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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 10, Dated 10 Mar 2012
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    BOOKS

    A Dilemma Ignored

    A new book has some uneasy answers to the lukewarm international response to climate change, says Meher Engineer

    Navroz K Dubash

    Eco-Friendly Navroz K Dubash

    Photo: Tarun Sehrawat


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    Handbook Of Climate Change And India: Development, Politics And Governance

    Handbook Of Climate Change And India: Development, Politics And Governance
    Ed by Navroz K Dubash
    Oxford University Press
    424 pp; Rs 1,250

    HANDBOOKS MOSTLY provide information to professionals. Some try to educate the public. A handbook geared to informing, educating and warning is, therefore, welcome; doubly so when it is about climate change and India. Climate change is the singularly most important threat to life on earth, and India, the planet’s second most populous country.

    The book’s 28 articles focus on the problems that climate change is likely to pose to Indian development in the 21st century, the reasons why India is uniquely vulnerable to it and the likely problems of politics and governance that stem from that vulnerability. The editor has included people from various sections of society — policymakers, politicians, business leaders, civil society activists and academics — who can hope to influence the official position that India takes in responding to climate change. The end result is a fair picture of the evolution of Indian thinking on the subject.

    Qualitywise, the articles pass muster, as seen in the argument that points to the futility of a Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) type approach to the climate change negotiations. The approach allowed developed countries to keep their weapons because “we made them first”, but declared disaster if latecomers were allowed to have them. That, as former foreign secretary Shyam Saran says, won’t sell in today’s world.

    Readers can expect to encounter a representative history of the Indian response to climate change, both official and unofficial. The initial official response, as described by bureaucrats Prodipto Ghosh and Chandrasekhar Dasgupta (the latter participated in the deliberations that led to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), was simple: we were to remind the wealthy nations that they’d caused global warming, and assert our sovereign right as a nation with many poor people, to follow the same developmental path! That changed, as Jairam Ramesh notes in the preface, over the past 20 years as India’s vulnerability to the harsher effects of global warming were acknowledged.

    India’s food security is vulnerable to changes in monsoon rainfall. The livelihoods of some 300 million Indians living by, and off, the country’s coastline are vulnerable to rising sea levels. The livelihoods of even more Indians living on the Indo-Gangetic plain are vulnerable — to changes in the Himalayan glaciers that led, for example, to catastrophic floods in vast areas of Pakistan in 2011, to changes in the mean sea level that shall lead to an even worse situation in Bangladesh, where land is mostly less than 10 metres above the mean sea level. You don’t need rocket science to figure its impact on India.

    The book’s greatest merit, though, lies in the clear picture that it provides of the overall poverty of the international response to climate change. Why have things spiralled down, from Bali 2007 to Copenhagen 2009 to Cancun 2010 to the 17th Conference of Parties — the Handbook doesn’t cover that event — that ended in an impasse at Durban last December. Congratulations to the book’s editorial team for answering that, and other, important questions.

    Engineer is an independent scientist


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 10, Dated 10 Mar 2012
 
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