Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fighting Climate Change – the Innovation Way

It took two decades to understand the real consequences of changing global climatic conditions. Though many schools of thought exist as far as explaining the climate change phenomenon, two of them became widely accepted world wide. First is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which expounds that the climate change process is triggered as a result of anthropogenic activity. Rapid industrialization, urbanization and increased demand for energy are few but important elements of this anthropogenic activity. But, the UN – led Inter – governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its report attributes natural climatic variability and anthropogenic activity as reasons for the global climate change. Setting aside those differences in points of view, it is very much evident that the earth’s temperature is rising due to increased human intervention in to nature’s processes. The human race is experiencing the hottest years of its known history. The problem is equally serious to other habitats of life on the earth. Plants getting subjected to biotic and abiotic stresses, animals becoming extinct are some striking consequences resulting from the increased surface temperature of the earth. The impact of climate change on the food security of nations is the issue widely discussed both at national as well as international level. As much as 40 percent of agricultural production is reduced directly or indirectly due to climate change phenomenon. The most vulnerable are the ones living in the poor and developing countries of the world and the most polluters are the developed countries. Though it is a platitude yet it has its long term bearing on every living being on the earth. Therefore, the alarm bells are ringing too loud and it’s time to wake up from deep slumber of complacency and attend to the multitude of problems at our door steps.

In order to have a stable and predictable rainfall pattern and healthy bio – diversity a country has to have a geographical area of 33 percent as forest cover. This doesn’t mean that small bushes and shrubs constitute the forest cover. Rather it is the tree canopy which is to be considered while mapping the spatial distribution of forests. Going by these standards, India’s forest cover accounts 8 – 10 percent of its total geographic area. Deforestation for bringing more land under the plough, increased tapping of forest resources and wealth for livelihood, agricultural, commercial and medicinal purposes is leading to the decrease in the country’s prime forest area which is an important sink for carbon sequestration. Therefore, the problem of climate change should be addressed by getting to its origins i.e. through increasing the forest cover. Several forestry development programs were launched in the past with a view to tackle various problems emanating from climate change. Lack of proper understanding and low priority accorded to these programs both in terms of funding and resource allocation made them unable to take off.

Post Kyoto protocol, countries have embarked on the mission to reduce green house gas emissions and move towards sustainable development. This is achieved by adopting clean development mechanisms (CDM) in place of polluting and environmentally unsustainable systems of production and consumption. So, the demand for a shift in the means of production towards greener technologies is the need of the hour. Introducing toxic free, recyclable and smartly engineered electric vehicles for transportation would greatly reduce those tailpipe (COx and NOx) emissions. Notwithstanding transportation, radical transformation has to happen in urban planning. Sound urban planning will obviate the need to travel for longer distances there by reducing the traffic density and also the resultant pollution. Similarly, encouraging farmers to adopt solar powered cells for running electric motors for irrigation and other farming operations will reduce the necessity to depend on polluting power generation systems.

Having said that, we also need to examine the tacit growth of industry which is driven primarily to address the global climate change. Manufacturers of climate-change-related products represent about 4% of global market capitalization (Financial Express, 05 May 2009). Greener technologies are hitting the market every year and this momentum has to be sustained through proper incentives to companies and individuals engaged in serious research and development of these technologies. One important option the governments can consider is to accelerate the innovation process in this area. Technology development and transfer can be encouraged by offering sufficient protection to and opportunity for commercializing the technology. Efforts should be directed towards reducing the waiting time between the conception of the idea and its commercial exploitation. The government should encourage this industry the same way it has encouraged the IT industry through appropriate interventions and incentives because in no time the greener technologies are going to turn existential in nature for the very sustenance of human habitats. For all these things to happen, green innovations must find a special place in the National Innovation System.

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