Category Archives: Climate Change

Climate change is one of the greatest social, economic, political and environmental challenges facing our generation. The debate around climate actions is a strategic objective of the British Council where it seeks to achieve a faster transition to sustainable, low carbon economies.

The British Council’s Climate Change Project in India & Sri Lanka will focus on mitigating the effects of climate change in an urban environment. It is part of the British Council’s major global climate security project and India is, along with China, one of the top two priority countries for this work. Sri Lanka, with less than 2% of India’s population and correspondingly lower carbon emissions, is a lower priority.

Third International Climate Champions Camp, Goa (15 to 21 January 2011)

As the curtains rise on the Third International Climate Champions Camp, 35 Climate Champions from 15 Countries (Northern Ireland, Ireland, UK, USA, Finland, Slovenia, Japan, Bangladesh, Norway, Sweden, Uganda, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and India) will start arriving at Goa starting 15 January. At the camp, Champions will be exposed to various facets of the fragile ecosystem of Goa where they will learn, network, share and better understand environmental impacts due to climate change and current mitigating initiatives undertaken.

They will be interacting with scientific and social experts and will also be visiting scientific Institutions like the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and Goa Science Centre. Towards the end of the camp, they will pen down their views and suggestions in the form of a “Goa Declaration” which will be released to the media at the close of the camp.

Sharing their experiences and staying connected with the world they will be blogging and tweeting from the camp. We welcome you to be part of this experience by following them online.

Watch this space for more on the camp.

 

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The Cancun Agreement

My final blog post is going to a quick take on the outcome of the negotiations. On balance I think the negotiations were a success. However this is a very relative measure that is more a result of the abysmal failure of the Copenhagen round of negotiations and the feeling I had during the initial week of the conference that the entire process was on the edge of collapse.
Not taking away form the conference’s agreement I shall quickly go over what it included.
The central part of the agreement included points in the Copenhagen accord (that was never an official UNFCCC output as it was not accepted by “consensus” of all countries). One of these key carry-overs was the pledge of 100 billion US$ per year from developed to developing countries by 2020. This part of the text gives both sides something to hold onto. Developing countries like the entire money (The idea of money flowing into their coffers is always a good thing). The deal mentions that the money will be “mobilized” which hints at the us eof private setor capital as well (which developed countries like). The agreement mentions the creation of a fund through which some of the money will flow, this fund however will be independent at some level form the COP. This is a situation which gives something to all the stakeholders.
Another key part of the deal was an agreement on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). This includes extensive safeguards to make sure that indigenous forest dwellers are treated fairly. This was one of the major requests of the non-governmental stakeholders at of the process.
The final two parts of the agreement deal with technology transfer (which is extremely important for all developing countries especially India) and a new framework to deal with adaptation (another point that is very beneficial for Developing countries who are in many cases already facing the consequences of climate change). All these paper promises need to be implemented in the real world. Which is another astronomical difficulty – there is going to be a lot of load shifting between developed countries.
The Cancún agreement missed out some important topics. Moves towards a deal on shipping and aircraft fuels, unpopular with oil producers, fell out of the text. They took with them—quite unfairly—worthy proposals in nearby paragraphs for new work on agriculture, a greenhouse-gas emitter on a par with deforestation.
The big countries got the specific things that they were after. China wanted not to be blamed for a failure, as it was after Copenhagen. America wanted pledges made in that summit’s accord to be recognised, plus progress on verification.
So that is my analysis of what happened, and while this deal is alright from an environmental perspective the key is it si Amazing form a UNFCCC perspective. The agreement has kept the UNFCCC process alive and kicking, while walking on an extremely narrow tight-line between developed and developing countries. It is a massive achievement in raw diplomacy.

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Me at Cancun

I’m going to start this blog post with a summary of the people I have met, the events I have attended and what I have done. I shall start with the superficial. Over the last week I have met several “cool, famous” people. These have almost by definition been extremely short conversation. The first two people I met were The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC secretariat, Christiana Figueres, and the President of the 16th Conference of the Parties (this one) Patricia Espinosa. This was at the initial party thrown by the Mexican Governemnt to, and was nothing more than an introduction and a quick photo.
On Wednesday, I happened to sit down for lunch at a table right next Dr Rajendra Pachauri. We had a quick chat about an uncle of mine he knows and what events he was going to be at COP16. The last was a meeting with Lord Stern, the author of the Stern report.
This meeting was set up by the British Council, and was a mind blowing experience. Six champions got to sit with lord Stern for over an hour discussing the current situation of the negotiations as well as our projects. Lord stern is the rare celebrity who is extremely grounded, well travelled and sparkling with intelligence. He gave all of us extremely relevant feedback about our projects and on many occasions whipped out old business cards he had collected, of people that he had met and who could have a direct impact on helping our projects.
The British Council also set up a virtual skype meeting with Champions from around the world. Champions from over 20 countries participated, and me and Ding (the Chinese champion) filled everyone in on what was happening and discussed International policy with the Champions for an hour.
My attitude to this entire COP was two-fold on one hand I wanted to help the Govt. delegation a s much a I possibly could, which I did consistently, on the other hand I wanted to use this as a 2 week Crash course on climate policy. I have always read a lot about climate policy, and tried to keep abreast with the latest policy proposals. At this COP with all the side events (events organized by different governments , research institutes and NGO’s) which literally had the who’s-who of climate policy speaking I had an opportunity to consilidate everything I knew and learn a lot more.
I sat in on events ranging from the role of the UN in climate negotiations to presentations of the most recent research papers on the Carbon Budget (the Idea that each country has a specific amount it is allowed to emit, which it should not exceed) . This was an amazing learning experience for me. The interesting part is that every single side event is available for free video streaming of the UNFCCC website (http://unfccc.int/) .

Regarding my work with the Indian Delegation, over the Summer I interned at the office of the minister at the with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India. As a result I knew a lot of people coming with the Indian delegation this year, and managed to get myself a role in the delegation, helping out in anyway I could. This was a very interesting experience and through this I got to meet several extremely interesting Indians. I met several young and enthusiastic Indian PhD and Masters students and older and extremely passionate scientists.

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The Debate

We were welcomed to the official meeting at Cancun with a party thrown by the Mexican Govt. on Monday night. The atmosphere was amazing. Last year the equivalents event organised by the Govt. of Denmark was full of Diplomats sipping Champagne slowly for 30 minutes before politely excusing themselves. The Mexican event  was a real party. Men on brought invited us in to a a beautiful open air venue which opened to the gulf of Mexico. The food was prepared by Mexico’s most famous Chef, and the bar served unlimited drinks of every imaginable sort. Most country delegations were present, as were the President of this years Conference as well as the head of the UNFCCC secretariat. The music was outstanding and everyone was relaxed.

It was difficult for me to be anything but optimistic. The negotiations on the first day had been relatively upbeat, and I was excited. Unlike COP15 I came into the process expecting absolutely nothing, since all the negotiators I had spoken to this time around have emphasised the focus on smaller scale technical matters this time around. It was a good night. Infact I have a picture somewhere (which I will certainly try and put up) of me with my arms around the two most important peole at the conference – the president and the head of the Secretariat! Which is no mean task given the approximately 1000 people there.

On to more serious news. The next day was a disaster. Japan stood up during the COP to say in very straight language (Which is extremely rare in conferences such as this one) that it would not sign any extension of the Kyoto Proposal until both the US and China agree to legally binding Carbon emission limits. I should not have been as surprised as I was – since they have hinting they would this for a while now, it was just the stark non-ambiguous language of the delegate that shocked me.  This leaves everyone in a bit of confusion. If the Kyoto protocol is not extended, the CDM mechanism that has brought billions of dollars to developing countries like India and China will be scrapped. If this happens it will be almost impossible to get developing countries to endorse a deal of any type.

Maybe this years conference will not be as successful as I believed in my slightly drunk state on Monday night. With Key countries like Canada and Australia furiously Backtracking on their already vague and unenforceable promises, and Japan promising not to do anything unless China and the US commit to legally enforceable Carbon emission reductions.

Is everything so black and white? Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, It probably will be near impossible to convince China to agree to legally binding emission reductions. Japans many domestic adaptation and mitigation actions have been forgotten, and Japans action is being used as scapegoate by countires like Canada and Australia, who are equally against a deal of any sort. This is a bleak statement. But is everything as bad as this seems? This is not the entire story.

For one thing there seems to be a deals on REDD (an international anti deforestation scheme) and a climate fund. These two vitally important points ,if agreed upon, could lead to a solid foundation for a more thorough deal at South Africa next year.

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The Story from Cancun (COP 16)

Hi everyone, my name is Agastya Muthanna. I have been a British Council Climate Champ since 2008. I am in the penultimate year of my Economics degree at the University of Cambridge, and am representing the Indian British Council at the 16th annual United Nations organized meeting on climate change (COP16).

This is the second COP I have attended (the first was last year in Copenhagen) and I cant help but think that perhaps if the first one was here at sunny beautiful Cancun, and not cold and crowded Copenhagen we may have had a more concrete result. The weather is perfect, and the conference is extremely well organized.

On this first post I’d like to lay out hat I would like to see, from a policy perspective. My next post shall be more personal.

The Indian Environmental Minister Mr Ramesh summarised the topics he felt agreement are expected. These were, first, the establishment of a green fund that will collect and allocate Climate finance, second, an agreement on meeting adaptation needs. His third expectation is an endorsement of Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), and on transparency issue concerning measurement ,reporting and verification (MRV)

I’m going to end this post with a quick summary of what I would like to see: The global climate meetings in Mexico in late 2010 and South Africa in 2011 should put much more emphasis on the links between climate action and development. Climate change should never be used as a reason for condemning the world’s poor to continued poverty. But their road to riches should take the climate into account. The cities where ever more people will be living need to grow in ways that don’t exacerbate the problem; the farms where ever fewer people are having to produce ever more food must be far better supplied with know-how, improved crops and insurance against the adverse effects that are sure to come. Development needs to be climate-ready, even if it cannot be climate-proof.

Second, new thinking is needed on how to change the energy mix that the world uses. Making fossil-fuel energy more expensive has so far not delivered much by way of controlling emissions. The better way is to make clean, renewable energies cheaper. Research and development can be part of that solution. But so can a willingness by banks and donors to increase the market for such energy systems. Buying in bulk is a tried and tested way of bringing down prices.

Such assistance and subsidy have the attraction of a built-in cut-off. As soon as increased demand and improved technology make renewables cheaper than fossil alternatives, the desire to generate energy through the burning of coal and oil will seem perverse, and the transition to a future beyond fossil fuels will become irreversible.

Finally, I would like to see more emphasis on using public policy and funds to increase private finance. Private finance makes up the bulk of all investments in Green technology, and mitigation (the ratio of private to public investment is currently around 5:1). There has been virtually no discussion about innovative measure to increase private capital flows, which can increase dramatically if given the right incentives.

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British Council : Inspiring Young Minds

Climate change is the most pressing problem of my generation. Political will, as well as practical changes towards adaptation and mitigation of climate change has to come from the electorate, social entrepreneurs, young policy makers and social workers.

Unfortunately the effects of climate change are not clearly evident or easily traceable. For the first time in our history, the very efficient but short sighted free-market framework is not going to solve the problem. Scarcity has moved from human capital to natural resources, and the Economy we live does not reflect this fundamental change.

The British Council has taken concrete steps to catalyse the mass mobilisation the world needs in order to act against Climate change. With its youth focus, presence in 107 countries and understanding of national cultures the British Council is ideally placed to help create the atmosphere and new ideas the world needs.

I have been a British Council Climate Champion for more than 3 years now and I doubt I can do the experience justice in words. Every programme I have participated in has been efficiently run, very focussed, with measurable outcomes. Perhaps most importantly they are inspiring. The concept of bringing together people form all around the world with different spheres of focus all related closely with climate change and allowing them to interact in an academic atmosphere very conducive to thought and idea exchange has sparked many collaborations and has lead to the wide transfer of many good ideas.

A lot of innovative ideas and solutions to Climate Change must come form the bottom up. Top down solutions have rarely caused a massive positive change. It is the innovation, elegant, mutable , evolutionary nature of the market that tends to throw up the best ideas. We have seen over and over how a small project run by a few passionate individuals has changed things in the words of Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

By focussing on identifying and helping to trouble-shoot grassroots projects started by young people The British Council are causing social change in one of the most important ways possible.

By offering the contacts and the expertise to help grow small projects, the British Council helps ideas become reality. A year ago I decided it would be very interesting to travel across India going from village to village collecting stories of people whose lives had been changed by climate change. The British Council connected me up with a local NGO in Kolkata which became my first case study. It was from this starting point that I could produce a report that Greenpeace incorporated in a paper they prepared for the Prime Minister.

However the British Council’s work doesn’t stop there. For the large scale mobilisation of entrepreneurs to occur, and for the market to throw up the ingenious solutions that have come to define human existence over the last few centuries, we need to subtly change market incentives so that new environmental ideas are financially viable.

To this end the British Council has begun to catalyse youth to move towards considering policy solution to climate change. This is an important move as without the correct incentives the situation will continue as it is, with organisations only interacting with climate change as part of their CSR programmes with negligible effects.

I was with the British Council in Copenhagen, where I worked with the UNFCCC Youth constituency. A group of over 30 of us from countries all over the world learnt first hand how negotiations happen and what the latest debate was about. These interactions helped build our policy knowledge, and by actively participating in the Youth Constituency it gave us first hand experience with Climate Change legislation and policy.

I see the British Council as one of the organisations that is actually making a difference on the ground. By working with thousands of climate champions in many countries the British Council is a leader in the field, and a very dynamic and effective force in helping to change attitudes and action to do with climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Post by – Agastya Muthanna ©
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BA (Hons.) , MA Candidate
Faculty of Economics
University of Cambridge.

Consultant at the Ministers Office,
Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India.

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Rendezvous with the UK Minister of State, Climate Change and Energy

28th July 2010 was a very memorable day for me as I got to meet and interact with the British Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Mr. Gregory Barker and also got an opportunity to share the stage with British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron while he was delivering his speech at Infosys technologies limited in Bangalore. The meeting with Mr. Barker was at Hotel Leela Palace in Bangalore (one of the best hotels in the city) at 8.30 am and I was very excited as this was my first meeting with a minister from a developed country. My only other experience of meeting a politician from Europe was in Stuttgart, Germany when we went to present the youth declaration of the UNESCO World youth congress to the Mayor of Stuttgart in August last year. That meeting went on really well and it was really heartening to see the depth of knowledge and warmth in him.

I reached the hotel really early around 7.30 am (it was a rainy day and it gets pretty chilly in Bangalore) and met with other participants who were from the civil society and Business community in Bangalore. The group was very diverse with representatives from various organizations like Greenpeace India, Alliance to Energy Efficient Economy, ATREE and HSBC. Hita Unnikrishnan, my fellow ICC and Anu Thampi who is the ICC coordinator for India and Srilanka were also part of the group. After an amazing breakfast we took our seats at the meeting table and waited for the Minister to arrive. The Minister arrived exactly at 8.30 am (This is a rarity in India as most of the time we get really frustrated waiting for our politicians) and took his seat at the table. I was doubly impressed as he was pretty young for a Minister and it is my strong belief that Climate Change is an issue that can be better understood and addressed by a younger politician.

After a quick round of introduction, I was given the opportunity to set the context for the meeting with respect to climate change in India and the challenges and opportunities associated with it. I was little nervous as I was the youngest in the group but I was pretty confident that I will speak well. I opened the debate by stressing upon the fact that how India is in a vulnerable state and needs to take drastic steps to address the issue of climate change. India with a majority rural population dependent on rain fed agriculture; the largest population in the world below poverty line; a burgeoning population which is fast depleting the natural resources of the country; a long coastline of close to 6000 km will be seriously impacted by climate change. Our Economic growth of nearly 9% year on year is incredible but the question is how long we can sustain this growth if we don’t take measures to conserve our natural wealth which is fuelling this amazing growth in the first place.

I also mentioned that climate change is not only a major issue but is also an incredible opportunity for us to rethink the current path of development and steer India on the course of sustainable development and make it a leader in sustainability. Traditionally, India has been a sustainable society but after post-liberalization, consumerism has over taken over the lives of our fast growing population and has steered India to the current path of unsustainable development which is not sustainable in the long run. But all is not grim about climate change in India, there is also a concerted effort from the Indian government, civil society and private organizations to address it and make sustainability an important component of our developmental program. The Minister was also pretty pleased knowing that there is large section of young people in India who are actively working to improve climate change awareness among the civil society and working with various sections to put pressure on our government to take action on climate change.

The Minister made a very important statement that his government led by Mr. Cameron will be greenest government in the history of Britain and will be actively involved with India and other developing countries in aiding technology and financial resource transfer, thereby helping them to reduce the impact of climate change and move towards a sustainable path of development. He was also very curious to know about how the Indian society in general thinks about climate change especially when the majority of population is struggling to meet their ends meet. We told him that the irony about climate change debate in India is that the people who are least responsible for it are going to be the most affected by it. Hence there is a great urgency to make them aware and help them cope with its impacts.
We also had a good discussion about energy scenario in India and the Minister agreed with our opinion that decentralized form of energy through solar and micro wind is the only way for a country like India to attain complete electrification and he promised that he will discuss the same with our Minister for Environment, Mr. Jairam Ramesh when he meets him in New Delhi. There was also a discussion about how India can leverage on its immense pool of technical talent, esp. Information Technology to come up with climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions for the world. The other group members also shared their experiences in working with climate change issues in India like renewable energy, biodiversity conservation, public awareness etc. The minister also shared his views on smart grids and how it can revolutionize the energy sector and reduce the transmission and distribution losses in the grid esp. for a large country like India. The meeting lasted for 45 minutes and I was very happy with the way the meeting went and I am pretty sure that the Minister was pretty pleased with his first meeting in India.

After the meeting, I went to Infosys Technologies Limited where I work in their Green Initiatives team. I work at the same campus where British PM was visiting to deliver his first state address in India. As luck would have it, I was selected to be seated on the stage during the PM’s address. About 64 Infosys employees were selected to be the backdrop when the prime minister delivered his speech in our convocation center. When we enquired the reason for this arrangement, our organizing team explained that since the PM’s address will be telecast live across the world, they wanted to project the new face of India and thus I ended up becoming a part of the young India, full of confidence and passion ready to take India to a new path of development. The PM’s speech was extremely good and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of sharing the stage with him. This day proved to be an unforgettable day for me and I would like to sincere thank the British High Commission and British Council for this wonderful opportunity. This has given me a lot of motivation to continue my efforts as an International Climate Champion and encourage more young people to start realizing the importance of taking part in the climate movement as “It is our future which is at stake”… Let’s work together to secure our future!!!

Post by – © Digu Aruchamy

Gregory Barker, Minister of State Climate Change and Energy at the meeting in Bangalore

Gregory Barker, Minister of State Climate Change and Energy at the meeting in Bangalore

Prime Minister David Cameron at Infosys

Prime Minister David Cameron at Infosys

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