Columns/Op-Eds, Water / Climate

Column in The Financial Express: Climate’s Holy Trinity, 2010

by Samir Saran
May 13, 2010
in: The Financial Express

Over the last decade, climate narratives have been shaping social, political and economic beliefs—resulting in climate ideologies spread not dissimilar to religion. Like most religions, these frameworks have their share of rigidities, with each having discovered the ‘chosen path’ that offers a righteous response and lacks reflexivity. Interestingly a ruling by a UK court in November 2009 drew parallels between an individual’s views on climate change to his religious and philosophical beliefs.

The challenge of arriving at a common understanding of climate change and a common response to it is, therefore, akin to discovering a common religion for humanity. If climate is a religion, its holy script is dominated by the description of the holy trinity of finance, technology and equity. Equity remains in the realm of the spiritual; and concrete proposals towards a world that shares prosperity are confined to classrooms and social scientists even as the economists and technologists work to carve the new world.

Nonetheless, responses from each nation or a grouping seek to address these three central features in their arguments. The EU, for instance, believes that the European Trading Scheme and a carbon price would curtail emissions and serve the purpose of equity by redistributing capital through flow of funds from the developed world to the emerging and developing economies. The flaw with this is that the redistribution of wealth is only among entities located in different geographies with complex ownerships that could put the IPL team structures to shame. Critics portray this as a transaction among elites and the cost of adaptation, poverty alleviation and other development challenges remain at the periphery. And this is where the conflict lies, in the belief system of the EU and the imagination of its populace that it is the liberal market framework that offers the most efficient mechanism for redistributing wealth, historical evidence notwithstanding. The framework for allotting emission allowances and the trading of these alongside external carbon credits would need serious overhaul even if they were to have a nominal impact. Perhaps the proposal to auction EUA post 2013 would also enable national governments in the EU to commit some of the proceeds towards the adaptation challenges, state of their economies permitting.

The emerging and developing economies, however, make the case for direct fund transfers into their own treasuries that have historically (in most cases) been shown as incompetent in delivering development and governance to the millions they seek to serve. Do they have capacities to make use of the large cash transfers they so seek? And would they be better served in incentivising regulated markets and evolving state-centric capitalist frameworks for the same purpose? The cause of equity would be served only if the emerging world is able to receive funds from the complex maze of overseas funding mechanism and then enhance internal efficiency of delivery arrangements.

Technology continues to vex the global debate on climate and perhaps is the real non-negotiable, if global agreements and accords that emerge from climate conventions and summits are the frame for analysis. Over the last two decades, the language in these international documents has remained ambiguous on technology and the only certainty is that equity as an argument is not compelling for ceding intellectual property for the developed world. Pronouncements from President Obama and policies and legislations in the UK and EU clearly position green technology and high-tech industries as the basis for re-industrialisation as well as economic revival. The lavish incentive packages for low carbon business and research and the sheer subordination of policy making to corporate interests in this sector demonstrate the desire of the OECD economies to lead the race to the top in this low carbon game. The odds would have truly been stacked in their favour but for the economic meltdown.

The institutes of higher education, research and development in the developed world continue to lend them a distinct edge. They also benefit from a steady stream of the brightest minds from Asia, Latin America and Africa, who after acquiring basic education assist in furthering the research in these institutes for want of similar professional opportunities at home. Thus, even in this post-colonial world, the West continues to benefit from the resource provisions of its former colonies. Thus large pool of human talent backed by unmatched funding assists these countries to incubate innovation and invention, the two pillars of the new economy.

Much of the developing world is still caught up in the semantics surrounding technology transfer. For its sake, it must resist the temptation of being lured into conditional (indirectly priced) technology handouts and post-its-prime technology transfers. It must also realise, as the Chinese have come to realise recently that intellectual property vis-à-vis climate is not a rigid defined product but is more about tacit human knowledge. The centrality of human resources needs to be over-emphasised here. In the last 5 years, Chinese efforts to attract overseas Chinese back to its industrial and research institutes have gained momentum. Through landmark programmes such as the ‘Thousand talents programme’ it is rightly pricing and attracting human intellect located overseas.

It is also determined to tap into the Chinese diasporas that are part of the research and technology industry. Their policy initiative ‘Chinese serving China’ seeks to reverse the traditional flow of knowledge to western shores. The results of these initiatives are bearing fruit and there are reports that tens of thousands of non-resident Chinese have returned home; the process no doubt aided by the financial crisis and shortage of research funding in the US and EU. But the key learning here is that the Chinese are pricing the human capital right and offering salaries far in excess of their business as usual salary structures. They, unlike India, have realised that human resource is at the core of the IPR chain and they are now unwilling to reduce talent and merit to a UGC prescribed salary handout that India seeks to attract and retain talent with. A recent management reports has cautioned that US hegemony in scientific innovation can no longer be taken for granted. China will be investing over half a trillion dollars on green technology research in the next decade and furthermore has committed to deploy 2.5% of their GDP annually by 2012 towards R&D in line with the OECD levels. As a part of the economic stimulus China deployed $221 bn towards the green economy as against $112 bn by the US. Though much of this was for rail transport and water infrastructure, significant efficiency innovations and applications were in the mix as well.

India is committing to increase its outlay for research and is looking to be at par with OECD standards in a decade. However, outlays alone would not help. The systems that feed into the research agenda would need to be overhauled as well. Both China and India would need to improve the quality and spread of education, health of the population, social indicators and infrastructure will all need to be best in class if the environment for innovation needs to be created. There is great equity in this endeavour. Else we can live the dictum that constraint incubates innovation and hope for the ‘Slumdog Millionaires’.

Please find here the link to the original page.

Books / Papers, Water / Climate

Responding to Change: Searching for a Path through the Climate Haze

by Samir Saran
in: Chevening Fellowship – Economics of Climate Change: A global perspective, University of Cambridge

For an emerging economy like India, the response to climate change will be shaped by a number of dynamic factors, complementary and competing at different junctures. The contours of this response will be determined by geopolitical power-play; economic growth; consumer behaviour; poverty and social justice; the influence of incumbent and new businesses; governance and political leadership at the centre and the provinces – and most importantly the ability to attract and generate finances. This paper discusses the influence and interactions of these factors at three distinct levels. First it discusses the global (dis)agreements on climate and some of the boundaries of policymaking. Then the paper discusses the Indian domestic imperatives that are decisively influencing its carbon choices. Finally, it shows that – with the growth in the aspirations and affluence of the Indian middle class – the ‘consumption economy’ will increasingly influence India’s carbon profile.

Here the link to the entire chapter (pdf-file).
For more information on the publication “Chevening Fellowship – Economics of Climate Change: A global perspective”,University of Cambridge, please visit this link.

In the News, Non-Traditional Security, Politics / Globalisation, Water / Climate

Book review on “South and Southeast Asia”, The Hindu, November 2010

Emerging geo-political and security challenges
by V. Suryanarayan
November 2, 2010

This compendium of 10 essays, presented at an interaction in 2009 among scholars of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, covers a wide range of subjects related to the political and security trends in South Asia and Southeast Asia.. They include: the role of extra-regional powers and their growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean; the evolving Asian regionalism; India’s ‘Look East’ policy; the political situation in Myanmar; and the non-traditional security challenges to Asian security.

Since the end of World War II, the pattern of international relations in the two regions has undergone a radical transformation. This is particularly true of the role of external powers in Southeast Asia. Though the relative clout of the United States and Japan has declined, the ruling elite of the region would like Washington to maintain a high profile. The growing economic linkages between China and the United States and between India and China have a momentum of their own. However, China’s recent assertive postures in the Indian subcontinent and the South China Sea have created a sense of unease and have even given rise to suspicion about its intentions and objectives.

In South Asia, profound changes are taking place. The nuclearisation of India and Pakistan has added a new dimension to the troubled region. The struggle for democratic rights, the fight for justice by the ethnic minorities, and the secessionist movements, with covert support from external powers, pose grave challenges to the stability of South Asia.

Given the space constraints that preclude coverage of all the essays, only a limited review touching upon a few of the striking contributions is attempted here. In his analytical piece, “Major Powers in South Asia: What is their game?” Dilip Lahiri projects the scenario that is likely to emerge, one that will have profound consequences. Despite their divergent national interests, the U.S., India, Japan, South Korea, and Australia are likely to come together to ensure that the rise of China is non-threatening and does not disturb the peace and stability of the region. Admiral P.S. Das and Vijay Sakuja examine the roles of China and India as growing maritime powers. China’s deepening ties with the member-states of ASEAN and their consequences are highlighted. Equally interesting, the authors pinpoint the strengthening of the links China has established with India’s immediate neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. In this context, India’s ‘Look East’ policy assumes great significance. As Admiral Das points out, “looking East” is no longer an economic jargon; it is descriptive of the totality of India’s relations with Southeast Asia.


Discussing the major powers vis-à-vis the security concerns of Southeast Asia, Daljit Singh makes the point that, while China’s image and standing in the region has “improved a great deal”, there is also a “strategic unease” about China on account of its “[huge] size, proximity, growing power, and uncertainty about its long-term intentions.” China’s bilateral relations are driven solely by considerations of realpolitik and strategic interests. Witness Beijing’s continuing support to the military regime in Myanmar, its military aid to Sri Lanka during the fourth Eelam War, and its covert support to Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

From India’s point of view, there is concern over a perceived shift in China’s position vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir. Hitherto, it had recognised India’s de facto control of J&K, while, at the same time, advocating a peaceful resolution of the contentious issues with Pakistan through bilateral negotiations. The recent denial of visa by China to Lieutenant General B.S. Jaswal is held out as a pointer to this subtle shift. Many scholars are so blind in their admiration for China and its remarkable achievements that they do not want to see any signal or be reminded of any historical evidence that shows it in a negative light. Such an approach will be detrimental to the interests of India. The essays — contributed among others by diplomats, naval officers and academics — are scholarly, absorbing and stimulating.

Link to original publication.

Columns/Op-Eds, Water / Climate

Interview: India blinked at the Cancun Climate Summit.

The Indian negotiating team, led by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh shifted India’s position at the Cancun Conference on climate change, said Samir Saran, Vice President, Observer Research Foundation, in an interview to a website,

Asked whether India blinked at Cancun and the Indian Minister significantly shifted from India’s long-standing position that the developed economies take full responsibility for climate change by indicating that India would also take on binding emission targets, Samir Saran said “Yes, India blinked. Regrettably! I may add. Given that India has undertaken to contribute to the effort to limit temperature rise to a two-degree- limit, it may have opened itself to international pressure that will seek to both curb its’ emissions or direct its development pattern”.

He said this was not only unfair, given that Indians emit only a fraction of what the citizens of developed countries do, but it seemed part of a larger effort to weaken the obligations and commitments that the Annex 1 countries had undertaken after two decades of global negotiations and concerted efforts by the least developed countries and India. Samir Saran said the Minister and his team have not only shifted India’s negotiating position but have arguably undone the efforts of the past in an instant. “I hope we can salvage it,” he added.

He said the entire international climate debate is actually about national interests and power politics. “Take China, for example, now that they have built an industry that can export technology and the products needed for low carbon growth, such as renewable energies, there are signs that they are ready to support a more universal emission reduction regime. And perhaps that prompted India to play the part it did.. the fear of being alone… which, I believe, is greatly overstated. Perhaps there is no harm in being alone once in a while,” he said.

“But sadly, while we all understand that climate change is a great and grave risk and that there is an urgent need to reduce emissions by those best able to, international negotiations today remain hostage to power politics and national interest increasingly understood by the economic gains for respective national businesses,” Samir Saran told the publication.

For complete text of the interview, click here