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- Cover Story: Money plant-What is behind the rush to biodiesel
- Editorial: C for Clean
- Analysis: Fowl Play - Avian flu and India's poultry sector
- Science crucified: Science against religion duel on stem cells
- News: Drug price conundrum baffles Supreme Court task force
- Books: Special offer on publications on water
- Film: 'The Rain Catchers'
Cover Story: Money plant - What is behind the rush to biodiesel
A shrub called Jatropha (used to make biodiesel) is promising to
cut India's 100,000 Crore (US$ 20 billion) oil import bill, generate
employment in poor areas, reduce pollution and put the country's so
called 'wasteland' to good use. The government is aggressively pushing
the production of biodiesel in any way it can including giving 'wasteland'
(read village common property) to industry. But industry is eager
to supply the EU demand for biodiesel rather than cater to domestic
needs. And their business models might completely sideline the rural
Read the complete article online >>
Editorial: C for Clean
I remember many years ago receiving a call from a bbc journalist
asking which villages in India should they visit to see the impacts
of climate change. This was the early 1990s. I was puzzled and asked
"is climate change here?" Finally the television crew decided to shoot
urban fires in Delhi and drought in Rajasthan to tell their viewers
about how India was reeling under the impact of changing climate because
of increased greenhouse gas emissions.
I wonder what I'd say if I got a similar call today. Would I point
to recent cloudbursts and cyclonic events, which have more or less
drowned several major metropolitan cities in the country? Would I
point to the obvious variations and extreme weather events - from
heat waves to freak snow episodes - to say that our climate has changed?
Clearly the answer isn't simple. It is true every Indian city that
has drowned under the weight of its rain has suffered because of the
progressive mismanagement at the hands of its city managers. It is
true also that the intensity of floods and drought has increased because
we have made the poor even more vulnerable to weather events - either
by destroying the wetlands that absorbed the water or by simply ruining
the land economies of people, which would sustain them in times of
It is also true that our weather is changing. In other words, we
have a double-whammy - already stressed regions and people who will
be further hit. It is imperative that we reduce our vulnerabilities
by doing 'good' development - investing in the natural resource base
of people to mitigate against drought and floods. Simultaneous it
is also imperative that we reduce global emissions so that the threat
of climate change is contained.
It is for this reason that the world governments party to the convention
on climate change came up with the Clean Development Mechanism (cdm).
The idea was simple: the industrialised north had to reduce its emissions,
partly because its emissions were already leading to the threats of
climate change and partly because to provide economic and ecological
space for the South to increase its emissions.
Two facts were clear: one the North could really not reduce its
emissions substantially as it could not de-link from the fossil fuel
economy that drives growth. Two, the South did not have to make the
mistakes of the emission-flatulent parts of the world. It could re-engineer
its growth trajectory so that it would be more efficient or less dependent
on fossil fuels. It was this reasoning that lead to cdm - so that
the North could pay for the cleaner development in the South and get
credits in its own carbon balance sheet. It was to be a win-win situation.
This was not to be. In our study of the working of cdm (see 'Newest,
Biggest Deal', Down To Earth, November 15, 2005) we find that it has
become a market mechanism simply - an agreement between private parties
looking to make a fast buck. It is, as we show, not just the complicated
development mechanism but also the corrupt development mechanism,
which is leading to poor quality projects.
It is important to consider why this is so. It will be easy for
commentators in the developed world to blame these transgressions
- corruption or poor project design - on the governments and industries
of the South. But the answer is not so simple.
The fact is that governments (rich) have worked overtime on the
design of cdm so that it is what it is today. For instance, the rules
and procedures that have been developed for cdm are extremely convoluted
and cumbersome and are leading to ineffective projects at the country
level. Take the criterion for "additionality" - what can be done without
a cdm project - which is in turn leading to really creative carbon
accounting and poor quality projects. In fact the current rules create
perverse incentives for governments to do little to combat climate
These over-developed criteria are purportedly the response of the
rich governments and their ngos to protect against "business-as-usual"
dirty projects, which they believe Southern government would want
to push through in the garb of cdm. They don't trust the poor country
governments. The result is bad rules made for bad projects.
The second problem concerns high transaction cost (and procedures)
- because of the compulsory involvement of private auditors and their
procedures, which in turn negates the involvement of community and
small projects in cdm. This was done by rich governments and their
ngos to protect against the lack of credible procedures in the South.
But look at the end result. The procedure stipulates that the project
proponent hires the consultant to do the project design and then hires
the authorised validator to certify the project, based on the consultant's
report. In other words, the entire process is regulated by mutual
self-interest. It is no wonder that Down To Earth indicted two internationally
acclaimed auditors - namely, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young
- for fraudulent project design documents.
I could go on. But the moot point is that the design of cdm is flawed.
It keeps prices low; it forces the South to discount its advantage
in reducing emissions. It does little for combating climate change.
If the threat of climate change is real, then the answers to it must
also get real. cdm is a half-way house because it does not build a
global climate regime based on entitlements for all. But it can deliver
the building blocks of a cleaner tomorrow. For this we must do things
differently. Much more differently.
- Sunita Narain <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Read this editorial online >>
Gobar Times Environment for Children
Railways have always been the wheels of our country's economy. History
provides ample proof for that. In India, the British laid down the
first tracks to keep the cotton mills in Lancashire rolling. The trend
continues-all our core commodities are transported via trains, even
today. Yet, why is our prime carrier so bedraggled?
Down To Earth supplement >>
Also in Down To Earth
India is visited by 5-20 million migratory birds every year. The country's
poultry industry is also the world's fifth largest. Conditions seem
ripe for an avian flu pandemic. But is the role of the migratory birds
in the spread of the virus a red herring? How is the government preparing
and what will the effect of plans be on the 3 million strong unorganised
Read complete in-depth analysis>>
Hot on the heels of an animated public referrendum on stem cell research,
Italy holds a conference that pits religion against science.
Read complete article >>
No lifesaver this:
Price controls on essential medicines make manufacturers reluctant
to produce them. Yet imposing no controls make them unaffordable.
A special task force set up by the Supreme Court proposes solutions
to the puzzle. But does it give the right answer?
Read complete article >>
CSE Books, Films
A fresh look at water:
A package of 5 CSE publications covers the theoretical and practical
aspects of water policy, management and implementation in India.
"Making Water Everybody's Business" and "Dying Wisdom" analyses
the technologies, traditions and policies of water management.
The "Water Harvesters' Manual", "Wastewater Recycling Manual" and
"Tanks of South India" give you all you need to practically implement
urban water harvesting and wastewater management.
The Rain Catcher
CSE's latest film is a clear and comprehensive resource guide. It
answers all your questions about rainwater harvesting and documents
successful case studies ranging from slums to sports stadiums. Covers
policy dimensions, products, technologies and maintenance issues across
For questions contact>>
CSE is an independent, public interest organisation that was established
in 1982 by Anil Agarwal, a pioneer of India's environmental movement.
CSE's mandate is to research, communicate and promote sustainable
development with equity, participation and democracy.
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