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Dithering on climate research

Dithering on climate research
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First Published: Wed, Jul 15 2009. 09 57 PM IST
Updated: Wed, Jul 15 2009. 09 57 PM IST
Managing the effects of climate change is a difficult task for developing countries such as India. On the one hand, they cannot readily agree with binding greenhouse gas emission cuts as this will certainly derail their economic growth. On the other, they have to prepare for the fallout in technological terms. For this, they require access to a large class of technologies that mitigate climate change, which includes clean fuel generators such as solar cells, wind power, hydrogen and fuel cells, among other such devices.
Unfortunately, as reported by Mint on Wednesday, India has a rather poor record in advancing research and development (R&D) in this sector. While the number of papers in the areas mentioned above nearly trebled from 1995 to 2007, their citations in scientific literature fell from 200 in 1995 to less than 50 in 2007 in the case of solar energy research, from 50 to 10 in the case of wind energy, from 120 to 60 in the case of bioenergy and from 175 to 50 for hydrogen research.
The fall in citations is a good proxy for the fall in the quality of research. This is directly related to both the chances of such research moving from the lab to a usable technology and having the potential for further scientific discovery. To give a hypothetical example, suppose a research paper “A” published in 1995 vanishes completely from scientific memory in 2007 (by not being cited in scholarly journals, something that indicates the lack of interest in it on the part of scientists).
This means that its chances of being a dead end are very high. This is what seems to be happening in the case of the work by Indian scientists and technologists.
India is under immense pressure to adhere to some sort of binding emission targets. At the same time, advanced industrial countries have only paid lip service to transferring technologies for mitigating climate change to India. Under the circumstances, it is up to us to develop them. We don’t seem to be doing that.
The total expenditure on scientific R&D in India in any year has never crossed 1% of the gross domestic product. For a $1 trillion economy, it is a shame that we don’t spend more money on this vital area.
Should India spend more on scientific R&D? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Jul 15 2009. 09 57 PM IST