The Durban climate negotiations are over and as delegates make their way home the outcomes sink in – a treaty will be reached by 2015 to include developed and developing economies. But what has been the significance of the talks for local energy organisations in the developing world? Priyadarshini Karve has just spent two weeks in Durban to represent both Ashden Award winner ARTI and the NEXUS group. Carla Jones, interviews her about her experience of the two week talks.
CJ: How did you come to be at the climate change meetings in Durban?
PK: I wore several hats in Durban! I went as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nexus Carbon for Development, which is an international alliance of NGOs and social enterprises working together to access carbon finance for pro-poor sustainable development projects. ARTI is a founder member of Nexus, and I am ARTI’s representative on the board.
CJ: How has ARTI done since winning its Ashden Award in 2006?
PK: Winning the 2006 Ashden Award (which was our second Ashden Award) certainly put ARTI in the limelight as an energy innovator in India. We have come a long way since then with the biogas technology for which we won the award. What was then considered as an efficient household energy solution in both rural and urban areas is fast evolving as a decentralised waste management-cum-household energy solution for urban areas. Our initiative with other Asian organisations to create Nexus has also been a forward looking step, based on the recognition that our biogas technology is a potentially emissions reducing technology that could be eligible for carbon finance.
CJ: What did you hope to achieve for ARTI in Durban?
PK: My primary focus was to understand the changing scenario in carbon and climate finance – not just from the perspective of ARTI, but from the perspective of all the member organisations of Nexus. But of course coming from ARTI, I am certainly more ‘tuned’ to the implications for decentralised renewable energy projects in India, which is the specific sphere of ARTI’s activities.
CJ: What role can decentralised renewable energy play for developing countries?
PK: Renewable energy by its very nature is better suited for an equitable and fair energy access infrastructure. A shift to a renewables-based energy system can certainly move a developing country towards energy self–sufficiency but the gains at the national level would be even greater if the emphasis were on decentralised renewables rather than just replacing coal fired power plants with wind or solar farms. Decentralised systems will give people better control over energy infrastructure and therefore better access to energy.
The centralised approach which several developing countries seem to be taking (and I see that reflected in some of the side events I saw here in Durban), might help them keep their emissions low while energy consumption at the national level goes up. But most of these installations will service the needs of industry and urban areas, and the rural poor will continue to have no access to energy services.
The decentralised approach (which certainly is feasible with renewables) on the other hand will allow everyone (rural populations as well as industries and urban populations) to create energy access in a way that best suits their needs. The advantage of this approach is so obvious that it is quite frustrating to see it being totally ignored just because of the governmental phobia of losing control over energy supply!
CJ: How will an internationally coordinated approach to technology transfer benefit your sector and your work? Have you already benefitted in the sharing of technology?
PK: Our biogas technology is an ‘open source’ technology. We have produced a detailed video film showing how to build and operate your own biogas plant, and we sell it off at a very nominal price just to cover the cost of making copies. Thousands of people across the world have purchased the film and built their own plants. We cannot track everyone, but based on people’s responses, we know that there are ARTI biogas plants being operated and promoted in various countries in Asia and Africa. We firmly believe in the ‘open source’ approach rather than the traditional ‘technology transfer’ arrangements.
CJ: What do you think the role of the Green Climate Fund should be in the development of a market for clean energy for the poorest?
PK: As a first step, we need globally applicable and quantifiable indicators to identify the effectiveness of any clean energy project in poverty reduction. We do not agree with the approach of focusing carbon finance on least developed countries. We want the funding mechanisms to focus on pro-poor projects anywhere in the world. That is because climate change will affect all poor people across the world. As a second step, on the basis of these indicators, we need a special set of financing mechanisms applicable to pro-poor projects. Pro-poor projects are costlier and riskier, but when successful deliver a plethora of social and economic benefits in addition to the obvious environmental benefits. This fact needs to be recognised and appreciated in financing mechanisms and policies that will compel funders to support more pro-poor projects than large scale projects like carbon capture for example, which do not deliver any social co-benefits.
This was the gist of the presentation I gave at the Nexus organised side event on Dec 7, on financing clean energy for poor populations. It was well received by the audience which was a mix of project developers, donors, and carbon consultants.
CJ: Who have been some of the most interesting people you have met over the last two weeks?
PK: As well as attending and speaking at events, I spent some time at the Nexus exhibition booth, interacting with people who dropped by. In this process I have met a wide spectrum of people: representatives from governments, African NGOs, international and green NGOs clean businesses, donors and bankers. It seems to me that everyone knows what needs to be done – except for the people who are supposed to make these things happen on our behalf!
CJ: What do you think of the outcome with regards to a global treaty on carbon emissions?
PK: Based on what I am hearing and seeing in Durban, I would be happy if developing countries (including India and China) can leave Durban without having to accept the so called ‘legally binding’ targets. There was a huge pressure being put on them – especially the BASIC countries. It almost looked as if the developing countries were being blackmailed into accepting targets to ‘save’ the Kyoto protocol. Even the media set out to make villains out of BASIC members for ‘blocking’ progress. I feel this is grossly unfair and is nothing but bullying tactics by some of the Annexe I countries. I would therefore be happy if these tactics are successfully resisted by the developing countries. Apart from that there is nothing substantial really to be hoped for the way the talks seem to be going.
CJ: Are you glad that you went?
PK: I am glad that I went as it was a great experience to be in the vicinity of internationally important events unfolding on a daily basis (although the events were more disappointing than encouraging!). It was also a great opportunity to interact with a wide range of people from all over the world, and to get various perspectives on climate change, renewable energy and sustainable development.
CJ: What do you think of the outcome with regards to the move towards a global treaty? What impact will this have on the work of ARTI over the next few years?
PK: The outcome of COP 17 is nothing to be happy about. It seems that the individuals participating in every COP realise what needs to be done, but do not want to be the people to bell the cat. So the ministers (who may not be around in 2015/2018) postpone the task for someone else to perform at a later date.
A question that I had raised in an informal meeting of civil society representatives from India at Durban still remains unanswered. The targets under Kyoto Protocol were supposed to be 'legally binding'. It is a fact that these targets (which were inadequate to start with anyway) have not been met by several Annexe I countries. So in response everyone is getting slightly more time to meet the targets, but USA, which is the biggest emitter still remains out of it, and Canada has declared that it is opting out. So where is the 'legal bind'? Can a small island nation like Maldives (which is facing a real threat of being totally submerged in a few decades) go to an international court and get any punitive action carried out against those who are not meeting their 'legal' obligations and thereby threatening its existence?