India goes indigenous on climate research

India goes indigenous on climate research
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First Published: Fri, Oct 23 2009. 10 51 PM IST

Local model: Earlier this week, environment minister Jairam Ramesh announced the National Institute for Research on Climate and Environment, funded by Isro and the environment ministry. Manan Vatsyaya
Local model: Earlier this week, environment minister Jairam Ramesh announced the National Institute for Research on Climate and Environment, funded by Isro and the environment ministry. Manan Vatsyaya
Updated: Fri, Oct 23 2009. 10 51 PM IST
New Delhi: In an application of the old adage that knowledge is power, the government is setting up research centres to map climate change and get indigenous data that will help it push its case more effectively in global climate change negotiations.
A key function of these establishments, say officials associated with the project, will be to develop climate models that use data generated within India.
Local model: Earlier this week, environment minister Jairam Ramesh announced the National Institute for Research on Climate and Environment, funded by Isro and the environment ministry. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP
Accordingly, in the last one year, at least three of the country’s leading research institutes have either launched or are in the process of setting up dedicated centres that will be part of the Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment. The announcement of setting up of the third centre was made last week.
Most studies that have estimated India’s greenhouse gas inventories, or the impact of climate change over India, have relied on so-called global circulation models prepared by research centres based out of the UK or the US. These models simulate the atmosphere at a given point and are extrapolated over time frames to create climate scenarios.
Earlier this week, Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for environment with independent charge, announced the National Institute for Research on Climate and Environment, funded by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the environment ministry, to measure and monitor greenhouse gases.
Stressing the need to set up India’s own research initiatives to measure and monitor climate change, Ramesh said in a press statement that “much of the data derived from Western sources was found to be biased. There’s no primary monitoring done in India”.
Quoting an example, Ramesh said: “In 1990, the US estimated methane gas emission from paddy cultivation in India at 38 million tonnes (mt) a year. However, Indian scientist A.P. Mitra later proved that emission from such cultivation varied from 2 mt to 6 mt, with the median being 4 mt, which is an accepted measure now.”
The Isro institute follows on the heels of the Divecha Centre for Climate Change, set up at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and funded by the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at the Imperial College, London, and California-based businessman Arjun Divecha.
Both of these were set up after the Centre for Climate Change Research, notified by the ministry of earth sciences in January, that will come up at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune.
IISc already has a specialist department, Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, which has weather specialists working on climate.
“In India, understanding climate was largely tied to understanding monsoon. That’s changed over the last few years and the field has expanded,” said J. Srinivasan, who chairs the Divecha centre.
The new centre would work on specific projects that would include a range of activities from measuring greenhouse gas emissions, to developing technologies that could mitigate negative impacts of climate change, he emphasized.
The climate centre at Pune has already procured a supercomputer specifically for modelling studies, said K. Krishnakumar, a senior scientist at IITM, and who is involved with the new research centre.
“Developing modelling capabilities is a priority of the centre here. Though students are still being recruited, climate change is also an emergent new discipline. Even the funds are more forthcoming,” he said.
For its 11th Plan, between 2007 and 2012, the government has set aside Rs75,000 crore for science and research, thrice the allocation over the previous period.
“Of course, a sizeable chunk could go towards climate change-related activities—now that ministries are drawing up strategies to meet the eight missions planned under the Prime Minister’s National Action Plan on Climate Change,” said a senior department of science and technology (DST) official, who didn’t want to be identified. DST was in the initial stages of reviewing a proposal to set up three more centres for Himalayan glaciology.
A country’s greenhouse gas emissions and rise in pollution levels are the basis on which nations negotiate their emission caps.
While scientists say several research projects, including more ship expeditions to measure ocean temperatures and sea wind patterns and increased recruitment of climate specialists are on the cards, they will aim at bettering India’s greenhouse gases databases and, thereby, give it better traction during negotiations.
Traditionally, India has relied on climate models prepared by the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, UK, or universities based out of the US, to estimate its greenhouse gas inventory. But scientists say the results of these models can’t always be reliably applied to India.
“All IPCC models have to be taken with a pinch of salt,” said Madhavan Rajeevan, a meteorologist with Isro. “All models are prepared with a specific country in focus. Blindly extrapolating it to another, gives inaccurate and surprising results.”
A paucity of ground-level data—such as transpiration rates of different plants in the country (that has a bearing on calculating the carbon dioxide emitted by plants), India’s varied topography and the behaviour of its surrounding oceans with the atmosphere, all of which mean different rates of carbon dioxide emissions and glacial melt—means Western data plugged on these models gives inaccurate results for India’s emission profiles, he added.
In its latest estimate this September, India said its per capita greenhouse gas emissions will grow fourfold, to an average 2.77 tonnes, in the next two decades if the economy expands by an average 8% a year during this period.
With India set to become a bigger polluter to fuel its developing economy, other experts say that several more universities and institutions are going to shore up on their climate studies departments.
“It’s (climate research) not a buzzword, it’s a necessity,” said A.K. Gosain, who heads the civil engineering department at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and has worked on government projects to estimate India’s emissions profile. He added that businesses as well as states will demand accurate models to predict climate change impacts on their agriculture as well as industry—a trigger for consultancy projects by such institutes.
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First Published: Fri, Oct 23 2009. 10 51 PM IST