Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Development in India is Sustainable

Dr Rajendra K Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2002 and now head of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), presented "Coping with Climate Change: Is Development in India and the World Sustainable?" at the ANU Australia South Asia Research Center in Canberra on 8 August 2007:
Dr Rajendra K Pachauri
"Recent high rates of economic growth in India and other parts of the developing world, while reducing poverty and raising global economic growth, have put considerable stress on the environment even as it is already saddled with high emissions from the developed world. The 2007 K R Narayanan Oration by Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri will enquire into whether such growth patterns can be sustained into the future and what options are available for ensuring that the adverse impact of economic growth on the environment is manageable. ..."
The ANU VC introduced the talk, commenting it was the most crowded he had attended. The topic of development, India and climate change is timely. The talk was organized with the Australia-India Council (AIC).

Dr Pachauri said we had been paying lip service to sustainable development for 20 years, but the scientific evidence of the last few years had been a wake-up call. He said we needed to deal with externalities and vested interests in the euphoria of escalating consumptions in neglect of natural resource implications. 2007 is the centenary of the birth of Rachel Carson, environmental campaigner. The Club of Rome study "Limits to Growth" in 1972 was rightly criticized, for its static Malthusian view. Prudent societies would look for substitutes for limited resources. But the poorest will be worst hit in the process. Income inequality is increasing. Sustainable development relates to social conditions as well as environmental ones. We cause environmental damage at our peril as the earth is a closed system.

The Club of Rome produced an update in 2004. This made an adjustment for the difficulty of extraction of resources as they run out. This made the outlook even bleaker.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced three reports. These have had an unprecedented impact. This partly because people have starting attributing extreme climate events to global warming. Al "Borne again" Gore has had a major effect; although he did not do so with such vigor when running for President. The IPCC report is unequivocal: most temperature increase in the second half of the 20th century is most likely due to human activity [sounds slightly equivocal to me]. The likely increase by the end of the century is 1.8 to 8 degrees.

The impacts of warming are detailed in the fourth IPCC report. South Asia is particularly vulnerable. Even when there is an average decrease in rainfall there are likely to be more floods. The mega deltas of Asia are particularly vulnerable to cyclones and storm surges. Melting glaciers in the Asian high mountains are the source of water in much of south asia and some of China. This will effect direct runoff and groundwater recharge. Australia's method of charging for water could help in India by applying economics to a scare resource.

Vector borne diseases will increase, due to an increase in water borne disease vectors. Yields of some crops, such as wheat, decrease with a temperature increase. Aquaculture will also be effected. Efforts are needed for drought tolerant crops for the poor, which could be an areas for cooperation between India and Australia. Two thirds of Indian agriculture is rain fed.

Rising prosperity in areas such as China can cause a decrease in global food stocks, due to more affluent eating meat fed on grain. Temperate regions will gain water while the tropics get less.

There is time available to stabilize the situation and it would be irrational not to act.

Gandhi said "
It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve this prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require? "

The report "Green India 2047" showed an alarming picture. In a democracy you need perseverance to achieve changes. The poor will be disproportionately effected by a degraded environment as they use it more directly. We do not need to return to a preindustrial society to combat climate change and measures such as more efficient cars can be used, not give them up.

"Be the change you want to see in the world" Gandhi.

I asked Dr Pachauri if he saw India contributing sustainable high tech to the world, such as the Reva electric car (which unfortunately Australian governments do not permit). He replied that smart companies in all countries can contribute. He singled out
General Electric and its CEO, Jeffrey R. Immelt, for positive comment, with its investments in environmental technology.

During Dr Pachauri's talk I thought about how IT professionals could help. Looking around the talk was held in a typical lecture theater. There were about 24 lights on, air conditioning, video projector and computer equipment. Also, like many in the room, I drove my car to the talk. So there are some savings to be made here and now. The room was reasonably efficient with florescent lights (more focused LED lights might be better). What might also help are multipurpose rooms which can be used more intensively. The typical lecture theater has fixed, tiered seating which makes it unsuitable for other purposes. A flat floor would make the room more flexible.

ps: I noticed the ANU's ace podcaster in attendance with his equipment. So there should be a podcast available shortly, as well as a web text. These will also help sustainability by allowing thousands of people to hear the talk without traveling and read it without paper.

Available from the 2007 K R Narayanan Oration by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Director-General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India:
Books available of the topic:

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