New Delhi: The government plans to create an inter-ministerial body to resolve contentious scientific issues on the impact of global warming on India.
This body will complement the efforts of the environment ministry, but concentrate on sorting out differences of opinion between experts on the actual impact of climate change on India’s monsoon, forests and farming systems, said an official familiar with the development, who did not want to be identified.
This is critical because such differences could weaken India’s position in global climate change talks.
A recent controversy surrounding the melting Himalayan glaciers saw R.K. Pachauri, an adviser to the Prime Minister on climate change, and chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), publicly lock horns with environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
“This body will see that whatever input we present internationally will be unanimous,” the official added.
The inter-ministerial group will be coordinated by the climate change division at the department of science and technology. This division was the result of India’s eight-point national action plan on climate change, directed by the Prime Minister, and is expected to fund and assess research that will constitute strategic knowledge on climate change.
Learning lessons:R.K. Pachauri, adviser to the Prime Minister.
Among the tasks of the group that is likely to come into being this May is the collation of scientific inputs for India’s periodic greenhouse gas inventory report that is to be submitted to the United Nations.
India has only made one such submission, in 1994, and several organizations are working on the second, which is due later this decade.
A second official familiar with the creation of the group and who too declined to be identified agreed that it could “avoid situations such as the IPCC controversy”.
A draft of IPCC’s report, published in 2007 and circulated to governments across the world, said the total area of Himalayan glaciers would shrink from the present 500,000 sq. km to 100,000 sq. km by the 2035. IPCC retracted this statement subsequently. However, Pachauri was hard-pressed, at least for a while, to defend the very scientific basis of climate change.
It didn’t help that Ramesh was critical of IPCC. “My problem was...with the alarmist position of the IPCC,” Ramesh had said at the time of the glacier controversy. “Secondly, the report made sweeping statements, which were not backed by scientific facts.”
India shifted its stance on climate change policy—from refusing to take on any emission reduction measures to accepting caps on the intensity of its emissions—within a calendar year, dividing policymakers in government. Experts say deeper divisions were expected to emerge in the future, which in turn could affect policy.
“The policy only comes in after scientific consensus. The big debates of the future will concentrate on the regional impact of climate change on different parts of the country and that would be even more fractious, simply because more people are going to be studying climate change impacts using all kinds of models,” said K. Krishna Kumar of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and a contributor to IPCC reports.
A government expert on the subject who is involved with climate change negotiations and who did not want to be identified said some of the differences could also arise from India’s evolving position: “From emissions intensity I wouldn’t be surprised if India takes on emission cuts. Then different states would haggle over their responsibilities and all this could have a bearing at international tables.”