Climate change is the single biggest threat that humankind could face in the near future. And the most authentic assessment of the climate scenario has been provided by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) brought out recently. According to the report, it has been proven that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from energy use, are the leading cause of climate change. An average warming of 0.740C has been happening over the period 1906—2005, and 11 of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record. The future looks increasingly bleak with severe impacts predicted for natural and human environments for a range of possible temperature increases. In India, climate change could adversely affect the country’s agriculture, food security, water resources and health. While there is considerable data and scientific literature emerging on the topic of global climate change, there is comparatively little work taking place on comprehensively looking at the problems and solutions specific to India.

To identify causes and search for solutions towards combating the biggest challenge facing India in the 21st century, WISE organised the national conference 'Climate Change India 2008' on 22—23 April 2008 at Le Meridien, Pune.

The conference was inaugurated by well-known environmentalist and founder of Navdanya, Dr Vandana Shiva. In a hard hitting speech, Dr Shiva criticised the government’s policy of subsidising the fossil fuel industry thus causing untold damage to the environment, and marginalising the renewable energy industry. “With increased emissions from fossil fuels contributing to climate change, the time has now come to impose tax on fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy,” she said. Dr Shiva opined that given the high poverty levels still prevalent in India, the country should seriously look at climate change because the poor are the worst effected in the event of natural calamities.

She also suggested a paradigm shift to reduce carbon emissions -- by preserving living carbon (carbon present in living things). She said that carbon absorption needs to be maximised by intensifying biodiversity, by encouraging organic farming and by ridding the soil of fertilizers. She lauded WISE’s efforts in organizing such a comprehensive event and promised total support to WISE in carrying forward its objective of finding solutions and developing policy mechanisms to tackle climate change.

The Chairman of the inaugural session was Ajai Viram Singh, IAS, (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministries of New and Renewable Energy, and Defence, GoI, and Chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Council of WISE. In his address, Mr Singh said that since the phenomenon of climate change is now well-documented, it is time to address the geographical, social, and political aspects of the problem. Welcoming the august gathering, G M Pillai, Fonder Director General, WISE, said that the time has come for us to ‘annul the pact with fossil fuels’ and adopt renewable energy. Emphasising that this is the time for ingenuity, learning and unlearning, he said that the conference is intended to provide solutions and to address new technologies.

The conference witnessed the greatest inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral gathering of researchers, academicians, policy makers, industry chieftains, representatives of the renewable energy industry, financial and insurance sector professionals, and social activists. Some prominent speakers at the conference included Dr M Rajeevan, Director, National Climate Centre, India Meteorological Department (IMD), Pune; Dr Mira Shiva, Former Director, Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), New Delhi; Dr GGSN Rao, Project Coordianator, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA); Dr K C Misra, Director, National Insurance Academy, Pune; Dr S Sivaram, Director, National Chemical Laboratory, Pune. Presentations were made on issues ranging from impacts of climate change on each sector of the economy, including primary resources, production, infrastructure, to the industrial, financial and social sectors. Most importantly, the conference covered adaptation and mitigation strategies relevant to India, to ensure sustainable economic development in the 21st century.

Six eminent IPCC authors who were presented at the conference were also felicitated at the conference. They included Dr Joyashree Roy, Professor and Head of the Department of Economics, Jadavpur University, Kolkata; Dr G Srinivasan, Director, Climate Cell, IMD, New Delhi; Dr K Krishnakumar, Programme Manager for Climate Dynamics and Climate Change, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune); Dr Raman Sukumar Professor and Chairman, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; Dr. Vachaspati Thapliyal, former Deputy Director General of Meteorology and Former Director, Long Range Forecasting, IMD, New Delhi, and Dr Manmohan Kapshe, Professor, Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal.

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of the theme paper, ‘Way forward to realize new policies’, prepared by WISE, which featured ways and means to address climate change at the grassroots, regional, corporate level, and national level. The paper was discussed by an eminent panel comprising Dr Pramod Deo, Chairman, Central Energy Regulatory Commission (CERC), V Subramanian, Secretary, MNRE, Govt. of India; Dr Vandana Shiva and Prof.Sudhir Chellarajan, Dept of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT, Madras. The panelists were highly supportive of the draft document which provides a roadmap to decarbonise the atmosphere as well as the nation’s economy, and also lists climate friendly policy options and instruments to achieve this.

The conference concluded with both the participants expressing the hope that the issues discussed and debated upon at the event would result in the government taking up concrete measures to avert climate change.