River Governance and Climate Change

This story was broadcast in the Konkani News Bulletin of DD News, Panaji on 6th March, 2013

Political boundaries are drawn without any consideration to river basin boundaries.  There are many interstate rivers in the country which are hotbeds of conflict due to increasing water demand on scarce water resources on account of growing populations, competition among different water uses, demand for hydropower,  and lack of cooperation across jurisdictional state boundaries.  With climate change, glacial retreats, rising sea-levels, salinity intrusion into water acquifiers, etc inter-state river conflicts will only increase in the future unless serious steps are taken for integrated water resources management taking the river-basin or sub-basin as a hydrological unit for planning and management of water resources.

Translation of the text:

Emotions are running high in Goa over the disputed sharing of Mhadei river waters with neighbouring Karnataka.  Around 7.5 TMC of Mhadei river waters are proposed to be diverted to the Malaprabha river basin in Karnataka by constructing the Kalasa-Bhanduri Nala project to meet the drinking water needs of Hubli-Dharwad and neighbouring areas.  Mhadei originates in Karnataka but more than 50% of its basin lies in Goa, where it is called Mandovi once it enters Satari taluka.  While it runs for around 29 kms in Karnataka, it flows for over 52 kms in Goa.  Considered as Goa’s lifeline, six talukas are totally dependent on it , besides the Opa water treatment plant, five wildlife sanctuaries, in addition to several economic interests like mining, tourism, etc.  Protests by Mhadei Bachao Andolan activists in Goa and Govt of Goa interventions led to the constitution of the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal by the Central Govt, which was however opposed by the Karnatak Govt.  Meanwhile  a Belgaum-based environmentalist had also filed a case in the Supreme Court alleging that the Kalasa canal is being constructed in forest areas without the mandated clearances from the Board for Protection of Wildlife.

Both Goa and Karnataka have their own claims, but much of the melodrama could have been avoided if river governance was institutionalised around the river-basin or sub-basin as the basic hydrological unit for planning and management of water, and a polycentric system of river governance was adopted,  with a co-ordinating mechanism at the basin or sub-basin level.

The most serious impact of climate change for India as a whole could be changes in river hydrology due to glacial melt and retreat of himalayan glaciers, resulting in changes in availability of water for irrigation and other purposes.  Given the limits for enhancing utilisation of available water resources, and the variability of supplies due to climate change, demand management is a must,  and should be based on recognition of water as a scarce resource as well as a sustainer of life, food security, livelihoods and ecosystems.  Conservation of river corridors and other water bodies needs to be done in a scientifically planned manner with active community participation.  A lot of data on rainfall, snowfall, glaciers, river flows, irrigated areas, needs to be collected and shared across borders.

Rivers are complex  social -ecological systems that need a governance approach different from the traditional natural resource management approach which involves a one-way management by the social system with ecological services in return.  In the face of climate change and deteriorating ecosystems, achieving sustainability of rivers requires that the resilience capacity of both the social system as well as the ecological system is augmented.


Climate change risks and uncertainties: How media communicates

Climate change is no more a research topic.  Evidence of human activity induced climate change is no longer deniable.  The IPCC Fourth Report has concluded that it is extremely likely that the global temperature increase that has taken place since mid 19th century has been caused by human activities.  Sign of climate change already detectable have drawn attention to the need to incorpoporate both mitigation and adaptation into economic  development plans and policies.  Climate change is a changing strategic risk requiring decisions to be made by governments, regulatory bodies, national and international corporations, that will allow impacts  to be managed and opportunities to be harvested.

Climate change Risks & Uncertainties for India:

Climate change risks to the India subcontinent are high and multidimensional.  Predicted rise in regional temperature and changes in the global climate system would alter monsoon system leading to 10-15% increase in monsoon precipitation, 5-25 % decline  in  precipitation levels in semi-arid and drought-prone Central India and a decline in winter rainfall in northern  India which implies decline in wheat and mustard crops in northwestern India, which will have a significant impact on national food security, regional crop mixes and resultant demand for irrigation.  Another study has predicted decrease  in number of rainy days over much of India  along with increased frequency of heavy rainfall during the monsoons.  Extreme precipitation events like the one in Mumbai in 2005 are predicted to increase substantially.  The most serious impact would be in river hydrology  in the Indo-Gangetic Plan and Brahmaputra river due to glacial melt and retreat of  Himalayan glaciers.  Significant changes in river hydrology and the demand for water for drinking and irrigation could have a dramatic effect on the growth and development of many towns and cities expected to mushroom across the fertile plans in coming decades.  Besides this, a mean sea-level rise that could reach 0.8 mts over the century would endanger huge stretches on the west coast including Mumbai, Kutch, parts of Konkan & Kerala, while significant settlement area is expected to be lost in the deltas of Ganges, Mahanadi,  Krishna, Godavari and Cauvery rivers on the eastern coast.

Climate change risks to urban areas can be seen in the massive expected transition in city growth wherein India’s urban population is expected to grow from the current 300 million to over 700 million by 2060  amidst a sombre scenario of inadequate water and sanitation, sewarage, solid waste management, poor housing, unreliable & inadequate  public transport system, poor roads,etc.. Climate change is also expected to accentuate environment related health risks specially water washed diseases like cholera & typhoid, diseases from lack of water and sanitation, besides malaria, which is predicted to aggravate from its current endemic areas of north and northeast India to become a pan-India phenomenon.

Managing a complex of six major risk groups i.e. temperature and changing precipitation patterns, droughts,  flooding and extreme rainfall, cyclones and storm surges, sea level rise and environmental health risk is a severe public policy and adaptation management challenge.  A risk-based approach to decision making is necessary to ensure that the uncertainity  is acknowledged and treated rigorously in the decision-making process. Assessment of risk is a complex undertaking requiring scientific and technical knowledge not just from climate scientists, but also from those who understand the consequences of those decisions on business, investment, society, etc Basically a risk management strategy reduces vulnerability by identifying win-win situations, no regrets decisions, or identifying other parties willing to accept the risks like insurance companies.

Since 1992 India has undertaken 4 offically supported national technical assessment of climate change risks.  Though co-ordinated by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, they were externally driven and primarily focussed on climate change science closely allied to the IPCC agenda and trends of analysis.  They were rather weak in engaging with the complex nature and intensity of vulnerability which is the most critical factor in risk management

How Media communicates these risks and uncertainities:

Despite  overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that human activities are causing global warming, debates about climate change are still characterised by a huge amount of uncertainity.   Uncertainity about climate change is unfortunately becoming a barrier to public engagment with climate change and behavioural change to fight it.  The most important task for effective communication about climate change is being clear that uncertainity is not an enemy of science but rather its stimulus and driver.  Like any area of complex science, uncertainty is a feature of climate science which will never go away.  Communicators and journalists have to first understand that science does not deal with certainties, but it weighs up evidence and tells which of the several options has the most support.  Therefore getting the message across that uncertainty is not a bad thing, that normal people’s everyday decisions are based on a certain amount of uncertainty will help to combat the belief that uncertainty should equal to no action.

Hitherto communicating climate change information  to both policy makers as well as to the general public has been insufficient.  It has been the opinion of some journalists that a monothilithic statement on climate science knowledge every five years is no longer the most helpful way to communicate climate change risks and uncertainties.  Instead  smaller more focussed reports aimed at target  audiences would not only make a more useful statement about climate science knowledge, but will also  be a less vulnerable target for climate change sceptics.  One mistake in the entire document  can  give reason for some to doubt the veracity of the entire climate change cannon.  Of course to the defence of the IPCC it should be said that they tried to quantify the uncertainties around climate change, and in their Fourth Report (2007) they specified specific probability ranges (  like more than 90%) and linked them to specific terms ( like ‘very likely’) and used these probability ranges and linked specific terms throughout the Report.

As a communicator it is necessary to explain to the people the difference between scientific uncertainty and the uncertainty that  comes from deciding how to respond to what climate change science tells.  Science can tell us about possible impacts but the choice of decisions based on what science says is left entriely to decision-makers.  It is essential to lubricate the science-policy interface with effective communication.  Climate scientists need to interact more and more with policy-makers and  climate science communicators.

Research shows that the best way way to deal with uncertainty is to talk about climate change as a risk.  Framing the issue as a risk turns the problem into something most people, social scientists, insurance companies can understand and relate to. Risk can be brought out through vivid mental images like rising sea levels washing away marine infrastructure, etc.  Research also shows that when uncertainty  is framed in a positive way, for example, when losses are shown as not occurring when  action is taken, then people are more likely to be goaded to take pro-environment action rather than resignation to fate.  Uncertainty is therefore not an inevitable barrier to action provided communicators frame climate change messages positively that can trigger cautious action in the face of uncertainty. We have a good example in the UK Climate Impact Programme which gives probable impact of climate change in various regions with visual images and probability information, which is more likely to goad people to action rather than resign to fate.

It is important to understand that media due to various agenda, or lobbying or misinterpretation or pure misunderstanding does not always report scientific research as intended by scientists. There has been much inaccurate reporting about climate change-related risks due to poor press releases put out by organisations.  The press is sometimes criticised for interpreting too simplistically a basic journalistic norm of providing balanced set of views, which can lead to presenting competing points of view on a scientific issue as equally supported which in fact they are not.  This creates the impression that the causes of climate change are more controversial than they actually are.

Often the media reports environmental issues as events rather than a process, like for example concentrating on the number of casualties due to a flood or drought or earthquake, etc.  If the story was looked at as a proces,  and not just as an event, then journalists could look at issues like what governance failures were responsible or contributed to the occurance of the disaster.

What is badly needed is extending communication to knowledge management so that through a community of practice approach, a network of stakeholders is built for the exchange of information, ideas, best practices,  technological lessons learnt, etc.  This will help built resilience of the community to climate change impacts whilst reducing their vulnerability.  And in that,  part of the war against climate change could be won!

This is a talk I gave during a seminar on ‘ Climate Change Risks & Uncertainties: How Media  Communicates’  at Centre for International Post-graduate Studies in Environment Management, Technical University of Dresden, Germany, which I attended on 19th April, 2013.

Buses, mobility transition and climate change

This is a story broadcast in the Konkani News Bulletin of Doordarshan Kendra, Panaji, on 28th February, 2013.

Transport sector accounts for about 25% of world energy use and contributes around 30% to GHG emissions. Road transport accounts for almost 90% of all emissions of the transport sector.  The private car is the largest contributor to a household’s carbon footprint.  Using public transport is one of the most effective ways an individual can fight against climate change.  Goa however is on a totally different trajectory from the climate change perspective – with around 8.6 lakh vehicles for a population of around 14.6 lakh, there is a vehicle for every second person in Goa!.:


Translation of the text:

A poorly serviced, unreliable and time-exhausting public transport system is one of the main reasons for the ubiquitous use of private transport in Goa.  In 2011-2012 alone  around 75000 vehicles were registered with the State Transport Department, out of which around 80% were non-transport vehicles, of which over 70% were two-wheelers.  Research has shown that energy consumption in motorised individual passenger traffic is upto 10 times as high as in a well-organised demand-oriented public transport system.

Buses play a critical role in the mobility transition, specially in urban areas.   While occupying twice the road space taken by a car, buses can ferry 40 times the number of passengers, and can displace anywhere between 5 and 50 vehicles with enormous savings in pollution and carbon emissions.  The Union Finance  Ministry  has set a benchmark of 60 buses per lakh population for 4 million-plus cities to make the public transport system reliable and efficient.  A good public transport system also promotes equity as the poor are most dependent on affordable and cheap public transport to access jobs and services.  However most state transport corporations suffer from enormous backlog of losses and inefficiency resulting in plunging passenger volumes and deplorable service quality.

Setting up a reliable and credible public transport system requires massive investment in renewal and modernisation of fleet, including setting up Rapid Transit Systems which can haul large numbers of passengers. The JNNURM has already catalysed Central Govt investment in bus rolling stock, specially low-floor buses required for level boarding.  Besides investment, a host of operational changes like setting up of a control room to function as a time-table controlling tool, improving fare-collection, improved passenger services like electronic display of bus-timings, routes,electronic issue of tickets, etc.are badly needed.

Recognising the potential of a well-organised  public transport system for efficient mobility as well as for reducing pollution and carbon emissions, Goa state-owned Kadamba Transport Corporation (KTC) is revamping its services.  More than 100 new fuel-efficient buses are being purchased to replace the older fleet, while other measures like adoption of new routes, seasonal bus passes for daily commuters and students at discounted rates, introduction of hand-held electronic ticket-issuing machines for on-the-spot issue of tickets, etc. have been introduced.

Says Derrick Pereira, Managing Director of KTC  “Tax burden on public transport vehicles is excessive.  In most Indian cities the tax burden is almost 2.6 times higher for public transport buses than private cars,  which amounts to a perverse incentive against public transport” .  Obviously this trend has to be reversed to stimulate investment in buses and discourage usage of private cars.  Government have to work on a combination of strategies to lure the public away from individualised transport and make public transport a viable mobility mode.

Window-pane Oysters on the verge of extinction in Goa


This story was broadcast in the Konkani News Bulletin of Doordarshan News, Panaji, on 25th February, 2013.

Harvesting window-pane oysters has been a traditional livelihood for the fishing community in Zuari river estuary in Goa.  Besides a livelihood source, window-pane oysters were the basis of a thriving cottage industry. Today due to indiscriminate marine infrastructure, water pollution, overfishing and changing natural habitat, this precious marine resource has almost become extinct in most of its traditional habitat areas, except in a single bay at Chicalim, where indiscriminate exploitation is threatening its very brooding stock.

See the story at http://climatechange.panossouthasia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Oyster-story.flv

Translation of the text:

Besides being a livelihood source for innumerable families of the fishing community, window-pane oysters were the basis of a thriving cottage industry in Goa.  For more than 400 years during Portuguese in Goa, window-pane oyster shells were exported to Brazil.  The oyster shells were extensively used in Goa as window-panes at a time when glass was not yet popularly used. Later houses of aristocratic families and well-off families typically used the shiny translucent oyster shells to decorate window panes despite the availability of glass.  Shells of these bivalves were also used to make handicrafts like lampshades, jewellery, while the occasional pearls found within the oysters were used in traditional medicine.

But all that is turning into history now.  Says Dr. Baban Ingole, senior marine scientist at Panaji-based National Institute of Oceanography ”  Mushrooming of shipyards, water pollution and unrestricted fishing has changed the natural habitat of this bivalve.  Despite being declared as a Schedule IV species under the amended Protection of WilldLife Act, 1972, and despite a ban on its commercial exploitation by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, unrestricted harvesting  continues at Chicalim, its only habitat area,  which threatens the very brooding stock of this precious marine resource.  Its limited occurance  and  restricted distribution demands strict regulations on its harvesting”

Window-panes oysters take about 4-5 yrs to mature fully when their muddy brown shells turn translucent white. The flat part of the shell is cut to fit into wooden window pane frames  traditionally  used  in Goan homes. “Warmer waters due to global warming  and increasing acidification of the oceans due to increased carbon emissions may have contributed to changing natural habitat and their proliferation.  Increasing water pollution and extensive marine infrastructure like shipyards and ports have certainly affected their growth profile” says Dr. Ingole.

However there is a silver lining to the story – the Chicalim Villagers Action Committee (CVAC) are demanding governmental action to  save the ‘manvi’ as the oysters are locally called.  Says Rui Araujo, Secretary, CVAC, ” We are not demanding a complete ban on harvesting the oysters, but strict harvesting regulations and the declaration of Chicalim Bay as a non-industrial area”

The strategy is likely to save the brooding stock at Chicalim bay and also ensure sustainable harvesting, thus saving both the livelihood of numerous families as well as this   marine resource from extinction.



Goa decides to demarcate Ecosensitive Zones outside Protected Areas

This is a story telecast in the Konkani News bulletin of Doordarshan News, Panaji, on 3rd March, 2013.

Despite a Supreme Court Order in 2004 that no mining activity should be carried out within 10 km buffer zone outside Protected Areas, mining was going on in the vicinity and sometimes inside Goa’s 7 Protected Areas.  All that is set to change under new recommendations for mandatory Ecosensitive Zones outside all PAs in the country as   given by Central Empowered Committee set up by the Apex Court.

See story here.

Translation of the text:

Ecosensitive Zones outside PAs is a transition  corridor  meant for wildlife to pass from areas of maximum security to those of lesser security.  Buffer Zones should therefore  allow minimal human activity.  However in Goa extensive laterite quarrying and iron-ore mining is going on just outside the limits of PAs.  Says Rajendre Kelkar, noted environmentalist, “A reasonably wide buffer zone is required to protect wildlife and biodiversity.  Considering the extensive ecological damage done by intensive mining, at least 3 km buffer zone should be maintained.

Recently the Central Empowered Committee set up by the Apex Court to consider the question of demarcating buffer zones for PAs nationwide, recommended EcoSensitive Zones (ESZ) of maximum 2 km for the biggest PA of 500 sq km, and of  mimimum 100m for the smallest PA.  If wildlife sanctuaries are contiguous as in the case of Goa,  2 km buffer zone has to be maintained, and natural boundaries like water bodies should be protected.

Reversing its earlier stand of maintaining zero buffer zones, Govt of Goa has accepted these recommendations and decided to demarcate and notify 1 km buffer zone for its wildlife sanctuaries at Mhadei, Netrawati, and Mollem National Park, and a 100 m buffer zone for Chorao Bird Sanctuary and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary.  Govt has also decided that for mining 2 km buffer zone will be demarcated, whilst announcing that mines currently operating within 1 km buffer  zone will be phased out within a period of five years.

This ecofriendly action has elicited sharp reaction from the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association who has demanded that govt should reconsider its decision as mining provides livelihood to more than 4000 people.  Their demand is considering that more than 38% of Goa’s land is under forest cover, out of which around 24% is under PAs, buffer zone should be less than 1 km.

All mining in Goa has come to a halt following a Supreme Court Order after Goa Foundation filed a public interest litigation for implementing  the recommendations of the Shah Commission.  As manay as 33 mines are operating in the periphery of Goa’s 7 PAs .   Goa exported around 54 million tonnes of iron ore in 2011-2012, much of which came from illegal mining.

Goa subsidizes solar-powered mobile ‘cool cart’

This is a story in Konkani telecast on DD News, DDK, Panaji on 20/10/2012

Here is the synopsis

In a bold bid to give impetus to development & popularisation of solar energy as well as to provide employment to youth, the Goa State Horticulture Development Corporation in co-operation with Indian Council of Agricultural Research is providing solar-powered mobile carts with refrigeration facilities to unemployed youth and women at subsidized prices.  Equipped with three solar-powered chilled chambers, these carts maintain the quality of perishable food products like vegetables, fruits, dairy, fish, etc, while providing hygienic refrigerated storage without a grid connection.  The vendor can move about specially in rural areas where power supply is erratic.

The ‘cool cart’ as it is called has been developed by an innovative entrepreneur, Deepak Solanki, from Sancoale, Goa whose aim is to provide economic eco-alternatives for power requirements and to make Goa a solar energy hub.  The cart costs Rs. 82,000, but the Managing Director of GSHDC, Pai Kakode says that a subsidy of Rs. 62,000 funded through  Central Government Krishi Vikas Yojana and State Agriculture Department is given to popularize the use of the solar-powered cart.  It means those availing the facility have to pay only Rs. 20,000/- and an annual maintenance fee of Rs. 1000/- for a period of 5 years  for maintaining the battery and the cooling system.   With a storage capacity of 180 kg, it can be used even during the monsoon as it is fitted with a ‘hybrid’ battery which can also be charged electrically.  Easy to maintain  with just a switch button, the ‘cool cart’ is fitted with a technology similar to a refrigerator with a panel life of around 15-20 years.  It can be fitted on a tricycle or motorized tricycle which again are solar-powered.

India logs more than 300 sunny days in a year but the potential for solar energy has remained  largely untapped mainly due to high costs of photovoltaic panels.  However with falling prices of PV panels, increasing incentives by the government, as well as high fuel prices, use of solar energy is increasingly becoming a viable option.  Several states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, UP, etc.  have put in place their own solar energy policies to tide over power shortages. Under the National Action Plan for Climate Change, a National Solar Mission is already working towards achieving the target to generate 1000 MW by the end of 2013.

Green buildings and climate change

Not many people know that the building sector is the third largest consumer of energy after agriculture and industry.  About 1/3 of all energy related carbon emissions come from the building and construction sector.  The design, construction and maintenance of buildings have a tremendous impact on the environment and natural resources.  Typically buildings consume about 1/6 of world’s fresh water withdrawals, 1/4 of wood harvested and around 1/3 of solid waste generated.  In today’s world of climate change, high energy prices, water stress and rampant deforestation, it is critical to build green and smart.  Green buildings should include both mitigation and adaptation strategies if we hope to reshape the built environment that is responsive and resilient to future climate change requirements.

Experts on climate change say the  building green is one of the least-cost approaches for mitigating climate change.  Green buildings optimise energy efficiency, use less fresh water, conserve natural resources, produce minimum of pollution, produce lesser waste, and provide healthy living spaces for occupants as compared to conventional buildings.  Applying a life-cycle cost analysis, the concept of green building examines the performance of buildings starting from extraction of raw material and tracing all operations until their final disposal as wastes back into the earth.  Energy required to extract, transport and manufacture various building materials like cement, paints, insulation, plumbing & electrical material, etc are all tallied in sum total of energy which is called as ’embodied energy’ of the building.  Green building is becoming popular both among builders and occupants and the Green Council of India has around 1700 eco-friendly building projects registered with it covering around 1.2 billion sq ft of green building footprint which is expected to increase to nearly 2 billion sq ft by 2015.

Says Panaji-based architect  Milind  Ramani who specialises in conservation architecture “Climate has always been integrated into the building profession with building practices typically assuming that the future will be similar to the past,  however with climate change builders have to plan for a range of uncertain futures. Earlier building decisions were based on historic climate data, but today building profession  have to consider climate change projections along with historic trends to arrive at their design, construction & maintenaace decisions.  Building professionals say that though green buildings may cost around 3-5% higher than conventional buildings, it gets paid back within a short period of time due to reduced operational & maintenance costs which continue throughout  the lifespan of the buildings.

Green building functions as a least-cost mitigation strategy  mainly through energy efficiency.  All elements of a building – be the foundation, framing, roof structure, window panes, etc have huge energy saving potential.  Energy used inside a building is the second tier for  energy saving potential.  Potential energy savers include optimal interface with electrical grid, mechanical equipment sized to the actual load of the building, optimum natural day lighting and ventilation which greatly impact the amount of energy used inside the building.   All these elements need to be considered in the early design stage to maintain cost effectiveness. In the West, much investment is put into retrofitting older building due to the compelling evidence that day-lighting greatly improves ventilation and saves much on heating & air-conditioning.

Green building movement has spread worldwide and countries across Asia, Europe, North America and Australia have adopted some form of green building.  India currently has two voluntary building rating systems: 1)  LEED  INDIA  (Leadership in Energy & Environment Development) run by the Indian Green Building Council and focussing on energy-efficiency measures in air-conditioned buildings, and  2)  GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) which is a National Rating System developed by TERI and  Ministry of New & Renewal Sources of Energy.  Since 2007 Bureau of Energy Efficiency has launched Energy Efficiency Building Code applicable for all commercial buildings with minimum conditioned area of 1000 sq mts and a connected power demand of 500 kw or 600 KVA.  The energy performance index under the Code is set from 90 kwh/sqmt/year  to 200 kwh/sqmt/year and any  building falling within the index is termed as EFBC Compliant’.   If fully implemented the EEBC can save around 35-40%  of energy in buildings say energy efficiency experts.

India has vast scope in adopting green building as mitigation & adaptation mechanism against climate change.  Massive funds have been earmarked for improving basic services & infrastructure in 60 major cities under Jawaharlal Urban Renewable Mission as well as for Sustainable Habitat Mission under the National Climate Change Action Plan.  Considering high urbanisation rates, need for providing housing for millions of people, specially the urban poor, there is considerable scope for climate-friendly built environment, which in turn will open wide  opportunities in green construction, engineering design, green building material, equipment like low-emission windows & paints, smart roofs, high-efficiency heating, ventilation & air-conditioning systems, water-saving systems, etc.

However, despite great potential several barriers impede popularisation of green building.  Currently green building is some sort of an elite standard and there is widespread lack of awareness allied to which is lack of incentives like additional floor space index (FSI), rationalisation of property tax and electricity tariffs, reduction of state taxes like VAT on green building technologies, etc.  Presently the grading systems are voluntary and Energy Efficiency Building Code is not strictly & fully implemented.  There is widespread myth that green building is very expensive.  Acutally green buildings now cost not more than 3-5% more than conventional buildings, and the savings over the lifespan of the building is substantial, which fact needs to be widely disseminated among builders and public alike.

From Brown to Green Economy: Way to Sustainable Development

The concept of green economy is increasingly find its way from the ivory tower of environmental economics to minstream policy discourse mainly due to widespread disillusion with the present economic paradigm which delivers material wealth at the expense of natural capital.  Policy makers are increasingly linking the present crisis of food security, water stress, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, climate change and economic recession to the need for evolving a more resource-efficient and less-carbon intensive growth path.

Successful green investments in clean energy, energy efficiency, green building, organic farming, recyclying & waste development have burst the myth of an inescapable trade-off between environment protection and economic progress.  Green economy has been recognized to have the potential to create employment and alleviate poverty, whilst protecting and maintaining natural capital.

UNEP defines Green Economy as one that results in increased human well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental scarcities & rsiks.  The older concept of Sustainable Development requires us to be able to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising nature’s capability to meet the needs of future generations.  While Green Economy is not a replacement for Sustianable Development, there is increasing recognition that sustainable development is not possible without greening the economy.

Green Economy is not a luxury affordable only to the developed world.  On the other hand it challenges the industrialised countries to reduce their ecological footprint without compromising their quality of life.  To the developing countries it poses the challenge to deliver improved services without drastically increasing their environmental foorprint.

The roots of the current environmental dilemma lie in the reconceptualisation of a mechanistic and reductionist world-view during the modern Scientific Age which sanctioned domination & exploitation of nature, as against an organic and systemic world-view of pre-modern times which emphasized ecology and resource conservation.  The image of earth as a living organism and nuturing mother served as a cultural constraint because one does not readily slay a mother or dig into her interiors for precious metals.  However the modern mechanistic world-view with its reductionist approach failed to understand that economy is just one aspect of a whole ecological and social fabric.  Thus the various Revolutions of the Scientific Age like Industrial Revolution, Technological Revolution, Green Revolution, Blue Revolution, etc coupled with an economic system which is largely alienated from an ecological & social context have resulted in a world challenged with recource depletion and social inequity.

The substantial economic progress during the last few decades has been achieved at the expense of natural capital.  The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment says that over 60% of global ecosystems have been degraded having lost their innate functional capacity in terms of regulation and provision.  Around 80% of commercial fish stock has been overexploited, water stress is affecting over 35% of agricultural land, land degradation is increasing with large countries like India & China losing top soil 30-40 times more than their natural replenishment levels.  Climate change is expected to  further reduce agricultural productivity by more than 30% due to changing monsoon patterns, g, glacier retreats, droughts etc.  Ecological scarcities are affecting entire economic sectors which are the bedrock of human supply chain aand critical livelihood sources for the poor.

A fundamental premise of Green Economy is that earth’s ecosystems like forests, agriculture, freshwater, wetlands, mangroves which provide critical regulation, provision and cultural services should be valued and incorporated into economic  activities.  Hitherto in the Brown Economy these vital ecosystem services have been not been valued and not incorporated in National Accounting Systems.  Valuation & Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is therefore an imperative part of Green Economy.

According to UNEP Report on Green Economy, 2011, the benefits of environmental sustainability outweighs the cost of investing in protecting ecosystems offering a double-dividend win-win strategy of growth with environmental sustianability or even a triple dividend win-win-win strategy when poverty alleviation is added.  One key finding of the Report is that transition to green economy creates ‘green jobs’, which after an initial period involving investment in re-skilling & re-education of people, offsets the loss of ‘.brown jobs’.  The Report says that green economy can reduce persistent poverty through sustianable forestry, sustainable fishing, ecological farming, etc. Green economy can reduce energy demand by 40%, water demand by at least 20%, offset  climate change effects, and reduce  biodiversity loss and land degradation.

Transition to green economy requires enabling national policies and support for national innovation systems.  Current policies, peverse subsidies and national accounting systems are insensitive to social & environmental costs and drive capital misallocation at the cost of natural capital  .For example current price and production subsidies for fossil fuels exceeded 600 billion US dollars in 2008, and this huge subsidisation affects transition to renewable energy systems.  Changes are needed in fiscal policy to include green taxes, feed-in tariffs to support infant green industries for renewable energy, energy efficiency, etc. and target public investment to key green sectors like forestry, agriculture, eco-tourism, mass transport systems, rural assets like water conservation, land development, etc.  Government support is required to create national innovation systems where R&D teams will innovate and disseminate green technologies like energy-saving technologies to SMEs or green building practices to construction firms or sustainable farming practices to farmers.

Given the level of integration of the global economy and given that most green technologies are developed in industrialized countries, global institutional arrangements must be generated to promote international collaboration for research in developing green technology, and for capacity-building and technology transfer to developing countries.  A flexible IPRs regimen which balances the public goods character of knowledge with incentives needed to induce price investments into innovations should be worked out to ensure broader room for compulsory licensing and for allowing innovators to use patented knowledge to generate new knowledge.