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.

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