Press on Environment and Wildlife
G-8 Summit (Issue of the week, July Week 2 (2005))

The G-8 Summit held in Scotland last week was fraught with many ups and downs. Following is a brief review of what transpired –

Angry radical protesters which included youth groups, peace protesters, anti-capitalists, anarchists, anti-globalization campaigners and environmental activists fought running battles with the police as leaders of the world's richest nations gathered in the Gleneagles estate, in Scotland, the G-8 summit. The dominant theme of the three-day summit was alleviation of poverty from Africa and climate change. Despite one of the biggest security operations, violence erupted as activists of "anarchist'' groups attacked shops and businesses they regarded as "symbols'' of unbridled globalization. Several protesters and police officers were injured, and a number of arrests were made. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is hosting the gathering and has pushed Africa to the top of the agenda, faced accusations of exploiting the issue of poverty in Africa to improve his international image battered by the events in Iraq. At the same time Iraq war allies US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair found themselves advocating rival positions. Bush defended his handling of Iraq and the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. He sought less aid for Africa than Blair wanted, and leveled renewed criticism at the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Bush also said he recognized that human activity had contributed to climate change - a concession from an earlier position that the jury was still out on such a connection. But he stood by his rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming, calling instead for more cooperation on cleaner fuels. ``Kyoto didn't work for the United States and it frankly didn't work for the world. The reason it didn't work for the world was that developing nations weren't included,'' Bush said. The United States is the only G-8 member not to ratify the agreement, which took effect in February. Bush shows no signs of budging from his view that it would harm the world economy to force cutbacks on greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration wants voluntary reductions, incentives for alternative fuels such as ethanol, and nuclear power and conservation.

Then as the summit started the news of the London bomb blasts came through forcing Mr. Blair to leave the Summit and return to London. Meanwhile, the governments of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa held their mini-summit at Gleneagles and came up with an interesting enough Joint Declaration. It called for providing "a greater voice to developing countries in U.N. decision-making," promoting "multilateralism," enhancing North-South cooperation, and a renewed commitment to "sustainable development and the harnessing of the benefits of globalization for all." It also reaffirmed "the role of South-South cooperation in the context of multilateralism" and committed the five large developing countries to "close coordination and cooperation to meet the challenges arising from globalization, and to promote the common interest of developing countries by striving to more effectively bring together our priorities and international engagement strategies." While the issues of mass hunger and poverty in the developing world at large did not get anything like the focus African poverty has got in the Summit and in the run-up to it, it raised trade issues connected with barriers to products and services of interest to developing countries and spotlighted the "fundamental requirement" of achieving "substantive progress, by the end of July 2005, regarding agricultural negotiations, access to non-agricultural markets, services, trade facilitation and rules." It demanded a reduction in "trade-distorting" domestic support for agriculture in developed countries, and an end to all forms of export subsidies by a date to be agreed. On the gamut of issues relating to climate change, the Joint Declaration highlighted the key point that the international regime represented by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol rest on "the differentiation of obligations among Parties," according to "the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of States," namely the developed as distinct from the developing countries. It will be tough sailing for the informally banded group of five in a world where the Bush administration, and like-minded developed country governments, refuse to accept any such dictum.

India’s stand-

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a strong pitch at the G8 summit for converting environmentally clean technologies into a “public good” — to be shared without the restrictions of the Intellectual Property Rights regime. He said technology was available today for eradicating poverty, ill health and protecting the environment but unless “proper mechanisms” were developed, the benefits would not reach the developing countries. Clean energy technologies that would prevent global warming by not generating greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide needed to be shared, Singh said. For this, he argued, the international community needed to address the issues relating to intellectual property rights, find new financing mechanisms for spreading the use of new clean energy technologies in the developing world and collaborative international research in environmentally sustainable technologies on the same scale as was done in the field of agriculture in the 60s. He has reiterated that the G8’s action plan on the environment must not come at the cost of development. But he has much more clearly articulated the core value that the G8 should take into consideration. It would be tragic if the G8 were to enact measures that made it difficult for millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty. At a very abstract level, it is easy to pronounce that the care of the environment and reduction in poverty can go together. But the concrete measures that are often proposed in the name of protecting the environment have repercussions for developing countries. These measures diminish their comparative cost advantages and often act as a non-tariff barrier against greater exports. The implication of the prime minister’s intervention is to direct our attention to the concrete costs and benefits of specific measures. He has taken a leadership role is asserting that developing countries will make these trade-offs on their own terms. But the other implication of the prime minister’s stance is that mere development alone cannot be a paramount value in judging the impact of environmental measures. The argument about development is often used indiscriminately to block any sane discussion on the environment. But development as an argument is justified only if its relation with poverty reduction is made clear. This stance is also consistent with some of the other demands India has put forward — like the relaxation of intellectual property rights in the case of specified new technologies and the dissemination of affordable technology. In each of the cases the core value of reducing poverty is paramount. In fact by stressing poverty reduction, the prime minister has cut through some of the polarities that have marked recent debates. The choice between developing versus developed countries, environment versus growth, intellectual property rights versus a regime without such rights, big versus small technology, is simply a false choice. The issue is simply which elements of these different positions will help the poor and which won’t. But to be swayed by a dogmatic allegiance to one side of the argument will almost certainly not help the poor.

Cheap solar power for villages (July Week 2 (2005))

For as low as Rs 10 a day, a villager can avail of solar power in his home, an amount that he pays a grameen bank for financing his solar power system. And it is such innovative financing that has led Bangalore-based Solar Electric Company or SELCO to win the Rs 24 lakh 'Green Oscar' award this year. SELCO managing director and co-founder H. Harish Hande is one of three Indians to win the prestigious award (actually known as the Ashden award) for his company’s mission: alleviating poverty through sustainable energy technologies. SELCO operates in places such as Sirsi, Bidar, Gulbarga and Kumta. It sells all-in-one power systems that can, depending on the requirement, electrify one bulb (meaning one room) to four bulbs. Fans and television sets can also be 'powered' if the villagers can afford them. Costs range from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000. "So far, we have installed 42,000 such systems," Hande is reported to have said. “The system improves income levels too. Villagers save money on kerosene and women make more money because they can work for longer hours," he explained. SELCO plans to reach 1.38 lakh households in rural Karnataka by 2010.

Monkey experiments resume at NIV (July Week 2 (2005))

Scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) campus, Pune, have reason to smile. The crucial experiments on vaccine development, held up since 2001 for want of rhesus monkeys, are now underway in full swing. Wildlife enthusiasts had “rescued” 50 monkeys from NIV sometime in 2001 citing cruelty to animals. The then Union minister for animal welfare, Maneka Gandhi, who was also chairperson of the Central Committee for Purpose of Control and Supervision on Experimental Animals (CPCSEA), backed these protests and ultimately, had the CPCSEA ban the sole supplier of monkeys in Nainital. As a result, the NIV found it difficult to continue investigations into major viruses like Hepatitis viruses, Influenza, Measles and Rota. While other research animals like mice, guinea pigs and rabbits were used, crucial work on vaccine development suffered. In fact, projects in various national institutes across the country had to be put on hold and as a result, various initiatives on vaccine production have fallen behind schedule. NIV has confirmed that they received the first batch of 20 monkeys in the last week of June. The projects that were pending for over three years were sanctioned by the Animal Welfare Board only last month and the monkeys were dispatched from Uttar Pradesh by their registered supplier. NIV is one of the premier institutes of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and has investigated over 300 epidemics of suspected viral aetiology in the country.

Hospital uses a novel water management strategy (July Week 2 (2005)) The Aravind Eye Hospital in Thavalakuppam near Pondicherry not only treats eye ailments but also treats water that it uses. And with the treated water, it has a sprawling garden with 300 avenue trees, 250 coconut trees, 50 mango trees and 45,000 sq ft of lawns with Korean grass and lots of flowering plants. "Each day the hospital uses about 2,50,000 liters of water and of that about 2 lakh liters is treated and reused to water the gardens. When we started the hospital here, there was no drainage system so we had to do something about the water that we used and so the treatment plant came to be", says G. Venkataswamy, chairman, Aravind Eye Care System. The water, which is collected in three septic tanks, is passed through anaerobic filters and passed up and down through vertical pipes. From the filters the water is directly pumped to a buffer tank and from there the water is allowed to pass through gravel filters and then comes to a polishing pond where then the enrichment of oxygen takes place. The pond also has a fresh batch of fish swimming around and making it look all the more beautiful. The system was set up in 2003 and the garden received the Pondicherry Government's award for the best garden for the year 2004. “We like to keep the environment, our surroundings and our hospital clean, which is why we take so much care about each and everything” says the hospital staff. Commendable!
Long wait for circus animals to rehabilitated (July Week 2 (2005))

The West Bengal chief wildlife warden (CWW) these days is playing a thorn in the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) flesh by its undoing about taking 15 surrendered circus animals -- 11 tigers, 2 lions and 2 Himalayan black bears -- to its new Madarihat rescue center, near Jalpaiguri, even as the CZA sent Rs 55 lakh to it for construction of the center. To add to it, the CWW officials and the circus companies are passing bucks to each other over who will take the animals to the rescue center and bear the cost of transportation. Every other week the WB CWW is shooting letters for money either for such transportation, or cages and feeds. About 150 captivated circus animals - tigers, lions and bears - are awaiting rehabilitation at rescue centers. Three new ones - at Madarihat (North Bengal), Nandankanan (Orissa) and Bhopal are coming up for them with the Vizag center being expanded. The CZA has already released Rs 4.5 crore for the purpose. Whether this money will ever be put to its intended use remains to be seen.

CBC supports Scheduled Tribes Bill (July Week 2 (2005))

The Center for Biodiversity Center (CBC), Thiruvananthapuram, has strongly supported the Central Government's move to enact the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, as the essential first step in reforming the country's forest management regime. "The accelerating pace of forest destruction in the country could be reversed only be bringing the Adivasis, the historical custodians of our forests, back to the center stage of forest management” the CBS chief said in a media release. He also said that it was the organic affinity of the Adivasis towards the forests that had saved what little is left of forest wealth in the country today. "The amazing knowledge of Adivasis about the forests and wildlife alone is enough to qualify them as the best stewards of the forests. But the colonial Forest Act of 1927 had alienated them from the forestland and threw them into the abyss of poverty where as poverty was previously unknown in the Adivasi areas. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, quite in line with the colonial policy, sealed the fate of 67.7 million indigenous people of India. This must be undone. The forest management, in order for it to be successful, ought to be restructured by recognizing the role of Adivasis as the critical player in sustainable forest management” he said. Mr. Chief might be right about the knowledge and affinity of the Adivasis towards the forests. However, it is one thing to involve the tribes in the management of forests and quite another to make them uncontested owners of the forests (which is what the bill proposes to do).

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