While much of the negotiations at the UN climate change meet in Bonn (28 March to 8 April) centred around targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions - mainly, but by no means exclusively by industrial countries, and funding developing countries to follow suit - the transfer of energy-efficient technologies was also hotly debated.
This follows in the wake of the negotiations in Bali in 2007, where developing countries, among some 190 present, agreed to take "nationally appropriate" mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, in a "measurable, reportable and verifiable" manner. The proviso was that such actions would take into account "differences in their national circumstances".
In Bonn, Greenpeace called for developing countries to reduce their projected emissions by 15-30 per cent by 2020, with support from industrialised countries. As it stated: "Countries in this group range from the very poor nations which have scarcely contributed to climate change, to those that are richer than some industrialised countries and clearly cannot all be treated the same. In order to be fair, the level of action should be based on a country's historical responsibility for emissions and its capability and potential."
After eight years in the wilderness, the US - which has not signed the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012 and will be renegotiated in Copenhagen this December - has returned to the table. President Obama's Special Envoy on Climate Change (India's equivalent is Shyam Saran), Todd Stern made no secret of his country's continuing antipathy to the Kyoto Protocol, which does not require developing countries to commit to reducing their energy emissions. Stern is a Washington lawyer who was a former Clinton While House official.
"We all have to do this together," he told the Bonn conference. "We don't have a magic wand. I don't think anybody should be thinking that the US can ride on a white horse and make it all work ... Let me speak frankly here: it is in no one's interest to repeat the experience of Kyoto by delivering an agreement that won't gain sufficient support at home [in the US] ... Too much time has been lost in sterile debates ... America itself cannot provide the solution, but there is no solution without America."
He also thought that the development challenge was making sure that developing countries have the opportunity to follow a cleaner path forward. "I like to tell the story that earlier this decade, India had only about 55 million people with phone service, but, rather than insist on following the industrialised countries' path of wired service, India leap-frogged to cell phones, with the result that a few years later 350 million Indians have phones. We need a similar leap-frogging of fossil fuels in the world of energy."
The engineering and manufacturing of the Pharox bulb has been carried out in India, and it is estimated that if all Indians were to replace one incandescent bulb with this bulb, it would save 56 billion kWh of electricity, and 44 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, which would be equal to planting 140 million trees. (Image source: coolgreengadgets.com)
The problem is that energy-efficient technologies are by no means cost-free, and developed countries - which have caused global warming in the first place - haven't put their money where their collective mouths are, despite repeated promises to this effect. In Bonn, developing countries called for relaxation of patents on climate-friendly technologies and products. India, in fact, stressed the need for removing barriers to technology transfer, including a "restructuring of the global Intellectual Property Rights regime".
Shyam Saran specifically referred to India's proposal that the UN climate control regime should set up "innovation centres" for research and development. During a plenary session, Dr Ajay Mathur, who heads the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in Delhi, cited an instance of such potential cooperation by holding up India's first commercially available LED (light emitting diodes) bulb, which had been launched by Crompton Greaves in Pune on 28 March. As Dr Mathur said, "It produces as much light as a 40 Watt incandescent bulb or an 8 Watt CFL (compact fluorescent). This has been introduced by an Indian company, which has entered into an agreement with the Dutch company which designed this LED bulb.
"The engineering and manufacturing of this bulb has been carried out in India, and it is estimated that if all Indians were to replace one incandescent bulb with this bulb, it would save 56 billion kWh of electricity, and 44 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, which would be equal to planting 140 million trees.
"The problem is that this LED bulb costs $24 [Rs.1200], compared to $0.30 for a 40 Watt incandescent bulb. We will, of course, encourage the aggressive adoption of this technology, but it will be limited unless supported by a global regime for the accelerated adoption of climate-friendly technologies. We believe that a network of climate innovation centres would be an effective way to achieve this goal."
Dr Mathur told India Together that while the capital cost of the Pharox bulb was high, it had a five-year warranty. It had a life of 50,000 hours, as against a life of only a fifth of this for a CFL. Even CFL bulbs cost Rs.1000 when they were first introduced. The glass bulb has been manufactured in Firozabad, which is a traditional glass industry centre. Such technology could earn carbon credits because of its low consumption of energy.
Although the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, the EU has till 2015 to purchase carbon credits, which may not exist after then. In the current financial meltdown, the price of Certified Emission Reductions or CERs - the traded cost of reducing a tonne of carbon dioxide - has dropped in the international carbon market but should stabilise in the long term at around 8 Euros, which would work in such a deal without grants or subsidies. "We are working on upscaling this technology even without international support," Dr Mathur said. "The only way to reduce our emissions by half is by the massive transfer of technologies."
India's innovation centres were required for developing such products and also marketing them - virtually creating markets in some instances. The Electricity Act here didn't permit private operators to generate power but there was a huge opportunity for decentralised energy systems to provide electricity and cooking fuel to some 700 million Indians who had to make do without these two basic necessities. For cooking fuel, biomass, which is widely available in rural areas, would be energy-efficient and received a 60 per cent subsidy.
The Bush administration and Obama's too have preferred entering into bilateral environmental agreements with India and China instead of committing to international treaties. Thus Bush had launched the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, with Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea. At the end of the Bonn conference, the US Deputy Special Envoy on Climate, Dr Jonathan Pershing, told Indian reporters that senior US and Indian officials and businessmen were meeting each other and that there was "enormous support" to facilitate such opportunities.
Flaring landfill gas
For example, according to America.gov, the official website, U.S. and Indian organizations are exploring ways to use methane gas from Indian landfills for fuel, heating and electricity with the Mumbai office of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, NEERI. Landfills, decomposing food and paper release gas, including methane gas, which is 23 times worse in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Methane is also the primary component of natural gas, used as a fuel and energy source.
Zietsman's group is leading a study in Mumbai to investigate the feasibility of converting landfill gas to vehicle fuel or energy sources. Other partners in the study include NEERI, the Texas State Energy Office and Mack Trucks Inc. The investigations are funded by EPA as part of the agency's Methane to Markets partnership - an international initiative advancing cost-effective methane recovery and use as a clean energy source. (See "International Partners Reduce Methane Greenhouse Gas Emissions").
"India is one of 27 partner governments, plus the European Commission, who have joined the partnership to voluntarily reduce methane emissions," Rachel Goldstein, EPA team leader for the landfill methane outreach program, told America.gov. According to Kumar, operating vehicles with LNG would reduce vehicular emissions considerably. This option "could be more relevant for cities like Mumbai, which has a large population and generates about 6,000 tonnes of waste per day."
EPA's Goldstein said the next step "is for each municipality running a landfill to assess their options," including estimating the revenue anticipated from generating electricity and selling the gas. For one Mumbai landfill, the choice has been made. "The Gorai dumpsite will soon be the first landfill in India, as far as we know, to begin flaring landfill gas, when this begins at the end of April," Goldstein said. Worldwide, millions of tonnes of municipal solid waste are discarded daily into sanitary landfills and dumpsites. Landfills are the third-largest human-induced source of methane gas, accounting for about 12 per cent of global emissions.
Developing countries wary
One reason why India and other developing countries may be wary of such deals is that after such technologies are demonstrated on the ground, they may be commercially exploited in the international market. In other words, such pilot projects may be testing grounds to see how this know-how works in tropical conditions. By entering into such deals, the US may seek to avoid parting with patented technologies under a global climate regime.
It has, for example, been pursuing the "carbon capture and sequestration" method of scrubbing carbon dioxide from the chimneys of coal-fired power plants, which would reduce the emissions by up to 80-90%. This carbon dioxide can then be buried deep in the earth or in storage tanks in ocean beds. However, this is extremely expensive and untested technology, which however could conceivably be cost-effective in the long run when the cost of reducing a tonne of carbon rises prohibitively. But right now, there are a range of existing technologies which would help developing countries, but industrial nations have shown extreme reluctance to part with them without a fee.