Archive for the ‘Energy and Environment’ Category

My friend Ashutosh Sheshabalaya recently wrote a piece in which he underlined the important differences between India and China when it comes to approaches towards global warming and sustainable development.

In the piece he pointed out the intellectual laziness (and the mistake) of lumping India & China together in any debate about global warming and who bears responsibility for what. It is a brilliant read and one I highly recommend.

Some excerpts: EYE ON THE TIGERS  (by Ashutosh Sheshabalaya)

They are omnipresent, even if they lie shrouded backstage in discussions about climate change. At last count, there were almost two-and-a-half billion of them – Chinese and Indians.

Indeed, one of the most sterile facets of the global warming debate is to refer to China and India, rather than to Chinese and Indians. China and India may be among the world’s biggest CO2 emitters. But your everyday Wang or Rajiv hardly qualifies for such an honour. 

The reasons are clear: out of the world’s 235-plus countries, China and India’s populations outnumber the bottom 220 put together.  And their per-head/per-body contribution to global warming is vastly lower than that of the West.

In the typical Indian’s case  – commercial energy use is, crucially, also far below the global average.  In 2005, world electricity consumption was 2,400 kilowatt hours (kWh) per person. India’s was just 432 kWh, four times less than China’s 1,662 kWh.  Oil use, too, exemplifies such trends.

An Indian’s consumption of crude, at 0.8 barrels per year, pales against the world’s 4.5 barrels, and is less than half China’s 1.8. There is little point throwing more dazzling, vulgar beams of light by juxtaposing such figures against the Western world, lit up end-to-end for the Christmas and New Year festivities.

Still, what is clear is that the difference between India and China is at least as significant as that between China and the world. And here is a suggestion to move the climate change debate beyond noisy palavers (a word originally referring to the patronising monologues of European colonial adventurers in Africa).

Firstly, differentiate between India and China. Both may be rising industrial powers, but China’s economic growth-at-any-cost is rather different from that of India, and this difference goes far beyond the numbers referred to above.
Although similarly determined to remove poverty, democratic India also boasts deeply ingrained soft systems which have begun priming its voters for the trade-offs between economic growth and their longer-term costs. 

It was India – not China, or the West – which established the first Ministry for Renewable Energy. That was in the early 1990s. Since then, India’s Supreme Court – widely considered among the world’s most activist judiciaries – has set the country’s green agenda, from forcing metalworking and chemical plant closures to driving one of the world’s most ambitious environmental projects to date, namely the conversion of the New Delhi public transportation system to compressed natural gas. There are hundreds of other such examples.

The rest of the Indian system, too, has responded, at least as far as possible in what remains one of the world’s poorest countries.  Rural India now hosts 30 million high-efficiency ‘smokeless’ stoves, with a conversion efficiency four times higher than their predecessors. Indian biomass gasifiers – a key renewable energy technology – are exported across the world, even to squeaky-clean Switzerland. More broadly, even modern, industrialising India has chipped in. The country’s energy intensity has fallen from 0.3 kgs of oil equivalent per dollar GDP in 1972 to 0.19 kgs in 2003 – equal to Germany.

Against this, the near-comprehensive lack of awareness about such efforts outside India remains striking. So too does the innate assumption that clean air and climate change are concerns of enlightened shock troops from the West battling recalcitrant polluters in ChIndia’s wastelands. On November 23, without a by-your-leave, the New York Times announced that the US was “the world’s third largest wind (producing) country, after Germany and Spain.”

It also cited the Chief Executive of the European Wind Energy Association about a ‘second wave’ of “new countries with significant wind capacity” – among them, “Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands. “ No numbers anywhere, nor a single mention of India. As it happens, figures from the Global Wind Energy Council show India in fourth position, with 7,093 MW of installed windpower capacity in July 2007, three times that of Britain, Canada, Italy or Japan, and double  that of China.

This is not to say that continuing industrialisation in India will not add to the world’s environmental woes. But pretending that India, and the 800 million Indians below the Davos line are doing nothing about it robs the debate of seriousness, and provides little incentive for meaningful cooperation with the West.


Read more from Tosh here:

Of Googlies*, Cricket, India and China 

“The 3 Rounds of Globalization” 

The Gospel according to Goldman Sachs 

and finally, a related post: Globalizing Consumption, American Style… 


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A few days ago I met Matthew Scott for lunch.  Matthew told me the story of “Mighty Light“.

MightyLight aims to bring “light” (literally) into the lives of millions who live in remote parts of the world and don’t stand a chance to get grid connectivity. It aims to do so by a clever product that is solar-charged and uses energy efficient white LED for lighting.

It got me thinking on how innovation in distribution channels is probably as critical as innovative product design in the context of domestic consumers in emerging markets (and particularly so in the case of BOP consumers…)

Now, if you are a purist – this may not count as true innovation.

Distribution channels (or even innovation in distribution channels) is not something that you can patent…and yet there is no doubt that products like these are capable of transforming the lives of millions through clever combination of technology and distribution which hitherto was not possible. 

In other words, they fit the criteria of high-impact and definition of a “breakthrough product” – and possibly innovation.

What do you think?

On a related note, I also spoke with Alok Singh, CEO of Novatium a few days ago – they too are doing something that is fairly unusual and exploting a business model around services that has not been tried in the PC industry before . Will it work? We dont know yet.

Is it an innovative approach? I certainly think it is.

Related Post: Has the $100 PC finally arrived?

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Here’s how to get a cleaner, more connected world:

From a recent report in thechilli

“…Indian mobile operator Idea Cellular, Ericsson and the GSM Association’s development fund today announced…four mobile base stations powered by locally produced biofuels
…All four locations in the state of Maharashtra are greenfield sites that have not previously had access to a mobile network and are located in areas with unreliable power supply”

As the report mentions, biodiesel is not only more environmentally friendly than conventional diesel but because it is produced locally, generates employment and reduces “the need for transportation”. Biodiesel generators are also easier to maintain and have lower opex in the long run.

So not only are these generators helping extend telecommunications coverage to rural, hard to access communities, they are also helping generate local employment and minimising the environmental impact of development.

Looks like a win-win for everyone….isnt it amazing?

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Even as “a group of eminent scientists” warned last week that “The Earth today stands in imminent peril …and nothing short of a planetary rescue will save it from the environmental cataclysm of dangerous climate change”  it appears thatThere IS a problem with global warming… it stopped in 1998″ !!  (- I somehow missed this article when it appeared last year).

Meanwhile, “Researchers at Duke University” have suggested that while “there is a discernible warming of the Earth’s temperature over the last century, some of which may be due to man-made CO2 emissions, but the effect is not all that clear and the data doesn’t support some of the more exaggerated estimates of global temperature increases.”

Dean has summed it up well on his blog:

“My own take is still the same as it’s been for some time: it’s pretty clear that there’s a probable warming trend, but it’s not clear that it’s catastrophic, and it’s even less clear that it should be our top priority in terms of environmental concerns. Clean water, clean air, forest preservation, and so on should be at the top of the agenda, not this. Although I’ve also long said I’ll compromise with the Greens: I’ll happily support curbing CO2 emissions if part of the deal is that they stop demonizing nuclear power and support the building of new nuclear plants throughout America. Barring that, I’ll continue my firm opposition to the Kyoto protocol and similar programs.”

I feel close to his position.

The more worrying thing though is that “Global-warming alarmists” are apparently trying to “intimidate dissenting scientists into silence“. 

See also “An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change

To add to the confusion…and on a lighter note, read Global Warming – Part 1 and Part 2 on dilbert.blog


Related Posts:

Why do I feel a chill when people talk of global warming? and

Is the sky really going to fall tomorrow?.

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mea culpa: This post has been written hurriedly and I have only cursorily gone through the various links posted here…I will have a more thorough look over the weekend but I don’t expect to find major deviations from what I have written here – perhaps some qualifications to the various statements but thats about it.

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chatham-house-logo.jpg        A few weeks ago, I attended a fascinating talk at Chatham House by Professor Wing Thye Woo who teaches Economics at the University of California on “The Real Challenges to China’s Continued High Growth”

He identified three important factors which might lead to the “crash of a speeding car” aka the “Great Chinese Growth Engine”:

  • Hardware failure: “right tire burst” = collapse of a crucial economic mechanism
  • Software failure: “fight within car” = social disorder
  • Power supply failure: “no petrol” = limits from ecological barrier or external sanctions

He also cited several interesting statistics in his presentation of which the two below particularly stood out for me:

  1. “Social Disorder”: 1994 had 10,000 mass incidents involving 730,000 persons; in 2004 the number had gone up to 74,000 mass incidents involving 3.7 million people.
  2. China’s GINI coefficient has almost doubled from .24 in ’78 to .47 in 2005

The China Policy Institute, which made it all happen, wrote its own report on the talk which can be accessed here.  The report nicely summarised the key points. I would recommend it and the slides to everyone who is watching China and its impact on the global economy.

A few excerpts:

“…China had enjoyed the highest sustained economic growth rate of any country in recorded history, he said, and it was probable that this high growth model would succeed.

But it was important to examine the factors most likely to disrupt the high growth rate from continuing…

…Professor Woo said that perhaps the greatest challenge to China’s continued high growth in China would be future global disputes over resources and the environment, following what he called the unravelling of the global consensus for free trade in the United States, which was making the atmosphere ripe for protectionism.

As China and India moved up the value chain in manufacturing complexity, he said, Western countries were being forced to make painful adjustments as more and more jobs were lost. At the same time they would be faced with demands to help pay for the environmental improvements needed in countries like China and India to curb carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

…The best way to reduce CO2 emissions was to ensure that the new power generation capacity installed in China and India made use of modern, clean coal technology, he said, but this would mean that the richer countries would have to offer to pay for this in order to enjoy the benefits.

This made the atmosphere also ripe for what he called a coming global clash over the “Global Commons” not just air but also water as well. Asia, he said, faced a looming water crisis as China made plans to divert the flow of water to rivers such as the Bramaputra and the Mekong that flowed into India and Southeast Asia…”

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In the latest issue of TIME, Bryan Walsh has written a fairly balanced piece on carbon emissions – which unfortunately is marred by a (deliberately?) provocative headline, “The Third World Smoke Alarm” (Interestingly, the European edition of the magazine has dropped the “Third World” prefix and has printed the article simply titled “Smoke Alarm”).

It was the sub-heading though that first caught my eye. It read:  

“To stop climate change, developing nations must wake up and smell the carbon”…I wish I could have added …”and developed nations must share the burden”.

I have written on this issue before  and it is interesting to observe how the blame surreptitiously gets shifted to the developing nations (e.g. the alarmist title – “Third World” Smoke Alarm….surely, if it is an alarm, it is probably a “Global” Smoke Alarm?).

*** Some excerpts below ***

“…Once home to some of the most extensive rain forests in the world, Indonesia is now losing trees at a faster rate than any other nation, to flames but also to rampant logging. …Indonesia’s rapid deforestation is the main reason why this country of 245 million is the third biggest carbon emitter in the world after the U.S. and China.

But as in other developing countries, the Indonesian government says it needs to focus on economic growth to raise its people out of poverty—and that likely means that trees will be cut, cars will be added and carbon emissions will only go up.

…Drawing on the work of thousands of scientists vetted by officials from over 100 countries, the IPCC reported that future carbon emissions could be controlled using current technology like nuclear or renewable energy—and that it could be done without bankrupting the global economy. “Measures to reduce emissions can, in the main, be achieved at starkly low costs, especially when compared with the costs of inaction,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

…As economic growth shifts to the developing world—especially Asia—so will future carbon emissions.

Whether the world can effectively combat climate change will be determined by countries like Indonesia and India—and particularly China, which could pass the U.S. as the world’s top carbon emitter any day.

…But if developing countries choose to ignore global warming, even the most radical actions out of the developed world could be rendered meaningless.

…Because developing nations have emphasized that they can’t afford to jeopardize the pace of economic growth for the sake of the environment, the only climate-change solutions they’re likely to accept will be ones that come cheap.

Fortunately the IPCC says that’s possible—the new report concludes that the cost of stabilizing global carbon emissions by 2030 could require as little as one-tenth of a percentage point per year of global growth through the end of the century.

Those costs will have to be borne by someone, and the developing nations will rightly push for North America and Europe to pick up the check.Expect that argument to be renewed at the next major U.N. climate-change meeting in Bali, Indonesia, at the end of the year.

Developing nations make the point that they’re not responsible for the vast majority of carbon dioxide hanging around in the atmosphere—which was put there by Western countries during their own development over the past 150 years.

They argue that their own per capita-emissions rates are still far lower than those of the West, and that, therefore, climate change isn’t their responsibility.

But future global warming will hinge on how we deal with future carbon emissions—most of which will come from developing Asia. The center of gravity of climate-change politics has moved to China, India and Indonesia. Their decisions will shape the world we live in.”

*** End of Excerpts *** 

Find the article in full here.

Finally, here’s a useful chart showing world carbon dioxide emissions by country between 1990 – 2035.

CO2 Emissions by Country

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First you had “War on Poverty” then  War on AIDS, followed by War on Terror

and now, “War on Climate Change“…wonder whats next.

So much for global peace… 😦

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