India has also committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its economy and to support its adaptation needs through domestic finance. These are significant commitments and arguably we have been more ambitious than is required by the principles of historical responsibility and national capability.

Indian joggers exercise on a smoggy morning near the India Gate monument in New Delhi (Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

For a climate agreement to be truly effective however, developed nations need to support finance and technology flows to developing countries such as India. We need support for our clean energy targets and we need support for nuclear power.

Over the next 20 years, India also needs to borrow roughly $1.8 – 1.9 trillion for infrastructure projects. But global financial institutions increasingly don’t want to invest in India’s infrastructure. The West is directing finance away from development to climate. That’s what we have to fight for. We need the West to not stop the 20th Century financing – roads, bridges, power plants – that are badly needed here.

Samir Saran is Senior Research Fellow and also Vice President responsible for Development and Outreach at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. He specializes in climate policy.

The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.

Unbundling the coal-climate equation

October 7, 2015 03:47 IST | Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan, The Hindu

Original link is here

TH07_Global_Coal_e_2574097d

There is still enough room for India to grow its coal consumption while continuing to accelerate its thrust on the expansion of renewable energy.

Ahead of the Paris climate summit, India announced on October 2 its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for climate change mitigation and adaptation. India intends to reduce its carbon emissions intensity by 33-35 per cent by 2030, from its 2005 levels. While this commitment has drawn fulsome praise from many, the green ayatollahs have predictably ignored its herculean clean energy ambitions and focussed on Indian dependence on coal. It is time to lay bare the ‘coal hypocrisy’ of these privileged ‘western greens’.

India’s total energy consumption is a fraction of that of China, the U.S., the European Union and the OECD. Its position at the climate change negotiations has continued to reflect the centrality of access to energy for human development. And India’s normative position is supported by data, such as the positive correlation between energy access and the Human Development Index (HDI).

Lifeline energy

While a number of estimates exist on how much energy is needed to meet development objectives (we call it ‘lifeline energy’), an interesting benchmark is that of the 2000-Watt (W) society, based on a Swiss research group’s findings. The research states that 2000-W per capita is a basic level of energy which accounts for housing, mobility, food, consumption (manufactured goods) and infrastructure. In a forthcoming paper for the European Council on Foreign Relations, we argue that if the ‘space’ allocated to India for coal consumption towards fulfilling lifeline energy needs is even nominally equitable, India does not have to compromise on its development and growth aspirations.

On an average, U.S. citizens consume nearly the full extent of this lifeline energy benchmark using coal, the ‘dirty fuel’. India consumes only 19 per cent of the benchmark through coal. In fact, citizens of OECD countries get a much larger proportion of their energy needs relative to the 2000-W benchmark from coal than non-OECD countries.

It is important to note that in 2014, the average Indian accounted for around 20 per cent of the average American’s coal consumption and around 34 per cent of those from the OECD. What has caused concern in the developed world is that while they have reduced per capita coal consumption relative to pre-financial crisis levels, India has increased consumption over the same period. In our analysis, we point out that just as reduced coal consumption of developed countries following the crisis does not necessarily reflect a greater degree of ‘responsibility’ towards the climate, the increase in consumption by India does not reflect ‘irresponsibility’.

This is better explained by two key trends, visible after the crisis. One, while developed countries have been cutting down energy consumption as a whole, developing countries have been increasing consumption, albeit at a gradually declining pace. Two, while developed countries have been cutting coal consumption faster than primary energy consumption, developing countries have increased coal consumption faster than primary energy consumption. Clearly then, industrial consumption (manufacturing and jobs) is very much part of the lifeline consumption matrix for developing countries.

Growth-development link

Many financial institutions such as the U.S. Exim Bank have stopped funding coal-based power generation projects. The World Bank also seems to be following in this direction even though coal consumption has been increasing in developing countries and coal-based energy remains the most practical option of scale. This tendency isolates economic growth from lifeline energy and skirts the central goal of development within growth.

India is neither in the same basket of per capita coal consumption as developed countries nor comparable to China. In fact, we have shown that India will meet a larger proportion of the 2000-W benchmark through ‘clean’ fuels than developed countries. Therefore, there is enough room for India to grow its coal consumption while continuing to accelerate its renewable energy thrust. And this is precisely what the Indian INDCs reflect.

India has set a target of renewable energy capacity of 175 gigawatts by 2022; and has promised to achieve 63 GW of nuclear energy if “supply of fuels is ensured”. It will be among a handful of countries to source a large proportion of its lifeline energy needs from non-conventional sources, across the developing and developed worlds.

It is worth emphasising that unlike developed countries that have already peaked their energy consumption, India must first strive to provide the 2000-W per capita lifeline energy to all, even as it seeks to clean this energy mix. India will continue to consume coal to grow its industrial base, improve HDI and develop its economy. This in turn will allow it the financial capacity to invest heavily in non-conventional sources. The Indian INDCs reflect this enduring paradox; India will need to grow its coal capacity if it is to successfully go green.

Developed countries such as those within the EU want to reduce their emissions to two tonnes per capita by 2050; which will in turn reflect the total carbon ‘space’ available per capita if the world is to limit global warming to manageable levels. While the road to Paris is paved with such good intentions, it is essential that each person on this planet begins to move towards an equitable carbon profile. This has two clear implications.

First, large developing countries such as India must invest in renewable energy benchmarks that match developed countries. Second, developed countries must pare down per capita coal consumptions to levels which would match India’s lifeline consumption through coal in the future.

Simply put, every time a new coal plant comes up in India, one should be shut down in the OECD. If coal use can be substituted by clean sources, then millions of tonnes of coal capacity in EU and the U.S. are low hanging fruits. India uses coal to satisfy less than a fifth of its potential lifeline energy needs, while OECD countries use this ‘nasty’ fuel to satisfy two-thirds of theirs. It is time to meet in the middle. No, we are not suggesting historic responsibility; only the one we jointly shoulder for tomorrow.

(Samir Saran is vice-president and Vivan Sharan is visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, India)

As communications infrastructure collapses, social media is saving lives in J&K

20:32 GMT, 9 September 2014, Mail Online India

Original Link is here

Tragedy has struck Kashmir once again.

That it is perhaps the severest since Independence is undeniable.

The human despair, spirit and resolve are all on display, and the entire country (real and virtual) seems affected by nature’s cruel intervention.

The efforts to rescue those stranded are feeble as the institutions, infrastructure and administrative resilience have been found wanting – yet precisely because of this, the courage and heroic efforts of individuals and some organisations stand out in stark contrast.

SS 1
Floods: The entire country (real and virtual) seems affected by nature’s cruel intervention.


Even as the embankments built in the times of the Maharaja have been breached by ravaging waters, the unfolding tragedy and response is also about the ‘angels or demons’, depending on your take on it – Social Media and the Armed Forces.

A recent report in a leading daily had one of the most powerful men in India, its Home Secretary, observe, “I simply cannot speak to anyone in J&K.”

The last 72 hours have seen the near total collapse of the phone network, and power lines have collapsed. This has complicated coordination and rescue, because stranded people have no way of telling rescue centres of their plight.

Worse still, Delhi is cut off from the Government of J&K, while the Government of J&K is cut off from the army, which is coordinating rescue efforts.

The army is the only body there that has managed to maintain some semblance of intra-organisational communications due to satellite phones. However, it has no way of knowing the location where people are stranded, or how many and how critical their situation is, since the normal method – air reconnaissance – is difficult at best given the cloud cover and weather.

And the much-vilified social media is coming to the rescue. Even as large parts of the mobile communication infrastructure have collapsed, some wireless communication and the traditional wire line communication networks have allowed people access to social media and various messenger services, websites, and some agencies.

SS 2

To the rescue: Social media has helped save the stranded


It has also allowed a degree of dissemination of situational reports, videos and distress messages, many of which have reached the army.

Whatsapp, FB messenger, Twitter and others are the most potent tools for the rescue teams in the valley today.

As a result what we have is the army using satellite phones to communicate, but basing its rescue efforts significantly on guidance from Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter.

In that sense these have effectively replaced the search helicopter, the emergency beacon and the communications network of the valley.

For the governments at the Centre and in the state of J&K, which have frequently demonised social media, this must be a moment of revelation.

In February this year, the then Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, had vowed to “crush social media” to great applause from within his party and some others.

Yet today the home secretary cut a sorry figure, claiming “there is no means to communicate with anybody” till the 15 wireless systems he has sent to be set up in the valley come online.

Social Media, angel or demon? Let the debate begin.

The second story is that of the ‘men in green, blue and white’. Among the nation’s armed forces, they are reviled by a few liberals and a section of those in Kashmir, at the receiving end of Pakistani venom and terror, and frequently derided by the political class in the state and centre.

Yet had it not been for the army’s rescue teams and its “infrastructure of occupation,” as secessionists would call it, how many more lives would have been lost?

At a time when the democratically-elected government of J&K has failed in its civic duties in buttressing the embankments (which they should have known about anyway) and a home ministry that is fumbling in the dark, it is this supposed villain that has come out as the knight in shining armour.

It is this same “infrastructure of occupation” – helipads built on apple orchards, hospitals built on peach orchards and supply dumps built on farm land – that are now being used so effectively to rescue the stranded, treat the wounded, and provide relief supplies to the displaced.

It is this same infrastructure with its bulldozers that is being used to clear roads, and the army trucks that sustain the “occupation” that are being used to ferry in essential supplies for the “occupied”.

Given the police, local government and central government networks failed within the first few hours of the flood and the Doordarshan system which could be used as an emergency communications system also collapsed in this period, it has been the army’s communication systems that have provided the only link between J&K and the rest of the country.

It is the maligned Armed Forces Special Powers Act used to “suppress” Kashmiris, that the army is using to deliver critical supplies to the “occupied”.

And yet vultures who some in Kashmir refer to as “freedom fighters”, would rather support infiltration even at this time, then help their brethren. The IAF, let this debate end.

This is not to say that social media and the deployment of the Armed Forces are always virtuous. The use of social media for malicious purposes is proven. The use of the medium to incite and radicalise is also rampant.

Yet it is a force for good as we saw this past week.

Challenge and vilify the user, do not condemn the tool.

Similarly, the deployment of armed forces has resulted in actions that are highly avoidable. Some of their heavy-handed interventions have resulted in justifiable anger and resentment.

Here again, challenge the political mandate and policy direction from the government, not the army, which remains a force for good.

The writer is vice president at the Observer Research Foundation. His twitter handle is @samirsaran