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Climate Change As a Keystone Issue: Combatting Climate Fixes Other Problems

A developing country has several key issues to deal with in every election that encompass the basic amenities like drinking water, electricity, public transport, employment opportunities, sanitation and garbage disposal. Frequent protests against industrial setups like the case of the Tata Nano (the world’s cheapest car) in Singur, West Bengal or the case of a polluting copper recycling plant in Goa are detrimental to the growth of the industry as well as the environment. In a democratic system of governance like India, Climate change policies in election agendas can very well be incorporated as profitable business models beneficial to citizens, industrial development, and the environment.

As has been demonstrated by the proceedings of the COP 15, no single state is willing to pledge to reduce its emissions without commitments from other nations–no one wants to go first. The problem here is believing in the conventional wisdom that climate change control policies would always cost more than existing technologies and essentially is equivalent to a large scale subsidy that would burden the state exchequer. But conventional wisdom need not always be right, and the countries that do go first might just reap the biggest benefits.

Consider this: Venture capitalists have been investing in greentech companies at a rate which has made it the third largest investment class. There are a large number of companies in the private sector who are making (or saving as you may see it) a lot of money from going green. Incorporating these changes into everyday lives of citizens is something that our elected representatives can achieve. Several initiatives in this direction ranging from using ICT to minimize travel costs and its related environmental offsets to using solar powered musical instruments at a concert are not only innovative ways to get attention but also sound economics. A lot of movement in this direction has taken place in India too, many of them with support from the government. Its time this moves from being an occasional exception to an everyday phenomenon discussed on the same lines as garbage disposal, unemployment and public transport.

The problem of land sustainability and employment for people living in places where the unpredictable monsoons and other activities have rendered it unsuitable for cultivation can be addressed by using the land for biofuel production. Cleanstar uses women’s groups, idle unsuitable land and technology to grow hardy species of trees to yield Inedible oil for biofuel in automobiles and seedcakes for biofertilizers and biogas. The phasing out of CFCs which harm the ozone layer (and was one of the outcomes of the Kyoto Protocol ) meant that new, innovative techniques for heating and cooling needed to be invented. Unidyne does that showcasing that environmental sustainability is a very profitable business model too. ARTI-INDIA has a working project that coverts our usual organic wastes to charcoal while Ankur Scientific is another leading company in Biomass gasification i.e. using solid wastes to produce gas for electrification and household consumption. In transportation sector, several companies like Eko Vehicles are producing excellent vehicles on all scales that are extremely cost efficient and environmental friendly. Water desalination, solar thermal energy generation and using soft power for logistics and automation in efficient grid and energy utility management are growing segments where government can effectively use its paraphernalia to consult different industrial sectors.

The policy part of climate change and environmental sustainability has been debated upon and several frameworks like the Union Government’s National Missions on Climate Change have been adopted. However the real change will only come when solutions like the ones elaborated in the earlier paragraph are implemented as enablers for the key development issues. Himachal Pradesh, an Indian state in the Himalayas has adopted and implemented several such measures which include:
• Banning of Plastic carry bags in replacements of local alternatives.
• Strengthened management of Municipal solid wastes.
• Co-processing of plastic waste in cement kilns and use of plastic waste in road construction.
• Rain Water harvesting in all buildings, energy auditing and harnessing revenues through Carbon credit sales on the Mid-Himalayan Watershed project.

This clearly shows the feasibility of incorporating climate change policy as a solution to existing problems rather than treating it as an additional burden. Also e-waste like mobile phones which are exponentially growing in numbers in India can be an excellent opportunity for revenue generation through recycling of the precious metals, retrofitting for use in disaster management or simply reuse. Recycling 1 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 185 million households in the US, save 240,000 tonnes of raw materials including precious metals like (Tantalum-Niobium) whose extraction has led to the exploitation of Congo in Africa.

We need politicians who would think like the managers of the greentech companies and understand both the need and the benefits of incorporating strategies like the one described here to deal with the everyday problems of their electorate which at the same time would ensure long term environmental and climate sustainability. The discussions of the foremost leaders in the world may not be able to reach a conclusion in Copenhagen but clearly a distributed global strategy in every part of the world which accepts climate change as an interesting business opportunity that would bring welfare to its state would do the world a whole lot of good and help make better use of the funds pledged at the summit.

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