Right to Information Initiative involves a large number of RTI applications filed under various government ministries and institutions on their response to climate change and revealing it through a series of disclosures.
It is aimed at confronting the government and making it answerable on action it has taken or not taken on issues related with climate change and resource depletion; and revealing, to the public, the extent to which the government remains unprepared and unwilling to adequately address this issue.
About RTI Act
India has one of the strongest freedom of information acts in the world. All government ministries, departments and institutions are required to store information in a manner that makes it easily accessible. Any citizen of India can seek any information available with a public authority with few exemptions. Even in the case of an exemption, the authority must provide the information if its disclosure is in greater public interest.
On receipt of an application, the public authority must reply within 30 days or transfer the application to another concerned authority within five days if it does not concern them. In the event of no reply within the stipulated period or unsatisfactory reply, a first appeal can be filed with the First Appellate Authority within the same institution.
A second appeal can be filed with the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) if the first appeal is not disposed off to the satisfaction of the applicant. The office of the CIC has powers equivalent to a civil court. It can summon witnesses, order an enquiry, punish the offending officers and award compensation.
A total of 124 Right to Information applications were filed between 1st Oct 2009 and 6th Nov 2009 in various government ministries and authorities but primarily with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Power and Planning Commission. A few more applications have been filed since then and continue to be filed.
Subject areas covered under the applications are climate policy, public awareness campaigns, emission pathway modelling, climate science basis of policy decisions, dissemination of scientific knowledge within the government, awareness of climate science within the government, climate change negotiations, energy efficiency, energy efficiency mission, spending on nuclear power, renewable energy and preparedness for peak oil.
Replies to most of the applications were received in the months succeeding the filing. Many replies were received only subsequent to filing of first appeals. First appeals were filed for both no replies received and unsatisfactory replies.
Disclosure of Replies
The replies received could possibly prove embarrassing to the ruling government nationally and internationally. They reveal a government ignorant of the state of climate science; ill-prepared to face resource depletion; unwilling to act as science demands; unconcerned about public safety; unable to determine the right developmental priorities; and, ill-prepared to defend its own claims.
The responses are a written admission from the government conceding, in effect, that they have failed to protect the future of its citizens.
Due to the wide ranging nature of questions, we plan to release the responses in a series of disclosures culminating in a synthesis report in the end. Periodically, press releases will be issued that will highlight a specific area in which the government's response to the challenge posed by climate change is found to be seriously deficient.
Disclosures so far:
#1. Climate Science Monitoring and Dissemination Within Govt | 25-Feb (updated 8-Mar)
#2. Climate Policy Formation Process | 10-Mar
#3. Position on Climate Targets | 24-Mar
#4. Strategy Regarding Big Emitters | 5-May
#5. Recognition of Climate Emergency | 31-May
#6. Climate Anomalies & Impacts | 20-Sep
25-February 2010 UPDATED 8-Mar
#1. Climate Science Monitoring and Dissemination Within Govt
India's Environment Minister and its Prime Minister are blind to accumulating scientific evidence on climate change as no mechanism exists within the government to monitor ongoing international developments in climate science and report them to policymakers.
Covers thirteen RTI applications filed with five different public authorities, primarily Ministry of Environment and Forests and Prime Minister's Office.
a. No intra-institutional process in place for science to inform policy
No process exists within the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Prime Minister's Office to identify and prioritise information on accumulating scientific knowledge internationally on climate change to brief the heads of the two institutions that play the most significant role in determining India's climate policy.
The Minister of Environment and Forests and the Prime Minister, therefore are kept in the dark regarding developments such as, comprehensive scientific assessments on the state of our climate; notable scientific literature on related topics and trends within; and significant climate anomalies observed in various parts of the world.
b. No single input on climate science to policymakers over one-month period
Both Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Prime Minister's office failed to cite any mention of accumulating scientific evidence on climate change in the briefings given to their heads for the stipulated period of one month*. This meant that the Climate Change Science Compendium issued by UNEP on 24th Sep 2009 -- a comprehensive synthesis of over 400 peer reviewed scientific papers which concluded that climate change is accelerating far ahead of previous projections -- went unnoticed by our policymakers.
c. Even exceptional climate anomalies and notable scientific papers are not noted
A list of notable scientific literature, analyses and climate anomalies -- including, in particular, the alarming melt of sea-ice in the Arctic region in 2007 -- provided to the ministry of Environment and Forests, have not only not been acted upon but these developments even find no mention in the records of the ministry. This is two full years after the record melt in Arctic, 22% over the previous record low in one single year, shocked scientists worldwide.
d. No inter-institutional process for science to inform policy and ignorance about accountability
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has no process in place to issue scientific briefs or advisories to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on climate change. There is also confusion and ignorance within the MoEF as to who is supposed to do this job.
In its reply the CPIO states that Ministry of Earth Sciences and Department of Science and Technology might be issuing such briefs and advisories to the Prime Minister. But separate RTI applications already filed with the Ministry of Earth Sciences and Department on Science and Technology revealed that no such process was in place there either.
Similar confusion on accountability exists in the Prime Minister's Office. The PMO replied in response to a query that that Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) is mandated to report on activities related to research through the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change.
But the proceedings of the PM's council provided by the PMO under a separately filed RTI application does not contain a single intervention by the PSA on "latest scientific knowledge on climate change reflected in research published world over and in international conferences on climate science."
Meanwhile, another RTI application filed with the office of the PSA separately also reveal that they too do not issue scientific briefs and/or advisories on climate science to the PMO or MoEF.
e. No sense of urgency and no recognition of worsening climate
Letters exchanged between the Environment Minister and the Prime Minister, and the proceedings of PM's Council on Climate Change -- both provided by the PMO* in reply to RTI applications, reveal no reference to urgency represented in accumulating scientific evidence post IPCC AR4.
The Copenhagen Diagnosis published in late 2009; UNEP's Climate Change Compendium published in Oct 2009; conclusion of International Scientific Congress Climate Change published in March 2009; the Monaco Declaration on ocean acidification published in January 2009 are all comprehensive scientific analyses compiled by hundreds of world's renowned climate scientists that reveal a startling trend -- that observed changes in the present climate and new predictions of future effects go far beyond IPCC's worst-case projections.
Yet none of these would have reached the tables of policymakers in India who remain blind to international developments in climate science.
*Incomplete submissions - proceedings of several council meetings and some letters have not been provided.
f. No capacity building engagement with members of parliament and bureaucrats
The Ministry of Environment and Forests admitted in its replies that no evaluation has been carried out of members of parliament and bureaucrats on how well they perceive the science and urgency of climate change nor has there been any capacity building programme for MP's and bureaucrats on the topic.
g. No capacity to proactively monitor international developments in climate science
The Ministry of Environment and Forests admits that neither the ministry nor any of its affiliated institutions have any staff capacity dedicated to monitoring international developments in climate science, such as significant climate anomalies, groundbreaking research, scientific events, identifying evolving trends and scientific consensus -- and reporting these to policymakers within and/or outside the ministry.
Climate change is being driven by non-violable laws of science. While politics can be changed, these laws cannot. Therefore, it is supremely important to listen to what science tells us. Scientific evidence of climate change and future impacts is to be carefully observed and understood, not denied.
History of evolution of climate science over the past two decades show that the severity and scale of impacts predicted are directly proportional to the extent of scientific knowledge about the processes driving them.
As the climate's underlying scientific processes are slowly revealed to the scientific community enriching the scientific knowledge about them through peer-reviewed literature, their predictions become more and more dire. In other words, climate change is a moving target. And it is moving towards us getting bigger every day.
Unfortunately, the government of India, and most of the rest of the world, is unable to see beyond IPCC AR4 projections. Based on scientific understanding of the 1990's and early 2000's (IPCC had a 2005 cut-off to accept papers), the governments are stuck with data that was obsolete the year it was published. They are ignoring, to their peril, overwhelming scientific evidence published subsequently that reveals a worsening climate.
An illustrative example is the melting of sea-ice in the Arctic, observed merely seven months after the IPCC AR4 first reports were made public, that was at least 70 years ahead of IPCC predictions.
Science must take centre stage in any policy response being considered.
The alternative for policymakers being informed of carefully observed and understood science through mechanisms built into the government, is to get it from news media. News media are the worst source of climate science in any country but particularly in India, as they routinely distort, underestimate or overestimate scientific findings and fail to get across a holistic picture of accumulating science.
If a government of a nation as large as India, is ignorant of science to an extent as revealed by the RTI applications above, it cannot ever hope to address a crisis being driven by science. This ignorance and denial poses a danger to Indian citizens and to those of the world through its actions internationally.
Incorporating latest science in policymaking will not solve everything but it is the starting point towards progress. An honest assessment of the true state of climate is critical to initiate an appropriate response to climate change.
India's Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, is often quoted in news media making a distinction between Indian science and International science. The environment Minister is fond of "demonstrating" this using an example where research published in the the U.S in the 90's was apparently shown to be lacking in some aspects by subsequent research published in India.
This isolated example is used to convey the impression that everything produced in international research institutions is of questionable credibility and by default, anything produced by Indian researchers is highly credible work. This completely ignores the fact that India is decades behind in producing climate research of the level being produced and pursued internationally. The Minister's stand also implies that western scientific interests are politically motivated.
This distinction and the implied insinuation is so bizarre that it would be difficult to find another parallel to such nonsense in political circles. The dozens of scientific institutions and hundreds of universities around the world that publish climate research are not tied to any one political agenda. Science isn't tied to any political agenda actually. It is widely known, for example, that the Bush administration and scientific institutions of the United States were long at loggerheads. To insinuate that the latter was working for the former is to state completely the opposite of the truth.
While at first look, the Minister's statements might seem to be of malafide intent, our RTI applications show they are actually made out of ignorance. The Indian Minister of Environment, Jairam Ramesh, is not being briefed on climate science and has shown no willingness or ability to learn.
The damage caused through this particular brand of misplaced nationalism of science, however, is severe. With this single stroke of denigrating "western science", the Minister in effect rejects everything and absolves himself of all responsibilities to act on this issue.
On 4th Feb 2010, precisely four months after it received a barrage of RTI applications from Climate Revolution founder seeking scientific data backing its decisions, Ministry of Environment and Forests announced proposals for sprucing up its scientific capacity. The Ministry in its press release stated that it will to "give renewed impetus to science" and for the first time admitted that Science does not play a significant role in its functioning.
Although the Ministry of Environment and Forests was originally conceived as a science-based Ministry, says the press release, "over the years, a number of issues and constraints have arisen related to the scientific resources and expertise of the Ministry." We couldn't agree more.
It is yet unclear how much of this decision was influenced by the 39 RTI applications filed with the ministry in October 2009 (and few more subsequently). Unfortunately, there is still no initiative in the proposals to establish a mechanism within the Ministry to monitor international climate science so that it informs policymaking at the highest level.
One of the five initiatives announced is a "Global Advisory Network Group on Environmental Sciences (GANGES)" that continues to profess Environment Minister's misplaced nationalism of science mentioned in sections above as it seeks to form a network of "the world's leading environmental scientists of Indian origin."
An expert committee, led by a former space scientist, has also been proposed to enhance the scientific capacity of MoEF. Even through the Ministry claims that it is seeking to "urgently address" this issue, yet, no time-limit has been set for the committee to submit its findings and for them to be implemented.
#2. Climate Policy Formation Process
The Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Environment are withholding release of documents related to the process of climate policy formation and international climate negotiations.
Covers five RTI applications filed with the Prime Minister's Office.
a. Ministry of Environment denies information on climate policy formation process for international climate negotiations.
RTI applications seeking copies of briefs given to Indian negotiators at international climate negotiations, and reports submitted by them to the PMO, have been rejected by the government. Filed with Prime Minister's Office and forwarded to Ministry of Environment & Forests by them, the requests have been rejected on the ground that the disclosures "may affect the scientific and economic interests of the country."
The replies do not mention which scientific interests will be compromised with the release of information purely political in nature. Nor do they elaborate on the nature of the risk to economic interests from disclosure on India's climate policy formation process.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 allows a public authority to make exemptions such as these in their disclosures. However, the act also states that if the public interest at stake is greater than the interests being compromised, then information cannot be withheld. As such, appeals were filed contesting the denial of information on this ground but was rejected. No reason was cited for rejection.
b. PMO denies access to minutes of meetings of PM council on climate change that determines domestic climate policy.
An application was filed with the Prime Minister's Office seeking copy of proceedings of all meetings that were held by the PM's council on climate change since its inception. In response, the PMO submitted minutes of only four meetings held on 13-Jul 2007, 26-Nov 2007, 2-Jun 2008 and 24-Aug 2009.
Even these records are incomplete as written submissions made at these meetings have not been provided. Whereas minutes of three other meetings, those held on 3-Aug 2008, 13-Oct 2009 and 26-Oct 2009, have withheld in their entirety.
For these meetings, PMO has instead provided inter-departmental notes, press release and internal memos even though that was not the record sought in the application. No explanation has been provided as to why minutes of meeting were replaced with such low-resolution documents.
First appeal filed with the First Appellate Authority (FAA) in the PMO has gone unheeded. The FAA responded only to the missing submissions of earlier meetings, arguing that fresh application would need to be filed to obtain these submissions. Apparently the PMO considers written submissions of a meeting as not an integral part of its proceedings.
The response to first appeal is inexplicably silent on the issue of missing minutes of later meetings.
c. Letters between PM and Minister of Envr. are denied or mysteriously go missing. MoEF turns blind eye.
RTI application was filed to seek copies of all letters exchanged between the Prime Minister and the Minister of State (MoS) Environment & Forests (E&F). In its response, the Prime Minister's Office provided copies of 14 such exchanges including their enclosures (38 pages in total). However, a careful check revealed that at least four records have been withheld.
Two of those concern a note dated 31-August 2009 of MoS E&F to PM regarding "One Big Idea" for his bilateral meeting with President Obama in November, and the PM's response thereof. This letter is mentioned in the list of all exchanges provided by the PMO. It is however, denied by the PMO in the actual copies of documents released.
The other two missing records concern a letter dated 13-October 2009 written by the MoS E&F to PM and the PM's response thereof. The former was prominently highlighted in print and television media in India a week after it was sent. This letter is not mentioned even in the list of all exchanges between the MoS E&F and the PM provided by the PMO.
First appeal was subsequently filed for both, information denied and information found missing. In its response, the First Appellate Authority (FAA), upholds the decision of the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) on information denied. With regards to the missing letter, the CPIO in its reply partly acknowledges it but states that it "could not be traced" even after a thorough search. It further requests the Ministry of Environment to provide the letter to the applicant.
Almost two months later, no response has been forthcoming from the MoEF to this request.
SIGNIFICANCE & IMPLICATIONS
Lack of transparency into international and national climate policy formation process signifies that government is hiding information which could be embarrassing if released.
Particularly relevant is the denial of letter written by the Environment Minister to PM on "One Big Idea" for his upcoming bilateral meeting with President Obama and the PM's subsequent reply. What is being discussed with the U.S government on climate change that cannot be disclosed to the public?
This has grave implications for the Indian public. An opaque policy formation process keeps the public in the dark about the interests driving the policy decisions which would have long-term impact on the current and future generations of the country.
As world's fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions that are set to triple or quadruple over the next twenty years, India must realise that any decisions on climate policy taken today will either save or endanger lives of millions of people in this country and rest of the world in the coming decades. Citizens of this nation have a right to know what interests are driving India's policy decisions.
Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of Environment has, on several occasions in the past, talked about bringing transparency to the functioning of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Famously, he is known to have changed the doors of his office from wood to glass to demontstrate his commitment. Unfortunately, this spirit of openness is not reflected in the replies of RTI applications filed by officers holding senior ranks in his Ministry.
#3. Position on Climate Targets
The govt concedes it has no knowledge whether limiting global temperature rise to 2°C will ensure safety to Indian citizens or not. Nor does it have any position on atmospheric CO2 targets required to keep temperature under 2°C.
Covers three RTI applications filed with the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
a. No research has been commissioned by the Indian govt to validate whether 2°C temperature rise is a safe target for India.
A reply provided by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to a RTI application conceded that the Government of India's nodal ministry for climate change has not conducted any research to validate that 2°C, the temperature rise target it is pursuing at international climate negotiations, will actually guarantee safety to its citizens from dangerous climate change.
b. The govt has no position on the atmospheric concentration of CO2 required to limit temperature rise to 2°C.
In its reply to a RTI application seeking government's position on the safe concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to ensure zero probability of crossing 2°C, MoEF stated that it has no view on the matter and that its discussions are based on IPCC AR4.
The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers 450ppm of CO2 concentration to be the upper limit for keeping temperature within 2°C range. However, 450ppm does not ensure a zero probability (or complete certainty) of keeping temperature within this limit.
Further, under IPCC's worst scenarios temperature may still rise to 2.4°C. Research published after IPCC AR4 was released has also shown that the actual target to prevent dangerous climate change may be closer to 300-325ppm and certainly not more than 350ppm.
c. The govt has no knowledge of the carbon budget that would limit temperature rise to 2°C.
New scientific papers published in 2009 have demonstrated that policy targets based on limiting cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide (or carbon budget) are likely to be more robust than emission-rate or concentration targets that are currently being pursued under UNFCCC.
This is a new approach professed by at least three notable scientific papers, including one published by the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WBGU), that has been widely recognised as more credible and effective compared to the IPCC AR4 emission reduction scenarios. It may be added though that even this approach does not ensure zero probability of crossing 2°C of surface warming.
A RTI application was filed with the Ministry of Environment and Forests to find out the government position on this approach. In its reply, the MoEF repeated its stand expressed in its reply mentioned above -- "Government of India does not have a view on the safe concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere" -- even though the application had sought its view on carbon budget approach and not on CO2 concentration.
Previously, a RTI disclosure made by Climate Revolution Initiative (see #1c above) had shown that MoEF records find no mention of notable scientific literature, including papers on the budget approach to emission reductions.
Evidently, the government of India has undertaken no careful examination or due diligence into the process, if there was one, of deciding the safe climate protection boundary for its citizens.
It is of tremendous significance that the government admits of not knowing what is safe for its citizens. In other words, the government admits that it has risked the welfare of India's present and future generations on its own unexamined assumptions.
In only less than one and a half decades India will be the most populous country in the world with 1.5 Billion inhabitants, according to a UN projection. The Population Reference Bureau projects us to cross the two billion mark by end century.
If our policymakers aim even slightly wrong on climate targets today, it is easy to conceive that hundreds of million people might end up outside the climate protection boundary tomorrow. And if we are way off target, no one can predict how many will survive to see the next century.
It is therefore of critical importance to ensure that our target today is based on sound assumptions so that we are on course to keep the maximum number of people within the climate protection boundary. The more time we lose to get our course corrected, the more difficult it would become to get it right later, if not too late.
Presumably, the decision of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who was instrumental in India signing the so-called Copenhagen Accord last December, and that of the Prime Minister's Office that signed up for the 2°C limit at G8 summit in Italy previously, is based on the following assumptions:
a) CO2 concentration of 450ppm will prevent 2°C
None of those assumptions stand close scrutiny. IPCC projections for warming caused by 450ppm of CO2 concentration is based on a "best-guess" estimate of climate sensitivity -- the metric given for determining how much earth temperature would rise by doubling CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. There is uncertainty regarding the exact temperature rise so scientists usually talk about climate sensitivity in a range -- 1.5°C to 4.5°C.
All IPCC projections assume 3°C climate sensitivity but some scientists argue it could be much higher. If this uncertainty is accounted for and a higher climate sensitivity of 4C is assumed, then the same CO2 concentration of 450ppm produces up to 78% probability of 2°C warming and up to 50% probability of 3°C warming.
The second assumption that 2°C will prevent dangerous climate change disregards all the evidence of climate change occurring already at 0.8°C of warming. The dramatic decline of summer sea-ice in the Arctic in recent years in terms of area and also the decline in multi-year sea-ice in terms of volume has been directly attributed to rise in surface temperature of that region.
Arctic sea-ice is considered to be a tipping element in the climate system. Scientists now predict complete disappearence of the summer sea-ice within the next decade -- well over a century ahead of IPCC scenarios. As this is happening at today's temperatures, anyone arguing for 2°C limit should explain why is complete melting of Arctic acceptable when its risks with regards to abrupt or runaway climate change are well understood.
Finally, all scientific assessments and economic analysis of climate change impacts state that the poor will be worst affected. With the third of the world's poor living in India, clearly India's climate protection boundary ought to be much smaller than the rich industrialised nations who will not get affected as badly.
At Copenhagen, led by Alliance of Small Island States, half the world's countries demanded temperature rise limit to be 1.5°C. A group led by Bolivian president went further and demanded commitment to warming of no more than 1°C. Yet, India went along with the same temperature rise targets that are sought by the developed countries.
With our targets so off the mark, the question Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh should be answering in the parliament is: "How does the government intend to deploy an appropriate response to the climate crisis when it doesn't know where to aim?"
#4. Strategy Regarding Big Emitters
Government has no strategy, plans or concern for ensuring that the largest greenhouse gas emitting nations commit to reducing emissions.
Covers three RTI applications, one filed with the Ministry of Environment & Forests and two with the Prime Minister's Office.
a. Ministry of Environment & Forests fails to produce a strategy to ensure that Annex-1 nations reduce their emissions by the required target.
A Right to Information request filed with the ministry of environment and forests sought information on four points summarised below:
1. India's strategy that will ensure that Annex-1 nations (developed countries as defined under UNFCCC) reduce their emissions by the target the country considers necessary to limit temperature rise to 2C.
1.1 Alternative strategy in case such emission reduction targets were not agreed to by A1 nations at Copenhagen.
1.2 The internal deadline for India by which A1 nations must admit to emission reduction targets.
1.3 Whether we have a strategy in case A1 nations admit to the target but do not stick to it.
In its reply the Ministry did not produce any strategy document. It did not deny this information on grounds of secrecy nor did it even admit existence of such a strategy document. Instead, in the name of strategy, the Ministry stated that India has been "pressing" Annex-1 nations in climate change negotiations to take emission cuts. No information has been provided on points 1.1 to 1.3.
Another question implicit in the first point was, what is the range of emission reductions sought from A1 nations that the government considers adequate to limit temperature rise to 2C. The exact phrase in the application was: "the target the country considers necessary to reach 0% probability of temperature rise to 2C."
The reply states that 25-40% reductions over 1990 level by 2020 are being sought in accordance with IPCC AR4. However, IPCC AR4 does not state that these reductions will ensure zero probability of 2C. The range of probability is even higher if one assumes climate sensitivity higher than that assumed in IPCC projections.
A detailed first appeal filed with the appellate authority to seek further information about India's strategy went unheeded. In its reply, the appellate authority concluded that the applicant's assertions "do not relate to a specific point of scientific inquiry [...] the response given by the CPIO is, therefore, found adequate."
The specific point of scientific inquiry was the extent of emission reductions sought that will ensure zero probability of reaching 2C. As stated above, this point was not addressed. However, the primary information sought in the four points was political in nature relating to India's strategy to ensure emission reductions from A1 nations. The response to first appeal ignored this aspect of the application in its entirety.
b. No information is available with the Prime Minister's Office on any plans or leverage India may have to get the developed world to reduce emissions if they don't do it on their own.
A Right to Information request was filed with the Prime Minister's Office seeking information on six points summarised below:
1. Whether the PM considers international commitments by developed nations to reduce emissions as adequate?
1.1 If not, what political leverage does the PM have over developed world to ensure an adequate response?
1.1.1 What would constitute such a response?
1.1.2 By when must the developed world commit to such a response?
1.1.3 Would our policy change if they fail to commit to such a response beyond the deadline?
1.2 If no political leverage exists with the PM to get the developed world to commit to reductions, and in view of India's refusal to take on mandatory reductions, could one conclude that the present policy puts to risk the welfare of Indian citizens?
In its reply, the PMO simply stated that "no specific information is available on record." It is significant that this information was not denied but actually, it does not exist at all. The PMO admitted, in effect, that no thought has gone into implications of India's present policy, the various scenarios that may play out internationally on emission reductions and that no plans exist to deal with those scenarios. In particular, this means that the Prime Minister's Office has not determined a course of action to get the developed world to reduce emissions if they do not do so voluntarily.
c. Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, is completely unconcerned about obtaining emissions reduction commitments from U.S. and China.
Letters written by the Union Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh obtained through RTI applications filed with the PMO reveal no concern for obtaining emission reduction commitment from world's biggest polluters. Two particular letters stand out in this regard.
In a letter dated 27th August 2009, the minister refers to his recent visit to Beijing where his meetings with Chinese officials are described as "warm and cordial." The letter includes an attachment titled "Main Points Emerging From Meeting With China's Climate Change Negotiating Team Lead by Xie Jhenua" in which ten points are listed. All ten of them concern Chinese position on various matters relating with climate change. In what he referred to as the "most productive and constructive" visit, Jairam Ramesh makes no reference to any position India may have put to China with regards to emission reductions it expects from the country.
In another letter dated 24th September 2009, Jairam Ramesh describes his US visit in seven points and the message he took "everywhere." Six out of seven points are about defending India's position and one point is about accepting a compromise agreement at Copenhagen. There are no points on any serious concerns or demands that India may have from one of the world's biggest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases.
SIGNIFICANCE & IMPLICATIONS
What is most significant here is that neither the ministry of Environment, nor PMO denied information on India's strategy on grounds of secrecy. In other words they have admitted the absence of any strategy at all.
On one hand India rejects mandatory emission reductions domestically on the grounds of historical responsibility of the West and on the other, it displays no concern with regards to continued emissions of world's largest emitters and has no plan or strategy in place to ensure they cede to large and immediate emission reductions. In effect, this signifies the government's apathy towards protecting its citizens from climate change.
Perhaps the most important of RTI disclosures so far, this disclosure once again reveals the extent to which India's present and future generations have been put to risk from unmitigated climate change impacts.
#5. Recognition of Climate Emergency
The Indian government does not recognise the emergency nature of climate crisis nor the need for urgent action.
Covers three RTI applications, filed with the Ministry of Environment & Forests.
a. The government does not recognise new scientific evidence that show IPCC projections to be conservative or inadequate.
A Right to Information query filed with the ministry of environment provided it with a list of over twenty scientific papers, studies, assessments and major climate anomalies since the release of IPCC 4th assessment report in 2007, which provide scientific evidence that the IPCC projections, currently guiding international negotiations, are conservative and / or inadequate.
It asked whether the ministry has taken cognisance of such reports and developments implying that emission reduction targets ought to be much more stringent than currently being sought and if so, what action has been taken by the government to raise international emission reduction targets.
The ministry in its reply stated that while it "looks into" latest scientific develpoments "from time to time" but could find no record with regard to a recognition that IPCC projections are conservative. It further admitted that it could find no records regarding any action taken for raising international emission reduction targets in light of new evidence.
b. The government does not recognise uncertainty regarding the most fundamental assumption underlying IPCC projections.
This is a somewhat technical issue that require some elaboration. Climate sensitivity determines the relationship between CO2 in the atmosphere and the rise in mean global surface temperature in IPCC projections for different emission reduction scenarios. In simple terms, climate sensitivity is the temperature rise resulting from doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere.
IPCC has assumed climate sesitivity to be 3 deg Celcius but its reports admit, in small text, that this is only a "best estimate" with a rate of error of +- 1.5C or 50%. There is no scientific consesnsus on the precise climate sensitivity of the planet as there is limited understanding of this issue. Some scientists therefore suggest taking this uncertainty into account and assuming a higher climate sensitivity while making projections. Clearly, an error rate so high requires a cautious approach.
If climate sensitivity of only 4C is assumed then the same emission reduction targets currently being pursed translate into a significantly higher probability of dangerous climate change than the probability in IPCC projections. Under this scenario, the 450ppm CO2 target produces upto 78% probability of exceeding 2C and upto 50% probability of exceeding 3C, according to the Stern Review.
A RTI application was filed with MoEF to identify whether the ministry recognises this uncertainty and its implications for emission reduction targets. The application further sought details of any effort made by Indian climate negotiators at UNFCCC to push for higher emission reduction targets citing uncertainty about climate sensitivity.
The Ministry's reply was completely evasive with regards to the first point. It simply stated that it "recognises the facts mentioned in the IPCC AR4" without elaborating. An appeal filed with the first appellate authority did not reveal any further information either. As to the second point, the ministry did concede in its reply that they have no record of pushing for higher targets in international negotiations due to this.
c. The government does not recognise that the small window of time to prevent dangerous climate change is rapidly closing.
RTI application filed with the ministry of environment sought to know whether it recognises that as per IPCC AR4, emissions must peak by 2015 and even under such a scenario temperature rise might still cross 2C underscoring the urgency to reduce emissions without further delay. The application further sought to know that if this is recognised, what action has been taken to accelerate international climate negotiations.
In its reply, the ministry once again evaded a direct answer repeating simply that it has accepted IPCC AR4 and that its negotiators have been pressing for 25-40% reductions by 2020 from A1 nations. A first appeal was filed citing the precise reference in IPCC AR4 endorsed by the ministry, referring to the peaking year of emissions. Yet, no further information was forthcoming in the reply of First Applellate Authority.
Two observations are notable here.
One, the emergency nature of the crisis. As shown above, a) the latest scientific knowledge and evidence points to the conservative nature of IPCC AR4 projections; b) that there is clear scientific uncertainty inherent in IPCC assumptions that again emphasize the need to step beyond its targets; and c) the obsolete and conservative projections under the IPCC AR4 itself call for world emissions to peak at 2015! Clearly, if a) & b) are correct, the peaking year must lie much earlier.
Second, the government's determined refusal to act as science demands. In the days following this reply, the Indian government did not raise the emission reduction targets it demands from developed nations, it actually dropped the long range target and moved it down to only 25% reductions. The Copenhagen accord signed by India does not mention any targets at all, contains no time frame and is not legally binding. At a recent climate meet of BASIC countries India signed a statement suggesting that a legally binding agreement is best moved to 2011.
It is evident that the ministry is in complete denial of all the accumulating scientific evidence and facts relating to IPCC projections pointing to the emergency nature of this issue that do not correspond with government's international climate policy of inaction and delays. Even when faced with this information point blank and asked in no uncertain terms, what it was doing to address the huge gap between what science says and what is represented through its policy, the ministry could not offer any argument in defence and chose to continue to ignore the urgency represented in science.
To offer an analogy, the government's position is that of the two drivers of a train running at breakneck speed, who are wearing special tinted glasses that only show them what they wish to see, preventing them from seeing another train moving towards them on the same track.
Even when pointed out that the train needs to slow down to change course to avoid a collision, unable and unwilling to comprehend the warning, they ignore it and instead push the accelerator that takes the train full-speed ahead.
Only one outcome is likely in such a scenario - an unmitigated train-wreck - unless, of course, the government wakes up in time and averts the disaster at the last moment. Unfortunately, it may soon be too late.
#6. Climate Anomalies & Impacts
India remains unprepapred to adapt to climate change as the ministry of environment has not alerted any state government, other ministries and the Indian public about the possibility of climate anomalies and impacts affecting lives of Indian citizens.
Covers three RTI applications, filed with the Ministry of Environment & Forests.
a. Ministry of Environment and Forests has not issued any advisory on climate anomalies and impacts to state governments and other ministries.
An RTI application filed with MoEF sought information pertaining "any advisory or note of warning regarding climate anomalies occuring in the short run (10-15 years)" issued to any ministry, department or state government. In its reply the ministry stated it has no information on any such advisory.
b. Ministry of Environment and Forests has not run any public awareness campaign on climate change impacts.
MoEF was asked to provide information on "educational or awareness campaign specifically on causes and/or impacts of climate change that has been carried out by the ministry since the release of IPCC 4th Assessment Report." In its reply the ministry stated that no such campaign has been carried out.
c. Ministry of Environment and Forests has no information whether public awareness about climate change in urban India is adequate.
An RTI application was filed with MoEF seeking their position on public awareness about climate change impacts and climate politics amonst the masses in Urban India. In its reply, the ministry refused information on the ground that no information has been sought.
Yet, contadicting itself, it added in reply that "urgency of climate change has been advocated through various conferences / seminars of Climate Change and Clean Development Mechanism." The reply went on to state that "as far as (knowledge of) global political response in urban India is concerned, no such information is available."
A first appeal for unsatisfactory reply was rejected by the First Appeallate Authority (FAA) and no further information was provided.
If the ministry of environment fails to warn state governments, other ministries and departments as well as the public about the dangers of climate change impacts, it signifies that the central government is unconcerned about their safety. Such an advisory is essential for state governments and for the public to prepare for unforseen extreme weather conditions, water scarcity, food scarcity and other climate change impacts.
State governments need to put in place warning systems and other infrastructure that will safeguard people from climate anomalies -- unusual climate events that are different from climate observed over a region for several decades -- and other climate change impacts like rising sea level that threaten large populations.
This unfortunately implies that people will continue to be vulnerable to climate change impacts and exposed to dangerous climate events such as the recent flash floods in Leh which killed 193 people and lefts 200 missing and thousands injured in its wake.
Further disclosures on the RTI initiative will be made in the following weeks.
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