Participants at the seminar
On 15 and 16 September, in collaboration with the Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI), the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) New Delhi organized a media seminar for journalists from across India to better comprehend the issues around climate change. UNIC brought together more than 25 journalists and almost 20 eminent experts over the course of five sessions in two days. 15 journalists came in from cities as far as Guwahati, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai, Mumbai, Bhubhaneshwar, and others; many journalists from Delhi and the environs also participated. In advance of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit on 23 September 2014 in New York, the seminar provided a timely intervention to help journalists grasp and communicate the urgency of climate change to their readers.
Dr. R.K. Pachauri inaugurated the seminar which got off to a roaring start. The panel explored the scientific evidence of the occurrence and impacts of climate change. We have seen and will continue to see an increase in extreme weather events like floods, droughts, storm surges and heat waves, a rise in sea-levels and consequent salinization of coastal fresh water resources, and drastic changes in temperature and rainfall. Heat waves like that of Moscow in 2010, which are currently 1 in 20 year events, maybe become likely once in 2 years.
“We have one chance in this generation to save the planet, and that’s in Paris in 2015.” - Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator, India.
Dr. J. Srinivasan of the Indian Institute of Science debunked a vast array of myths that climate deniers have sought to propagate, pointing out the massive funding from fossil fuel lobbies and others that goes into funding climate denial. He warned that the journalistic urge for balance can sometimes end up misleading the public when it gives equal credit and time to unscientific or politically motivated versions of the climate change story. In the true spirit of scientific rigor, the speakers made it clear that specific weather events (which occur on a timescale of days, months or years), cannot be said to be directly caused by global climate change (which is observed over decades and centuries). Predictions too are made in probabilities, but as a speaker eloquently pointed out, “If a doctor tells you there’s a 95% chance of contracting an infection, you take precautions based on the 95%, rather than relying on the 5% off-chance of not getting sick.”
After understanding the physical phenomenon of climate change, including its distinction from weather variability, the next session focused on the Economic Case for Low-Carbon strategies. The session dealt with India’s steps towards adopting renewable energy, including the vast opportunities that lie in forms like solar and wind. It emphasized that it is firmly in India’s interests to carve out a new path to growth that does not involve aping the carbon-heavy environment-unfriendly industrialization of the West. In terms of energy infrastructure, it was noted that it is crucial to avoid ‘lock-ins’, or the construction of heavy infrastructure in dated industries like coal and natural gas, that would force India to continue to use dirty fuels for the next few decades, or the timespan of the plants etc. It is also essential in any economic assessments to account for externalities, which become the costs of inaction, such as health costs relating to increase in vector-borne diseases, among others.
The next session dealt specifically with energy efficiency as a key component in the quest for energy security, with representatives from the UN Industrial Development addressing constraints like quality of raw materials, fragmented industry standards and the development of technology.
The second day dealt in depth with the challenges of food security and health, with the first session revolving around the challenges posed by a changing climate to Indian food production, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. As with many of the deep injustices of climate change, those most vulnerable to negative shocks are those who are already socially and economically marginalized, and have contributed least to causing the problem. The adoption of adaptation measures is vital to reduce the damage caused by climate change, including steps like changing crop patterns, drought-resistant seeds, information dissemination regarding weather patterns and farmer training on dealing with weather variability.
In closing, the Valedictory Session chaired by UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman heard from Ms. Sunita Narain, Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment, and Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, Director of the Public Health Foundation of India. Dr. Reddy spoke wide-rangingly about the connections of climate change with human health, insects and pests, grain-fed vs. grass-fed livestock, and even tobacco companies. He stressed that connecting the dots was central to a journalist’s mandate to report thoroughly and comprehensively.
“The tragedy and the irony of climate change is that the poorest are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The poorest who do not contribute to the cause of climate change, the poor who give us the opportunity to breathe – because of their poverty they do not add emissions to climate change. - Sunita Narain, Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment
The participants found the seminar to be exceedingly useful in terms of understanding the nuances behind the science, politics and art of climate change. The outstation journalists in particular, deeply appreciated the opportunity to interact with policy-makers, practitioners and academics around this issue, and look forward to publishing a number of stories stemming from the Seminar, strengthening and deepening the national and international conversation about the imperative need to respond to climate change.