When Prime Minister Man-mohan Singh goes abroad on one of his foreign tours, not only is a Boeing 747 taken out from service in the loss-making Air india and expensively refitted for his comfort, but another such aircraft is usually kept as standby. The cost of this is in addition to the more than two hundred individuals who will be accompanying the PM on his latest visit to Europe, and that too, to one of the most expensive cities in the world. Hotel expenses in Copenhagen can, on average, be expected to cross $600 a day. Had the Copenhagen Summit been held in a city such as Casablanca or Calcutta, there would have been no need to expend energy in creating artificial heating and lighting.
The sun and the wind could have given weather comfort to the 36,000 accredited delegates and an estimated 90,000 bystanders. Instead, they will need to rely on the high-cost infrastructure in Copenhagen for their daily needs. The transparent hypocrisy of holding a “climate” summit in such luxurious and super-expensive surroundings is obvious, but not surprising, in view of the move by some developed countries to use climate change as an excuse to create barriers to the import of goods from poor countries, and to ensure, through the use of expensive and unsuitable technology, that production costs rise in such countries.
Because the December 7-18 “Climate Summit” is being held in Copenhagen, one certainty is that the conference will result in an expenditure of energy that will boost emissions substantially more than would have been the case in a alternative location. Although the official estimate of the increase in greenhouse gases from the Copenhagen Conference is only 40,000 tonnes, other estimates put it as high as 105,000 tonnes, including the environmental damage caused by bystanders to the conference, as well as by the significant increase in carbon-emitting flights needed to bring more than a hundred world leaders to the Danish capital. The organisers seem to have looked only to the convenience of the wealthy, not at the difficulties faced by those from poor nations who wish to have their voices heard at the summit. Few such people will even get an EU visa, much less be able to afford the expense involved in staying in Copenhagen for two weeks. By locating it at this city, the organisers have ensured that the poor will be conveniently silenced, and only well-paid NGOs and “international civil servants” will speak for them,
for example, by reading out presumed letters from the poor that are transparent forgeries. Had the meeting taken place in a lower-cost, less visa-difficult location, it would have ensured better participation from the have-nots. In Copenhagen, almost 80 per cent of those coming to the conference are from the developed world. For them, Denmark is their own backyard. For the poor, the wealthy Northern European country is from a different universe.
The conference takes place on the 25th anniversary of the worst industrial disaster ever, the Bhopal phosgene gas leak. More than 30,000 people were killed when toxic gas escaped from the Union Carbide plant in the Central Indian city of Bhopal on December 3,1984. More than 200,000 survivors suffered permanent damage to internal organs, a list that included several hundred newborn babies. Although the US headquarters of the company approved the short-circuiting of safety standards that led to the disaster, and therefore shares responsibility for the disaster, to date none from there has been held accountable for the crime. Indeed, although the then head of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, has been declared as “untraceable” by both the US as well as the Indian governments, he has settled down to a highly-visible retirement in the US, surrounded by friends and family. This despite him being Accused Number One in the criminal case registered against him in India on December 1,1987, which itself was nearly three years. In its wisdom,the Supreme Court of India fixed the value of around $400 million as full compensation for the Bhopal victims, in contrast to courts in the US, that place a much higher
premium on human life. Naturally, several victims or their survivors have yet to get any compensation at all, thanks to the bureaucratic indifference to human suffering that is always visible in India.
What is the actual agenda of key delegations to the Copenhagen Conference? The first is the sale of expensive technologies to developing countries, primarily nuclear energy. Apart from nuclear power plants, what is on offer are a slew of expensive alternative energy systems, few of which have much in common with the economic, societal and geographic conditions of the poorer countries. Through the sale of high-cost technology, the developed countries will get back practically all (and perhaps more) of the “generous gift” of $10 billion a year for the next few years, that is being promised. “Tied” money cannot be considered a gift, only money that comes without strings attached can qualify for such a description.
A handful of countries that have developed advanced technology for nuclear power production are hoping for a windfall of several hundred billion dollars in sales of nuclear reactors. India is one of the countries that have developed such technologies, yet decision-makers there are committing more than $20 billion to the purchase of nuclear power plants from foreign countries, including from the US, a country that has not built a single new nuclear plant in three decades. India needs to spend the bulk of its allocated resources on its own (much lower-cost) technologies, and thereafter market these around the world, so that countries around the world will have the option of choosing Indian lower-cost systems rather than the hyper-expensive systems that are being offered to them by some countries. It is unfortunate for Asia that nuclear cooperation between India, Japan and China is zero. If only the three countries jointly develop and make available nuclear power reactors, the poorer countries of the world would be able to access the benefits of nuclear energy. Indeed, India, Japan and China should collaborate on building a new generation of passenger aircraft, the way France, Britain and Germany do in the case of Airbus.
Aside from sales of nuclear power plants and so-called “green technologies” (which are usually much higher-cost than more affordable and appropriate local alternatives,and thus create the danger of making those enterprises using them uncompetitive), another agenda behind the “climate” talks is Protectionism. Several governments in the developed world seek to deny their own populations access to the low-cost, high-quality items produced by countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, India and China. They seek to protect the domestic and overseas markets of their inefficient producers by putting in place trade barriers in the guise of carbon emission tariffs of the kind suggested by Nicholas Sarkozy of France and by several US Senators.
The poorer nations need to ensure that climate change is not used as an excuse for the protection of high-cost industries in the developed world. The G-77 and other groupings such as India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) need to prevent climate from serving as a cover for the protection of inefficient industrial and other units. It may be mentioned here that India’s Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, has been a prime mover behind the new BASIC alliance, which has added China to the three countries already mentioned. This expanded group needs to show its commitment to its own people at Copenhagen, and lobby for them as sincerely as the EU is lobbying for the interests of its members. Host nation Denmark has been transparent about its agenda: to ensure that the world’s worst per capita polluters escape, while the growth prospects of China and India get affected by ensuring that they comply with stringent emission norms.
Were the spotlight to be turned to Denmark’s own record in its colony, Greenland, the results would be interesting.The indigenous people of Greenland have a high rate of alcholicism and suicide. Indeed, the suicide rate among the colonised people of Greenland is 25 times that of the US, with fully 31 per cent of the women having attempted suicide at least once in their lives. Given the tragic statistics of Danish overlordship of what ought to have been a free people in an independent country, it is remarkable that thus far the human rights lobby in the US and the EU has been silent about Greenland. As, indeed, they have been about other matters, such as the effects of French military intervention in Africa. It will take a long time before justice gets done to the international underprivileged in locations such as Greenland and “French” Africa.
The biggest failure of the way the Copenhagen conference has been structured is the continuing refusal to look beyond a “carbon emission” agenda to the entire complex of factors that are ravaging the planet. Indeed, the contribution of “carbon equivalents” such as methane towards climate change may be much more than that of carbon. Methane is being released from the Arctic and from Siberia because of the melting of permafrost. It is also the by-product of the growing of livestock for food. Indeed, a pound of beef uses up 2,700 gallons of water and nine pounds of foodgrain. However, Nobel Prizeman Al Gore seems to have ignored the role of a non-vegetarian diet in the creation of methane from livestock bred as food for human beings. The livestock industry does even more damage to the atmosphere than the transport industry. However, the effort of the world’s biggest per capita polluters at Copenhagen will be to keep attention concentrated on what the poorer countries must do, so that the richer parts of the world continue their unsustainable lifestyle.
What India needs to do at Copenhagen is to take the lead in pressing for energy-efficient building norms, that would mandate the construction of dwellings that are less wasteful of energy than the concrete horrors favoured by architects and engineers in India. Even in Denmark, a lighthouse has been designed that uses solar energy and is carbon-neutral. Tax credits need to be given to those who set up carbon-neutral buildings, and who generate innovations in this field. India needs to look beyond the “Only Carbon, Only Developing Countries” agenda not of Al Gore and his Climate Warriors. Neither Gore’s diet nor his travel, arrangements reveal any real concern for the climate. Rather, they show the direction of another interest: the selling of expensive “green” technologies to the poorer countries, technologies produced by companies whose shareholder lists would be revealing. All too many Climate Warriors are smiling all the way to the bank, as companies they have invested in get the benefit of the measures they propose.
The effort of Denmark and its allies is to turn all the attention on carbon, especially to the emissions of two developing countries, China and India. Even if both were to stop manufacturing altogether (thus throwing more than six hundred million people back into poverty), the planet would still be getting devastated, because of the methane leaks friom melting permafrost in the Arctic and Siberia, and by the fact that meat is the most important part of the diet in many advanced countries. Rajendra Pachauri is correct when he advocates vegetarianism to save the planet. Just as many hundreds of millions have turned away from smoking, so should they turn vegetarian. The people of Europe and North America are overwhelmingly sincere in their desire to be good international citizens, and a concerted effort to show the damage methane causes to the atmosphere would result in as many of them turning vegetarian as the tens of millions who have given up smoking. Governments in the EU and in North America underestimate the idealism of their own populations, when they act as spear-carriers for a handful of vested interests.
Another reality is that the oceans are nearing saturation limits for absorption of carbon. Given this, it is surprising that President Barack Obama and others are saying next to nothing about the need to measure the totality of greenhouse gases rather than just carbon. Otherwise, the impression will spread that they are simply using climate change as a means to protect domestic industry and to increase costs in economies that are emerging as international challengers to the status quo, principally China. An increase of just 15 per cent in the forest cover of the planet would do more to slow down the creation of greenhouse gases than even a halting of fresh industrial emissions by China. Indeed, trees need not be planted only in forests.They can be planted by roadsides or even on roof gardens. We need to make the entire planet green, not just the forests. The oceans can be rescued from carbon saturation by growing more seaweed in them. However, this has been neglected in the agenda at Copenhagen, presumably because there are no huge corporate profits to be made from such activities, as opposed to the sale of expensive technologies or the placing of “green” tariff barriers.
As for India, China, South Africa and Brazil, all four need to make the protection of the environment a priority.This can be done only through the discovery and development of local solutions, not the import of high-cost technologies from countries with very different local conditions.
Those staying in the expensive hotels of Copenhagen, using up vast amounts of energy each day of their stay, need to remember the Mahatma’s message: Think of the poorest person you have ever met, and ask if what you are suggesting will benefit him. Copenhagen should not be about protecting the privileges of the rich. The summit needs to focus on improving the lives of the poor, in a way that promotes a multitude of local technologies rather than remain in the grip of corporate monopolies that promote their own prosperity at the expense of the poor of the globe.