Bangalore Environment Trust Newsletter, March
Sat, 03/03/2007 - 20:03 — admin
Global Warming : From Speculation to an
Pollution does not stop at national boundaries. One country's
waste all too easily becomes its neighbor's problems and this is
particularly true for water and air-borne pollution.
There are, in general, two types of pollution -- flow and stock.
The former presents less intractable environmental problems and
can be measured relatively easily. It normally degrades and
disappears from the affected area in course of time. For instance,
smoke, dust, noise, chemical spillage and odour, created mostly by
local industry, causing loss of amenity, health and general
comfort in the immediate area.
Stock pollution accumulates in the environment over time. It
remains unnoticed until a threshold is reached.
There are three serious types of air pollution - the `greenhouse'
effect, the destruction of the ozone layer, and acid rain, all
resulting from gaseous emissions into the atmosphere.
Over the last few years, global warming has transformed from a
scientific speculation to an environmental threat of global
dimensions. The awareness and seriousness of the problems is
underlined by the fact that virtually every nation has signed the
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was initiated at
the Earth Summit in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.
Scientific , monitoring has established the build-up of the main
greenhouse gases carbon-dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Not all greenhouse gases, however, are
created equal. Carbon-dioxide - mainly from the burning of fossil
fuels, of which coal produces the most carbon per unit of heat -
has been and will be mankind's largest contribution to global
Radiation from the sun heats the earth's surface and this is
balanced by the emission of long-wave thermal radiation. Gases
such as carbon-dioxide, nitrous oxides and methane absorb well the
long wavelength radiation and return part of it back to the
surface, causing an increase in the surface temperature. This
process, known as the greenhouse effect, has been happening over
the last 200 years.
The US is the biggest carbon-dioxide 'emitter'. Its per capita
emission is 20 times as much as India's and more than twice of the
EU average. Though this accounts for approximately a quarter of
total global emissions, even its cutting unilaterally the
emissions would have a limited impact on total output. Over the
next 50 years, it is reasonably certain that the US' share of the
total will decline substantially, as the developing economies grow
and increase their use of fossil fuels.
The current per capita fossil fuel use in India and China is low
by the industrial countries' standards. If they, as planned,
follow the path of development of the industrial world, these per
capita levels will grow substantially. They do not see their
national interest served in the abandonment of economic growth to
slowing global warming.
|Table 1: Emissions,
income and population: Selected nations, 1990
per capita (tonnes)
per unit of GDP (tonnes per thousand $)
|GDP per capita (thousand $)
total (mega tonnes)
|Share of world total
Table 1 shows how nations differ in the efficiency in fossil fuel
burning - and hence, carbon-dioxide emissions - into national
income. The erstwhile USSR emitted over twice as much
carbon-dioxide per dollar of national income as the EU and Japan,
and the US 40 per cent more. This suggests considerable scope for
efficiency in energy use, and reduced emission's per unit income
in such places.
In India and China, the emissions per unit income are much higher
than in the industrial nations. However, given the low income
levels and the technologies employed, the scope for increased
efficiency in energy use in such countries is seen as relatively
limited, in the foreseeable future. At the stage of development
they are in, significant reductions in energy - fossil fuel - use
would be seen as prohibitively costly in terms of the material
living standard improvements foregone.
Global warming will have a variety of effects (see figure 1)
-,either market related - effects which will become manifest in
the national accounts - or non-market related - the impact
affection `intangibles' such as ecosystems or human amenity.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) foresees a
shift in the current agricultural production pattern away from the
current production areas to more northern latitudes. Together with
changes in groundwater availability, the increased occurrence of
climatic extremes and crop diseases, this may lead to an overall
reduction in agricultural yields, and could result in serious
regional or year-to-year food shortages. The panel further
predicts that the increased stress on ecosystem may lead to the
extinction of species unable or too slow at adapt.
The rise in sea levels connected with a warmer climate will
threaten low-lying coastal areas. The sea level rise will
particularly affect densely-populated coastlines and small island
states. Extreme events such as floods and droughts may occur more
frequently.' Health experts expect a rise in climate-related
diseases such as heat strokes and a spread of vectorborne diseases
such as malaria into areas so far unaffected. Others have warned
about the consequences of increased water shortages. Global
warming may trigger large-scale climate refugees away from the
worst-affected regions and coasts.
As a consequence of scientific focus, studies on the economic
costs of global warming have also tended to concentrate on 2xCO2.
By far, the best-studied aspects are those on agriculture and the
cost of sea-level rise. Some further studies exist on, for
example, forestry, but hardly any attempt has been made to assess
the other aspects, particularly the damage to non-market sectors.
Several authors have, nevertheless, tried to provide a first-order
assessment of the total global warming damage, including
The pioneering paper trying to provide a first-order assessment of
greenhouse damage in economic terms was a well known study by
Nordhaus (1991). Concentrating mainly on the costs of agriculture
and sea-level rise, he estimated an overall damage of global
warming in the order of a quarter per cent of world GNP. To allow
for the many non-market impacts neglected in the study, this value
is raised to 1 per cent, with a range of error of 0.25-2 per cent.
The figures are based on American data, but Nordhaus claims that
they may hold world-wide.
Nordhaus estimated the highest damage loss at $ 10 billions from
the rise in the sea level whereas other effects are minor.
However, the less developed countries with their dependence on
agriculture and the vagaries of nature, are more vulnerable to
climatic change. Other estimates put the total damage as $ 48
billions - 1 per cent of world GNP.
Cline's estimates are more alarming. The loss for agriculture is $
15 billions and the total $ 53 billions - 1.2 per cent of world
GNP. The energy loss is estimated at $ 9 billions.
Samuel Fankhauser in "Valuing Climate Change" has come out with
detailed sectoral estimates of global warming damage due to
carbon-dioxide emissions. He covers the sea level rise, dryland
and wetland losses, ecosystems losses along with that of species,
forestry, fisheries, energy, water, other sectors. The assumption
is that carbon-dioxide concentrations are doubled.
The extremely high estimate for China is caused by two factors -
agricultural loss and life/morbidity impacts - both of which are
very volatile, and the probability range of total damage is,
therefore, particularly wide for this country. Similar values
could also apply to India.
In the literature of valuations of loss of lives (VOLLs) in
industrial countries, values range from $ 200,000 upwards, with an
average of $ 3 millions; Fankhauser chooses a `fairly
conservative' figure of $ 1.5 millions. He chooses $ 150,000 - one
tenth of the industrial country valuation as the VOLL in
low-income developing countries, such, as China, which is
envisaged to lose 48.960 lives per year, is more than in all the
OECD countries together.
Economists have pointed out that VOLLs do not measure what human
lives are `worth'. Rather, they are derived either from
considerations of lifetime production, or from the willingness to
accept risk as shown in differential wages. Either way, it is
"'right" that poor peoples' lives are valued at less than rich
peoples'. Fankhauser explains: "(The different valuation) merely
reflects the fact that the willingness to pay' for increased
safety (a lower mortality risk) is higher in developed countries."
Forecasting the structure of the future societies confronted with
climate change is extremely difficult, Predicting the preferences
of future generations for commodities affected 1 by the warming is
a near impossibility. For this reason, damage estimates will, of
necessity, always be uncertain even if scientific uncertainty is
|Table 2: 2xCO2
damage for different regions
||In billion $ (1988)
Enumerative estimates usually circumvent this problem by imposing
2xCO2 on an economy with today's structure (table 2). In most
studies, the base period damage is then assumed to simply grow in
proportion to GNP. This is clearly an approximation and we can
expect some damage aspects (for example, the value of endangered
ecosystems). to grow faster than others.
It is useful to distinguish three years of policy response:
Prevention policies, intended to slow or halt the rate of increase
in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.
Mitigation policies, to offset or ameliorate the climate effects
of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.
Adaptation polices, to facilitate human adjustment to the impacts
of climatic change consequent upon increased greenhouse gas
These are not mutually-exclusive classes of policy response.
Policies intended to slow the rate of increase in concentrations
could, for example, be combined with those to adapt to some
climate change. Examples of each type of response in relation to
Reductions in the use of fossil fuels. Switching between ,
fossil fuels with different carbon contents. Removal of
carbon-dioxide from power plant smokestacks, its sequestration
as carbon, and disposal in such manner that there is no leakage
to the atmosphere. Switching from fossil fuel combustion to
biomass combustion, with the biomass harvested on a sustainable
basis. Reforestation, with the timber eventually harvested to be
used so as to prevent carbon-dioxide releases into the
atmosphere, such as be encasement in plastic.
Releases of particulate into the atmosphere. Release into the
atmosphere gases that offset the effects of the greenhouse
gases. Promote cloud formation. Steer tropical storms away from
Stop new development in low-lying coastal areas. Change
agricultural practices, use different plant and animal
varieties. Research new plant and animal varieties.
The lessons from Surat: Many cities are
still at risk
The plague in Surat city in September 1994 caused 58 deaths and
direct economic losses estimated at Rs. 12,000 crores. This
staggering impact forced the government of Gujarat and municipal
and health planners across India to ask hard questions about why
Surat proved so fertile an environment for the rapid spread of
plague. The answers were not hard to find: both on visual
inspection and in terms of quantitative yardsticks, Surat was at
the time of the plague amongst India's filthiest cities, if not
arguably the filthiest. The city generated between 900 and 1100
tonnes of garbage (solid waste) everyday, but only 450 tonnes or
under 50% was cleared daily, leading to a massive accumulation of
uncleared filth. Compounding this was the extreme congestion of
its slums with population densities of 20,000 persons per sq. km.
In May 199.5, the Government of Gujarat appointed S.R. Rao, IAS,
as Municipal Commissioner of Surat Municipal Corporation with the
express objective of cleaning up the city. Rao's efforts have been
dramatically successful, and several independent agencies
including INTACH have ranked Surat as one of the cleanest cities
in India. Indeed, with its current garbage clearance rate of 850
tonnes per day, representing 94% of total garbage generated, Surat
is indisputably one of India's cleanest cities ranking behind only
Chandigarh on its parameter. Consequently, Surat is probably no
longer seriously at risk of another devastating plague epidemic,
but studies conducted since the plague indicate that many of
India's smaller cities, and the outer fringes of some of its
metropolises are still as dirty as Surat once was, and are
therefore at risk of epidemics of killer diseases of the kind that
Cities at risk
Studies conducted at The All India Institute of Hygiene and Public
Health, Calcutta, show that many smaller Indian cities exhibit
high levels of inefficiency in garbage removal, with a significant
number falling below the 50% efficiency level. Comments Dr. A.
Ravindra, Chairperson, Swabhimana, 'We will be paying too heavy a
price to wait for a plaque or some other deadly diseases to clean
up our cities. Surat learnt from plague. Other cities can learn
from Surat". Initial studies indicate that cities such as Baroda,
Kanpur, Varanasi, Agra and even the outer fringes of Calcutta
record 50-60% collection efficiency putting them at risk. Many of
India's metros, which on average have 80-90% collection ratios,
harbour pockets which are extremely filthy, and thus a threat to
the surrounding cities. 'We have no option but to quickly and
effectively clean up our cities". says S.R. Rao.
Privatization of garbage' removal
Fortunately, as the Surat success story shows, cleaning up our
cities is neither expensive nor difficult, though it does require
determined leaders and popular support. The total annual cost of
removing an additional 400 tonnes of garbage per day from Surat
was Rs.30 crores representing a mere 37 paise per capita per day.
The Surat example shows that garbage removal can easily be
privatised, avoiding the necessity for large investments in
transport facilities. Rao negotiated a deal with private
contractors entailing a payment of Rs. 130 per ton of garbage
removed, and enforced stringent conditions to discourage
non-performance, including fines for underloading, spillage of
garbage during transit and failure to make the specified number of
haulages per day. Tight supervision ensured that the scheme worked
well and continues to work today. 'There is enough profit margin
in garbage removal even at these prices so it should be feasible
for other cities to use this approach for effective garbage
removal, provided municipal authorities supervise the process
vigorously" adds Rao.
In a sense, garbage removal from specified garbage dumps is not
such a difficult task. Much more difficult ' is ensuring that
garbage from homes and commercial establishments are transferred
to collection dumps. Householders and commercial establishments in
Surat, for instance, were habituated to dumping garbage into the
nearest drain or street, making it virtually impossible for
sweepers to collect and transfer it to specified collection dumps.
Rao established a regime of punitive measures including on the
spot collection of administrative charges for littering, combined
with a sustained programme to educate citizens on the necessity of
packaging garbage and disposing- it at specified sites.
Building popular support
Frequent contact between senior municipal officials and citizens
ensured that the message got across, and today the average citizen
and shopkeeper in surat routinely packs garbage and transfers it
to the nearest collection point. "Building acceptance and trust
between municipal authorities and the people at large is central
to any clean up operation. If this trust is to be built, the
citizens must first see tangible evidence of the municipality's
sincerity and seriousness. They must also feel involved in the
process, which requires frequent contact and communication between
municipal authorities and the people. 'We took a lot of trouble to
build this trust through a system of compulsory field visits for
all municipal officials. In the process, the citizen could see
first hand that we were sincere, and we meant business" adds Rao.
Rao set up a system of complaint redressal which also played a big
role in cementing trust between citizen and municipal officials.
Before he came on the scene, Surat residents would sporadically
complain about unremoved garbage or choked drains, but when no
action was forthcoming, gave up. Rao changed all that with a
centrally monitored complaint redressal programme. Every citizen
who made complaint at a local municipal office was issued a red
card or a white card depending on the nature of the complaint. All
complaints were then centrally monitored, and Rao insisted on
replies being sent to complainants within 24 hours in case of
minor complaints, and 7 days for more serious ones. "Today, we are
able to solve 85% of our complaints within a week, and this has
helped greatly in building credibility and trust."
Surat has been transformed from one of India's dirtiest cities to
one of its cleanest within a year, and with very minimal
additional investments. This success was largely due to the
leadership of a inspired city manager supported by a core team of
dedicated officials. What they did was simplicity itself, but the
results are dramatic. The real import of the Surat success story
is that it is easily replicable in other high risk small cities.
Back to News letter