Saturday, December 8, 2018

INECC Talks by Ajita Tiwari: No Rulebook without Equity

The 24th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP 24) is the most important CoP after CoP 22 at Paris. This is taking place from December 2-14, 2018, at Katowice, Poland. Katowice has a daunting mandate - to finalise the Rule Book for implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The irony of a coal city hosting the Climate Talks

The host city for CoP 24 is Katowice, a small city with a population of over 3,00,000. This city falls in the central region of Silesia which is the industrial belt due to rich natural and mineral deposits. Katowice too sits on a lucrative coal deposit and gets 80 percent of its energy from coal. The influence of the coal lobby seems quite significant from the fact that three polish coal companies have sponsored this CoP. So while on one hand, we continue to ask ourselves why ‘green talks’ in a ‘dirty’ city, the choice of the venue is even more intriguing as busloads of delegates like us travel over an hour and more each day, either way to reach the spaceship shaped conference venue!

In this context, it is important to highlight what the Polish president Andrzej Duda had to say at the press conference on the opening day of the conference. He said “we have coal deposits that will last 200 years,”. “It would be hard to expect us to give up on it totally.” This perspective begs the question as how this aligns with the by-line of this CoP which is“Changing Together- for a Just Energy Transition’. The President’s statement sends quite a confusing message to the outside world, who would get the idea that it is okay to burn coal and build more coal fired plants while also take climate actions. Statements like these, clearly refute the urgency and warning highlighted in the latest IPCC special report on 1.5 deg which calls for unprecedented transitions and demands carbon dioxide emissions to decrease by 45 % from 2010 levels by 2030, and reaching net zero by 2050.

Postcard from an Exhibit Booth no 112 at CoP 24 , week 1

Rulebook must include equity

While we try hard to make sense of Poland’s narrative, an interview with a Swedish radio this morning, forced me to look at India’s narrative at the CoP, especially from the lens of equity.

Considering that we were representing the civil society organisations (CSOs) the Swedish Radio interviewer, Ms. Magnolia Schiktter was interested in understanding the position of Indian CSOs and their expectation at the CoP on equity for a story that they were compiling. I took this opportunity to articulate what Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC) desires from this CoP and what it wants the Indian Civil society and its government to do.

The rule book being developed at Katowice, to operationalize Paris Agreement (PA) has to reflect equity. The achievements if we may say so, of Paris process needs to be protected and for that to happen ‘equity” and Common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) must not be eroded. We completely reject the notion of CRRC (common responsibility according to respective capabilities) which has been advanced by the developed countries as an alternative to CBDR. The attempt by developed nations to not have differentiation and promote “responsibility sharing” without differentiating the responsibility between developed and developing nations has to be constantly opposed. The ‘common responsibility’ idea that has stemmed from the fact that some major developing countries (includes India and China in particular) are responsible for current emissions. India and other developing countries are rightly arguing for the ‘fair share approach’ which the developed countries have wanted to do away with. The attempt of the developed countries to have the PA as a completely new treaty, delinked from the 1992 convention was largely to do away with its accountability for historical emissions. While in the run up to PA, the notion of ‘equitable access to atmospheric space’ was gradually subsumed into ‘equitable access to sustainable development’ which in turn was gradually lost in the bottom up process of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). We know that the process has been an inequitable one. We are aware of the gap that exists between the current NDCs targets and what is needed to limit temperature rise to 2 deg. By putting the equity rationale under the rug, and bringing in the ‘shared responsibility’ logic, would mean that the developing countries like India will need to push themselves that extra extra mile to fill in the gap created by developed countries. India and the bunch of ‘Like Minded Developing Countries’ (LMDCs) must ensure that this must not happen. This is contrary to the convention and the PA.

Associated with the position of equity, is the pre 2020 commitments which might get spilled over and shifted to developing countries in their post 2020 trajectories. It is important to mention that it has become quite common to quote the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) ‘Emissions Gap Report’ especially by the developed countries in all such meetings. This report lays down what is being done on emission reduction and what more needs to be done to close the gap. This mostly highlights that all countries need to do more on emission reduction, without looking at who is not doing their fair share consistent with their historical responsibility. This is certainly not in line with the equity narrative and the burden of closing the gap should not be ours.

Civil society like us must come together and must expose the developed countries that they are doing far too little in terms of what is demanded by science and the latest 1.5 deg report. CSO must emphasize the fact that the actions of the developed countries are not consistent with equity and fair share. However, having said this, it is important to highlight that the observer status given to CSOs at the UNFCCC has become no less than a joke, with literally no mandate. The observers with yellow ID cards are kept out of bounds from all the key meetings and hardly have any say. But before we feel completely disillusioned by the observer status, we should find comfort in what was said by Dr. Saleem Ul Huq during our side event on the first day of the CoP. He said that it’s not our job to read the text, it’s that of the negotiators. We (civil society) should aim to meet as many people, groups and networks to learn and share from each other, explore collaborations and partnerships.

The final point on equity is Climate finance which has so far been the trickiest of all issues. Against the backdrop of a series of disasters that has battered India, with only over a degree of temperature rise; the latest being the one in the southern part of the country in Kerela, there is no doubt that India is vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change. Provision for climate finance is one key Means of Implementation (MoI) to operationalizing equity, which also finds a mention in Article 9 of the PA. Countries like India with a large poor population will be unable to do much with only domestic resources unless supported through financial mechanisms that respond to adaptation and mitigation together with loss and damage issues of its most vulnerable communities. In this context we hope that discussions on raising the floor for climate finance and predictable financial inflows will go a long way in operationalizing equity and making effective climate responses.

While the Katowice CoP is all about the rulebook, it is important that equity is integrated in the negotiations of the guidelines and procedures to be ready for the implementation of the PA.

What does India want?

However, I realized that discussion on equity becomes challenging in the backdrop of the glitzy Indian Pavilion that delegates are often heard raving about. India conveys a very glossy impression of itself at this global platform through its Pavilion (see Priyadarshini's blog). The pavilion is themed “One World One Sun One Grid”. India seems to have taken the theme a wee bit too seriously as sitting in the cramped space is literally like being under the sun while outside temperatures mostly are subzero!

Inside view of the Indian Pavilion: Session on Climate Resilient Agriculture, December 7, 2018
Ajita Tiwari Padhi
National Facilitator,
Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC)
c/o INECC Secretariat
Laya Resource Center
Plot No. 110, Yendada,
Near Senora Beach Resorts,

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Musings from Priyadarshini Karve: INECC@COP24... Day 2 & 3

United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) annual Conference of Parties (COP) is happening in Katowice, Poland this year. I am part of the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC) team attending the COP24 on behalf of two UNFCCC observer organisations - Laya and SCINDIeA, that are members of INECC.

5 December 2018

With our side event out of the way, we have now relaxed a bit and are focussing on managing the exhibition stall and attending side events and other activities of our individual interests.

Yesterday and today I attended two interesting side events. One was on Climate Responsive Agriculture, and the other was on Decarbonising Cities and Communities. Both these topics are very much related to projects and activities that I am currently involved in, and I learned some new insights from both the side events.

The focus of the agriculture event was on trying to understand how to bridge the gap between agricultural policy and the scientific assessments of how climate change is likely to impact food productivity in the short and long term as well as scientific solutions to risk proof the farming sector. One of the challenges that emerged from the discussions was that the outcomes of the scientific analyses were not definitive enough for policy makers to confidently plan interventions in agricultural sector on the basis of outcomes of scientific research. It was also heartening to see that the Nationally Determined Contributions of some countries are focusing on reducing the carbon emissions from agriculture and at the same time building climate resilience in the farming systems.

The session on decarbonising cities talked about a direction of urban development that I have been advocating for a long time - rather than striving for village electrification through renewables, it is the cities that need to go 100% renewable and local for meeting their electricity needs. It was good to hear that technologies are now available and various countries are creating policies favourable for combining energy efficiency and distributed renewable-based local energy generation for various types of urban buildings. As a result, cities are pledging and planning to go 100% distributed renewables or 100% carbon neutral by 2050. This very much resonates with the efforts of Climate Collective Pune of which Samuchit Enviro Tech is a member. This forum initiated by Pune International Centre (PIC) and Centre for Environment Education (CEE) is aimed at making Pune Carbon Neutral by 2030.

India has some unique challenges on both these fronts. While world population will stabilise to about 9-10 billion individuals by the middle of the century, India's population will continue to rise till the end of the century. During this period, it is expected that the agricultural yields across Asia will drop by 10% or more. Feeding an increasing population in a climate changing world is going to be a major challenge for us. At the same time, India is rapidly urbanising, and new urban infrastructure is coming up at a tremendous pace. A number of future megacities will be in India. Fulfilling the ever increasing urban electricity demand is going to be another huge challenge. But I don't see much long term thinking around climate change vulnerability reflected in agricultural or urbanisation policies in India. The two side events, one by Cornell University and the other by Delta Electronics Foundation and Renewable Energy Institute, provided a number of examples of how governments and organisations are addressing the issues in different parts of the world. It is only a global platform like this that provides opportunities to get such information from across the world.

Anyway, at the end of the previous blog, I had said that I would write about the India Pavilion. The exhibition area and the side events area are at two ends of the conference venue. In the ten odd minutes trek from one to the other takes me past the India pavilion at least twice daily. We also happened to be there when we were just wandering around the venue on Sunday when people were still putting things together.

The boundary wall of the India Pavilion is a actually a wall of fast spinning fans that are generating holographic images. Unfortunately, as there is a risk of people getting cut by the fans, they had to also erect a protective barrier outside it. If the barrier had been plain and transparent, it would have been a fantastic effect, but for some unknown reasons the barrier has been created in the form of a cage with Indian design motifs.

Inside the pavilion there are tables with touch screens which give information and statistics on various environmental and developmental schemes currently operational. On one side there is a virtual reality corner, where you can ride a bicycle and the images on the screen make you feel as if you are riding through roads of New Delhi. As you ride through the streets of New Delhi, you also get flashes of information on various schemes of the present government. The screen also shows how much electricity would be generated by the cyclist if the cycle was connected to a dynamo. No actual electricity is being generated as the technician told my friend Myron on Sunday after he had cycled for a few minutes and rejoiced at the number appearing on the screen!

The centrepiece of the pavilion is an arrangement of two robotic arms and a video screen, all controlled by a touch pad by the viewer. The panel allows you to check out India's achievements in four sectors -renewable energy, the lighting success story, forestation and transport.

These are represented by tableaus on four surfaces of two discs, each operated by robotic arm. So when you press a button on the touch screen, the corresponding robotic arm moves and rotates to show you the corresponding tableau, and on the screen behind a film shows you present and future achievement in that sector - for example, how the LEDs have transformed the lighting sector and how the bullet train and electric vehicles will transform the transport sector, etc.

All in all, it is a rather high tech pavilion and people are getting quite impressed by it from the feedback that we are getting from visitors to our booth. However, judging from the technicians that were tinkering around things when we first visited on Sunday, none of the high tech set ups used for the pavilion seem to be 'made in India'! That to me was a bit disappointing.

Inside the pavilion there is a small meeting room, where some governmental and India-specific side events happen on a daily basis. I am not prioritising these because I can know about what is happening in India any time! This is an opportunity to see first hand what is happening in the rest of the world, and therefore I am more focused on the international side events and other activities.

There are some more interesting side events coming up in the next few days, and I also still have to go around the exhibition area and see what other organisations from different parts of the world are showcasing. So stay tuned!

Credits: The hashtag COP24 photo is by Myron Mendis of Laya, other photos and videos are by me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) annual Conference of Parties (COP) is happening in Katowice, Poland this year. I am part of the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC) team attending the COP24 on behalf of two UNFCCC observer organisations - Laya and SCINDIeA, that are members of INECC. 

4 Dec 2018

While the UNFCCC COP is mostly a meeting of official representatives of the governments of the world trying to tackle the global problem of climate change, there is also a large presence of non-government stakeholders at these meetings. These include both civil society organisations and businesses. Special exhibition space is made available separately for non-profits and for-profits, and there are also a large number of official as well as unofficial side events happening throughout the couple of weeks of the COP. There is also a specially designated area where individual countries showcase their climate change related achievements in their own pavilions, and some side events happen in individual country pavilions too. So apart from the governments doing their own business of climate change negotiations, COP is also a big networking and information exchange opportunity for non-government stakeholders active in the sectors of climate change mitigation (reducing green house gas emissions) and adaptation (finding ways to deal with impacts of climate change that are now avoidable).

The INECC team had a very busy schedule on the first official day of the COP, 3 December. We had to set up our exhibition booth in the morning and we also had our official side event on the topic of Climate Friendly Technologies: Improving Adaptive Capacity of Women and Building Resilience.

Our Exhibition Booth

Ours was one of the first lot of side events on the first day of the COP. First week of the COP is relatively quiet, although intense negotiations are on among government officials and real work on finalising the documents is going on behind the scene. The politicians start arriving in the second week, and that generates a lot of buzz.

So we were not sure what to expect. There were three speakers lined up - myself from Samuchit, Siddharth D'Souza from Laya and Colin McQuistan from Practical Action UK. We were supposed to have a self-invited speaker, an ex Member of Parliament from Uganda, but after the initial email expressing her intention to participate, her office had been noncommunicative. However we were fortunate to have Dr. Saleemul Haq, International Center for Climate Change and Development, based in Bangladesh, as a commentator. The event was ably co-ordinated by Ajita Tiwari, national facilitator of INECC.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the event room fill up with audience a few minutes before the starting time. We had 90+ people in the audience when we started, and although people keep coming and going as they are trying to catch a number of parallelly ongoing events, we still had more than 50% of the original audience when we finally wrapped up 90 minutes later.

The Crowd at our side event

The main issues that Siddharth and I focused on were climate friendly technological interventions for cooking energy, lighting and access to clean water. I emphasised on the need to bring in the dimension of user friendliness in R&D as well as dissemination of clean cooking energy technologies, and talked about how listening to the concerns of women cooks and the men decision makers in the families have helped us achieve successful replacement of traditional wood burning smoky cook stoves by low smoke and efficient improved cook stoves in our recent projects.  Siddharth described Laya's work on adopting low carbon technologies that require no fossil energy inputs for lighting, water pumping and water filtration for tribal communities in Eastern Ghats. He also talked about his experience of using carbon finance for providing improved cook stoves to these communities.

Speaking at the side event

Colin talked about a people centric approach to disaster warning and management framework as a crucial component of disaster preparedness. Such a system becomes all the more crucial in view of the increased risk of natural disasters due to climate change. He highlighted a need for the various international negotiations on disaster preparedness to be aligned with each other, and the approach to be more rooted in ground realities being faced by people.

Dr. Huq talked about the success story of Bangladesh in reducing population growth rate through education and empowerment of women. He also described how  women-centric solar energy and improved cook stoves initiatives in Bangladesh that are not only improving women's quality of life, but also creating income generating opportunities for them which raises their status in the family.  
We all highlighted the disconnect between policy and finance on one hand and the ground reality on the other hand, and the lack of gender considerations in technology focused discussions in the climate change negotiations.

The audience was quite responsive and overall we got positive feedback on the event. So that is one main task that we had as a team at COP24, and I think we did well!

From L to R: Siddharth, Colin, Myself, Dr Huq, Ajita

Over the last couple of days I have already passed by the India pavilion several times. More about that tomorrow! Also, in subsequent blogs I will try to explain what exactly is the focus of COP24 and what is expected out of this meeting.

Photos Courtesy: Myron Mendis, Laya

My City My Responsibility - Youth for Climate Action Part II

Dear All, 

Session by Kartikeya Sarabhai 
Direction of Development explained by Kartikeya Sarabhai

In continuation with my earlier blog, the next two days at the LCOY 14 were fun-filled and packed with information and activities. We had an enthralling session by Kartikeya Sarabhai acknowledging the facts on sustainability and realities of climate change. I would like to share one picture that got imprinted on my mind which is truly the impression of how we as Indians should develop, and should learn to make the right/appropriate choices. The developing and under developed nations should leapfrog and strategize for sustainable and low carbon development instead of mimicking the developed nations which are going towards sustainability after creating a menace on this Earth.  

Later we had a eye opening session by Zuhair from Bangladesh a young entrepreneur where he spoke about how Bangladesh is one of the countries facing climate change impacts with the rising sea levels engulfing their lands. He made a very straightforward statement that Migration is the only way for us to adapt to Climate Change. In order to migrate with better prospects, enhancing local skill development for livelihood options has been the most important strategy for the people in Bangladesh. 

Sanskriti presenting on Innovation
We had a great session by Sanskriti on Innovation putting impetus on holistic approach and relevance as a must! A session on Young reporters for the Environment (YRE) an international network of youth undertaken by AbhishekSriram and Sivaneswaran who are part
of this network was really interesting. It was good to know that these young minds are doing some amazing scientific studies on environmental issues in their regions and publishing it on such platforms. Its a pleasure to meet such ignited young minds doing such great work in their capacity. 

Groups presenting the critical analysis
Then we had this opportunity where we could present our work in the Handprint Haat kind of arrangement. Its like an exhibition where whoever is interested in your topic or area of work will come to you and you can present your work to them. I was able to explain our project work on making Pune a Sustainably SMART city by 2030 and a case study on Climate Vulnerability. Aditi Kale from Pune International Centre, who was my companion in this conference also presented the Climate Collective Pune initiative which aims at making Pune Carbon Neutral by 2030. We had a great time in this session interacting and listening to other initiatives as well. The session ended with songs sung by a participant Rumit, a Sufi singer. This was a good end to the day. 

The next day was our last day of the conference and we had a very informative session with the representative of YOUNGO - Yugratna Srivastava. We could critically analyze the articles of the Paris Agreement as a mock activity and felt that we can do better at the UN negotiations at COP! Too ambitious but yes the youth of today have a critical perspective and should be considered!

Overall, it was an enriching experience with new learnings, new collaborations and new friends. Looking forward to continue these relationships and build on Sustainable Partnerships.  

Stay tuned for more on the food in Ahmedabad and the Sabarmati riverfront that we experienced beside the conference!

Pournima Agarkar.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Youth for Climate action Part I

A casual group photo at CEE
Dear All, 

I am very excited to share with you the insights of a Youth Conference that I attended last week in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. It was the Local Conference for Youth (LCOY 14) for South Asia region hosted by Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in Ahmedabad. The theme of this conference was what actions the youth of the country can take in order to have a low carbon future. Students, budding environment entrepreneurs, researchers, PHD scholars and professionals from all over India and Bangladesh participated in this conference. Being a South Asia regional conference participants from Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan were also supposed to attend but couldn't make it this time. So we were a cozy group of around 30 Climate enthusiasts for the conference.  

As a researcher working in the field of Climate action I have been curious about what exactly happens at the Conference of Parties (COP) especially after the  COP21 at Paris that led to a landmark agreement bringing all the nations together to combat climate change and accelerate actions for a sustainable low carbon future. When I heard about LCOY last year my curiosity had been awakened. and I wanted to know more about it. That's when I learnt that Conference of Youth (COY) happens within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and aims at engaging youth for understanding the climate negotiations happening at the global level in COP and strengthens the capacity for actions at the local level. 

LCOY provides an opportunity where all the initiatives and research happening at local level towards climate change impacts are discussed, compiled and presented at the GCOY i.e the Global Conference for Youth. The GCOY takes place before or during the COP every year. This year GCOY will be happening around 29th November ahead of COP24 in Katowice, Poland. I am glad that I could attend LCOY this year and could share our work on climate vulnerability and low carbon lifestyles choices. I really hope these suggestions get discussed in this year's COP.

At the COP, LCOY India is endorsed by YOUNGO which is an official constituency of UNFCCC and is a dynamic network of individuals and organizations focused on youth for climate action. YOUNGO has been accredited a status of  'Observer' at the COP and presents all the inputs from the LCOY's at the GCOY.  It was overwhelming to meet the south coordinator of YOUNGO - Yugratna Srivastava  in this conference. 

On the first day, after all the introductions and background, one of the activities involved role playing. Here we actually got a hang of what happens at the COP through mock climate negotiations. We all were grouped as different regional groups known as Party Groupings. The regional groups include G77+ China - a group that comprises of developing nations (India is included in this group), the like minded developing countries (LMDC's), Least Developed Countries (LDC's) and the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) - one of the biggest group of nations. Then there is the African Group of Negotiators, the EU group comprising 28 member states of European union, an Umbrella group consisting of US and Russia predominately, the Environmental Integrity group comprising the Mexico, Korea and Switzerland etc. While there are some non party groups as well known as the Observers which includes all the non formal associations like NGO's, activists, professionals etc. 

I was a part of the G77+China group where we all had to advocate for the voices of the LMDC's who were struggling to just survive in the face of the climate change impacts, to other climate negotiators. We had a great debating session. I realised how important it is to have knowledge of country statistical data in putting forth one's point strongly. Moreover, I realized that the job of a negotiator representing his/her country is highly critical, knowledge based, political, diplomatic and absolutely risky. There may be more to it for sure. I also realised how tricky it is to come to a consensus for any single given issue. The mock took almost two hours for us as party groups, to come to a consensus on the single issue of deciding what should be the limits for the global temperature rise in this century. Should it be below 2 degree Celsius or  well below 1.5 deg Celsius??? Tuff job!

I am going to write more about my reflections on the other sessions at LCOY, some highlights and views on the Sabarmati riverfront development and the city of Ahmedabad in general in my next blogs. Stay tuned!

Pournima Agarkar.   

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Change in Biodiversity

Common Grey Hornbill
Dear All, 

In continuation with my last blog on green cover analysis of Pune city, under our Sustainably Smart Pune study we correlated the bird biodiversity data available from RANWA's website in order to check the status of biodiversity in the city. Though the data available on RANWA is dated back to 1999 it served as a good starting point for analyzing the population trend among birds in Pune. 

Firstly, biodiversity is the diversity or variety observed in flora (plant life) and fauna (animal life). Biodiversity is a vast subject, since there is vast variety in tree species, insects, birds, butterflies animals etc. Further this variety also depends on habitat, whether it is on land or underwater. For eg. Tree species found in evergreen forests, differ from the tree species found on scrub land, similarly tree species found near a river differ from tree species found near the sea. Variety in flora and fauna also changes with seasons, hence we have migratory species. In recent years diversity has been affected by urbanization. In all a good local diversity in both flora and fauna indicates a healthier planet and hence it is imperative to understand the biodiversity of any place. 

Considering the vastness of the subject, our biodiversity analysis was limited to only bird species of Pune city based on the information available on RANWA. On analyzing the data given on the website, it was found that resident bird species that were seen commonly in the city showed occasional occurrence and a declining trend in population due to loss of habitats like forests, scrubland and agriculture. These habitats were lost due to its conversion to either plantation or habitation, as we saw in the last blog, we have completely converted the original landscapes in the span of just 50 years.  

Birds like Buzzard and Crested Hawk Eagle commonly seen around the forests of Pune are nearly gone. Common Grey Hornbill, House Sparrows and House Crows seen abundantly also showed a declining trend. Whereas birds like Blackwinged Stilt that are seen near polluted water can be seen abundantly along our rivers. Jungle Mynas, Jungle Crows and Red Whiskered Bulbuls are showing an increasing trend along with the Common Pigeons that we see everywhere. 

Urbanization is one of the major reasons for these habitat conversions and plantation of non native trees on the hills of Pune is another reason for the change in the biodiversity. Native tree plantation and local restoration and conserving techniques can indeed help in enhancing the biodiversity of our city. 

Seeing the big picture, our project basically aims at defining an approach for planning a Sustainably SMART city and this sample study is a very minute part of biodiversity analysis. Hence there is a need to holistically analyse the entire biodiversity cover of the city and for that we need a systematic and updated database of the city's biodiversity that includes all the flora and fauna, which is a mammoth task. Nevertheless sources like RANWA can be updated by integrating data from other available data sources after authenticating the information through field level experts and scholars, also integrating data from PMC like that of tree census etc. All the available data can be clubbed into a single platform as an open source. Thus taking the first step to understand the biodiversity cover of the city and then charting an action plan based on the biodiversity status towards a Sustainable city that cares for its biodiversity, has to be the way forward.  

Pournima Agarkar. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Celebrating a Sustainable Diwali

Dear All, 

A festival full of colors and lights when celebrated in the light of conscious actions towards our environment can be much more meaningful.

Starting from cleaning our houses, putting a handmade lantern by involving everyone in the house, or just putting a bamboo lamp, delicious home made preparations or locally purchased food items, beautiful rangoli, cracker free, local earthenware diyas lit all over the house, family get togethers and bonding, using arecanut leaf disposable cutlery, minimizing wastes and disposing appropriately etc and many more such actions are all part of Sustainable Diwali that considers our local resources, our people, our rich culture and heritage and lastly our environment.

Here's wishing you all a Happy and Sustainable Diwali!!!

Pournima Agarkar.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Experiences from Smart cities of Tamil Nadu

Mandatory pics with Sheila and Ajita
Mandatory pics with Myron and Ajita

Dear All, 

Last week I attended two workshops in Tamil Nadu - one on People's agenda for Smart Salem and another on People's agenda for Smart Madurai, organized by SCINDeA, INECC and LAYA Resource Centre. SCINDeA stands for South Central India Network for Development Alternatives and is a network of voluntary organisations that promotes sustainable development through people's participation. Their work areas are parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. SCINDeA was crucially involved in arranging these workshops for the people of Salem and Madurai, through active inputs from INECC and LAYA.

Since I am working on developing a roadmap for Sustainably Smart Pune by 2030, I had the opportunity to present our study to the citizens of both the cities. Dr. Priyadarshini Karve who is spearheading this study believes that the outcomes of our study may or may not help Pune to develop as a Sustainably Smart city, though it will definitely be instrumental in making other cities coming behind us develop in a Sustainably Smart manner. This opportunity actually created a platform for the same. 

Dr. Sheila B, VC Dr. Kolandaivel and Mr Kamraj
addressing the group
The first workshop was held in Salem city, the crowd represented academicians, NGO representatives, bureaucrats, trade association members and citizens of Salem. The city executive engineer Mr. Kamraj presented the smart city plan for Salem. The plan stressed on developing physical infrastructure in the form of flyovers, parking provisions, road development and ICT like setting up E-toilets and kiosks etc. According to a SWOT analysis of the city, this city faces threats like congestion, poor urban services and heavily polluted river similar to what we are facing in Pune. However their smart city plan did not really focus on improving these services. It rather seemed to be focused on creating additional inefficient and fancy structures which will eventually widen the socioeconomic inequity in the city. The plan was immediately objected by the citizens and members of various city-based associations. The critics pointed to the inconsiderate approach towards weaker sections of the society. I presented our study where we look at development through three lenses i.e socio economic inequity, local environmental impacts and climate change aspects like carbon footprint and climate vulnerability. The approach was appreciated by all the people sitting in the hall, however the sad part was that the city engineer had left by then. Nevertheless, we wanted to inform the citizens on sustainable urban development approaches and that was very well achieved. It is now hoped that the citizens will take up the issue at the municipal level, armed with all the knowledge inputs gained from the meeting!  

Smart Salem Group Photo
Dr. G.Balaji addressing the citizens
The second workshop was held in Madurai. It was a pleasant surprise to know that a city conservation architect Dr. G. Balaji was working in collaboration with the city engineer to develop the smart city plan. His ideas very well resonated with our approach on Sustainably Smart planning. Though the smart city plan of Madurai focused on improving physical infrastructure around famous heritage structure Meenakshi Amman Temple and suburbs, the core issues in the city like waste management and insufficient water supply still seemed to be neglected. However, Dr. G.Balaji pointed out that the scope of the smart city mission lies in developing physical infrastructure only. With the overemphasis on infrastructure, critical aspects like climate change vulnerability, local environmental impacts and socioeconomic inequity are being gravely ignored. On presenting our study (though Dr. G. Balaji had left by then), active members of the society, academicians, students, consultants, bureaucrats and members from various different organizations appreciated our work and agreed with our approach and the possibilities of using this approach to address shortcomings in the smart city plan. How much will it really impact is an open question, but we have certainly ignited the spirit of sustainability in the minds of the people and I am really glad about it. 

Smart Madurai Group Photo

Citizens raising their voice for the city
Meanwhile, Myron Mendes from INECC who stressed upon INECC's slogan People's Voices in Policy Choices conducted an activity where he distributed hand shaped cards to the audience where each person had to write about 'what they as the citizens of the city would do to make their city Sustainably smart'. They had to put these hand prints on the wall sized poster that showcased the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with focus on SDG 11 i.e. making cities Sustainable.  

Ajita Tiwari who is the national facilitator for INECC summed up the learnings from both the workshops as to how people's perspective is important in any development in the city. 

I would like to thank and congratulate Dr. Sheila Benjamin from SCINDeA and her efficient team for organizing these workshops successfully. We now hope that the conversations triggered off by the events will continue in the two cities, and impact their individual development trajectories in a positive way. 

Pournima Agarkar.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Analysis of Green Cover of Pune

Dear All, 

JM road Pune
In continuation with my last blog regarding the studies on the local environmental concerns in Pune under the Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 project, I will share some findings from the analysis of green cover in Pune based on landuse classification. 

According to the 2007 landuse classification, green areas are integrated under various land use categories and so it is difficult to get actual numbers on green cover from the landuse classification table. For instance, gardens and playgrounds both are clubbed under the category of recreational spaces. The problem is gardens have major vegetated areas also called as softscape area, while playgrounds consists majorly of non vegetated areas also called as hardscape areas, sometimes there is just exposed ground or some playgrounds have paved areas or structures as well. 

In order to just get an rough estimate of the green cover in the city based on the landuse classification I summed up all the areas under the following landuse categories i.e recreational spaces, hills, agriculture and water bodies, and assumed hardscape areas to be about forty percent. The net green cover was found to be 15% of the total land area of the city. This figure is 5% less than the green cover required for the city as per the National Forest policy i.e. 20% at the city level and 33% at the country level. In a way, we can say that the green cover in  our city is inadequate.

According to the tree census data in Pune we have around 38,60,055 trees. Considering the 2011 population data, we seem to have one tree per person. In order to have better quality of life, we require seven to eight trees per person, so the tree cover in the city is also found to be inadequate. 

Further to this study, according to a compilation on habitat type and change in landuse by a local NGO RANWA it is seen that in the span of 50 years from 1950 to 2000, we have converted original landscapes like forests, riparian areas and wetlands completely to either agriculture or human habitation. See the below chart for reference. 
Source: Ranwa website

We need to preserve vegetation in our city not only for living a healthy lifestyle but also because vegetation plays an important role in moderating the microclimate in the city by acting as carbon sink, enables ground water recharge, provides shade, and conserves biodiversity. However just planting some random trees is not the solution. The strategy should be focused on plantation of predominantly native tree species, shrubs and ground cover so as to maintain or restore the integrity of the local ecosystem with its original biodiversity. 

More on the biodiversity part in the next blog!

Pournima Agarkar.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Study on Landuse of Pune

Dear All, 

Back in January 2017, I did a quick study on the local environmental concerns in Pune with reference to urbanization, under our Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 project. Now that I am in the process of compiling all the information into a super report I would like to share my findings with you all.

While I was looking for information on the environmental aspects like landuse, biodiversity, green cover, ambient air quality etc, Dr Priyadarshini Karve suggested me to quantify the aspects since it is true that whatever can be measured, is easy to manage. Hence we wanted to quantify the impacts, however at that time all I could find was some numbers and graphs which did represent magnitude of the impact urbanization is having on our environment. Starting with this blog, over the next few weeks, I want to share the journey of exploration and discovery that is leading us to developing an approach to quantification of environmental impacts of urbanisation in Pune. Needless to say, everyone's suggestions, comments, inputs are most welcome! 

So, firstly I looked at land use of Pune, while reviewing various documents. I came across a study done by Prof. Nitin Munde from Pune University, who is a geographer, and used Geoinformatics (GIS) and developed land use land cover (LULC) maps of Pune right from 1973 to 2014. These maps help us to understand the spatial extent of urban growth that occurred in Pune. 
You can see the images of the maps posted for reference. These colour coded maps show category of land under various uses like built up, vegetation agriculture etc...Each land use is depicted by a color and here built up is assigned red colour, land under vegetation is assigned green colour and so on. You can see the spread of red color covering the entire area. This shows the extent of urban growth due to the incoming population in the city either for work or education.   

There is also a graph showing the changes in LULC in percentage for each category. The graph below clearly shows that more and more land is being consumed for built up to provide housing, infrastructure and other basic services due to urbanization.  Whereas the other categories of land which are the providing factors or resources are drastically reducing. Especially the scrub land which has reduced from 49% to 5 % in the span of 40 years, followed by fallow land, then land under rivers and lakes. You can see an increase in land under vegetation and agricultural land, but this is because in 2000, surrounding villages got merged into the Pune city increasing the limits of the city. This can be seen in the maps as well. 

Graph showing the percentage of LULC
In my earlier blogs I mentioned about ecological footprint and how we are experiencing the ecological deficit at the global level. Though its quite tedious to calculate the ecological footprint at a city level, through this study it is quite evident that the rate at which we are consuming our resources leaving no or very less room for regeneration, we are going to remain in debt to our future generations. Just think about it … and stay tuned for more in coming weeks!

Pournima Agarkar.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Alternate riverfront development approach continued

Expert group discussion
Dear All, 

In continuation with my earlier blog on developing an alternate riverfront development approach as part of our Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 project, I would like to share some more insights. 

As mentioned earlier, the river stretch near Omkareshwar temple consists of a Dhobi Ghat and two public gardens Nana Nani Park and Vartak Garden, and a few religious and heritage spaces. Our idea was that the riverfront development should compliment these existing spaces while focusing on improving the health of riverbed areas. For the same we thought of having discussions with the concerned experts. 

Firstly we decided to meet Ketaki Ghate and Manasi Karandikar from Oikos for guiding us on plantation along the riverbed. Both Ketaki and Manasi are experts in restoration works and our riverbed areas require sound restoration strategy instead of planting some random tree species or having landscaped lawns. 

Dhobi Ghat near Omkareshwar Stretch
According to Ketaki, preference should be given to indigenous trees, that have both aesthetic and ecological attributes. It is important to note that exotic tree species are not bad but they should be selected carefully otherwise they can cause weeding and dominate over the native species hampering the local ecosystems. Tiered structure of plantation should be followed, where we have the trees then shrubs and then ground covers. There should be a good diversity in selecting tree species instead of monoculture. Hardscape areas can be negligible or if required should use local stone tiles like those seen in nature trails. Water requirements for this restoration works can be supplied through treatment plant set up for treating the wastewater from Dhobi Ghat as well as the one's set up for treating city's sewage. Tree species that can absorb additional impurities in the treated water can be used. 

In order to maintain these areas, local gardeners can be employed since they have the expertise. Technological interventions can include timer based drippers for efficient water supply and use of motion sensor based LED light fixtures wherever required. These are some of the ideas brainstormed. However, in order to make this a reality, budget is needed for each activity and hence in our study we are working out a tentative budget for this stretch as well.

Other experts we met include Sayali Joshi from Shristi Eco Research Institute (SERI) who is currently working for Assi river in Varanasi. She made a striking statement that our river is in an ICU state and hence she should be treated immediately by ensuring there is no access to the river by anybody as a first step. This viewpoint was also supported by Swati Gole from Ecological society who also mentioned that public should not be allowed to access the river for anything until the river is restored. 

I have seen people many a times throwing wastes, nirmalya and even food as part of some rituals in the river. I think its high time to change the way we look at our rivers and realize that they are the only source of potable water for us. Shailaja and team from Jeevitnadi are actively striving for the same through their work on river revival. 

Stay tuned for more on these studies in the next blog!

Pournima Agarkar. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Linking and networking!

Dear All, 

Seed art created by the tribal farmers

You all must have heard about INECC many a times in my blogs, here I will introduce you to the network, since we at Samuchit and LAYA Resource Centre are members of the Indian Network of Ethics and Climate Change (INECC)

INECC is a network of not-for-profit organizations, businesses and individuals from different parts of India, coming together to link their work on climate change and sustainable development at the grassroots level to the larger policy dialogues and discourses that happen at the Local, State, National and International level. This network aims to highlight those voices from the ground that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and link them to the various policy dialogues to make their communities sustainable and climate resilient. The network meetings happen once or twice in a year, this year I could attend this meeting and it was in Kabini a serene place near Mysore. I would like to share my experience from this meeting. 

One would wonder why Kabini! Well this is a place where one of the INECC members Siddharta and his team from Pipal Tree are involved in working with the tribal communities around on climate change education and sustainable development.  It was an opportunity for us to see their work as well as have a meetup! 

Prosperous tribal farmer
The tribal communities around Kabini were displaced from their homes and lands due to the construction of a large dam on the Kabini river. They were even denied access to the Nagarhole forest area from where they used to make their living and were forced to migrate for work. Stressed due to the social and political pressures, their survival was at stake. A team from Pipal Tree undertook to work as facilitators with these communities to help them in their rehabilitation. Being an environmental scientist I had learned about the concept of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) technique and I was glad to see its application in a rural setting. Its time we realize that we are no one to teach the villagers living in the wild about food security and sustainability...but all we can do is to observe them, learn from them and intervene only when required for giving information on changing weather patterns since they lack access to the latest news. I am sure with all the indigenous knowledge that they have, they do come up with better adaptation and mitigation strategies as they are "THE experts" quoted by Dominic D'souza one of the members of INECC. There is a need to innovate or use technologies that can enable the farmers to get LIVE weather information so that they can accordingly plan their cropping patterns. I feel such technologies are available but still in experimentation phase. 

Village kitchen garden

On interacting with some of the farmers in this village we found something similar was happening in this village, with the help of Pipal Tree. The farmers here grew only cotton and other cash crops earlier, now they have shifted to growing more of millets (require less water comparatively) and other food crops through Pipal Tree's intervention. They also have their own kitchen gardens where they grow their daily veggies. In a way they are going towards food security and sustainability already. However they are still struggling with other political pressures and lack of irrigation facilities.  

Tribal village school kids

We also got a chance to visit the Children's College another initiative of Pipal Tree a facility where the tribal children from government schools can stay and learn life skills, and also get help as they struggle with school education. The best part of this Children's College is, it is located near the village so that the children don't feel lonely or out of place, they can meet their parents once in a month or so. We met such a group of young girls, the ones who stayed for two years were quite confident and aspired to go for higher studies instead of marriage. Some of them were really good with artistic skills like singing, dancing and making paper quill jewelry etc. We all felt that entrepreneur skills should be promoted among these students as alternative livelihood options, since many of them will not get an opportunity to go for a regular job due to social pressure. These students were fascinated by us and the places we come from and really wanted to know us, unfortunately we were running out of time so couldn't interact much with them. However it was good to meet these budding future generation!

Apart from this, it was good to visit a tribal school and see how the young generation in the villages is being groomed for the future. More needs to be done here in terms of training of the teachers, however this work is in process so it will be good to visit the schools after a year or so.

I would like to conclude saying that this meeting gave all the members good time to interact and know each other's work areas and has definitely opened new avenues for collaboration. Indeed its a great networking initiative and I am grateful for being a part of this network. Credits for overall coordination and efficient management of the workshop goes to Ajita and Myron!

INECC members group photo
Pournima Agarkar.