Change the Lens and the Climate will change


World leaders are meeting this week in Paris (COP21) to discuss and agree on collective  actions to be taken to combat Climate Change. I don’t know whether the 10oC weather in Paris is going to be conducive to the discussions on the 2oC plus issue, especially to the  warm and warming country like India

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report showing that global emissions levels should not exceed 48 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent by  2025, and 42 GT by 2030 to avoid crossing the change of 2oC on average above pre-industrial temperatures. The 2oC threshold is regarded by scientists as the limit of  safety, beyond which the ravages of climate change – such as droughts, floods, heat waves  and sea level rise – are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

Think about rise in our body temperature by 20C – isn’t it enough to feel feverish? So for the planet earth a 20C rise is like an influenza hit by viral infection that may not be easy to handle through conventional medications such as a crocin or metacin. Perhaps even the antibiotics may not work!

One of the medicines to combat the ‘Planet Carbon Fever’ is taking pledges, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). INDCs are likely to lead to emissions of 53 to 58 GT of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2025, and between 54 and 59 GT in 2030. The task in Paris will be to convert these INDCs into harder commitments. Idea is to get the 2030 projected aggregate to 50 billion tonnes or lower, and then set the world on a trajectory to net zero carbon emissions by 2100.

Afforestation has been one of the commonly expressed commitments across the INDCs. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that sequestration through afforestation would require up to twice the landmass of Africa to stay below 20C. That is just not possible. We therefore need multiple interventions. The National  Governments will have to go much further in their pledges to limit future carbon dioxide emissions.


But the root, we all know, is overconsumption and that is more about a self-pledge and not about INDC.

I wonder how much will the carbon footprint be of the Paris COP21 itself. I am sure someone not attending the meeting is calculating!

I don’t particularly like the term INDC as it is difficult to pronounce. It is even more difficult to remember its expansion. And the terms ‘intended’ and ‘determined’ are complex to comprehend and communicate to a lay person


Clearly, the INDCs will require regular re-appraisals, probably every five years, to know  the progress. This would be a new departure, as the history of UN-brokered deals on climate change to date has been a stop-start process, with major conferences – such as  Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009. The GHG accounting business will certainly flourish if not the actions.

You should carefully read India’s submission of INDC. It’s a 38-page report that outlines  projects, programs and policy measures that India intends to implement along with  climate-related financing. While all key aspects such as renewable energy, energy  efficiency, green infrastructure, sustainable mobility, smart cities and climate finance are detailed, the section on pollution abatement is rather poor and not stated in context. It  appears a bit out-of-place showing the weakness of Environment Ministry as against other Ministries, especially the Ministry of Power. You will also see that most actions proposed are ‘obvious’ or already committed or initiated in the country, independent of the call on climate change. The drivers for these actions are economic, taking into account the status of national and world resources, addressing poor infrastructure (transport, energy and infrastructure in cities) and political priorities. Our climate change related commitments are thus essentially like old wine in new bottle! INDCs of other countries  also follow the same pattern. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing assuming that a ‘laundry list’ of interventions will now get integrated and will be operated in a mission mode.

We must not forget that business has been and will be influencing the national  governments during the negotiations. Nexus between energy, socio-economic development and climate change is rather complex and business is bound to play a rather
slippery and changing role. One does see therefore that most of the intentions expressed by business are cosmetic commitments. The oil industry for instance is emphasizing that natural gas – fracked or otherwise – is the future of clean energy, despite evidence showing that methane leakage during the extraction process can cause more damage to the atmosphere than coal. ExxonMobil has put an internal price on carbon, between $60 and $80 a tonne but they’re still investing in the use of fossil fuels. Response from multinational business houses is going to be like a chameleon changing colors, given the unevenness in the INDC and the skewed geopolitical context. I agree that I sound rather skeptical here.

The business implications of climate change have reached the level of grass-root farmers.  The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture in Paris for instance is supposed to help small farmers adapt to climate change while reducing emissions. The Alliance has defined ‘climate smart agriculture’ to add a new green tint to business as usual, promoting the same practices that have led to deforestation, land grabs, biodiversity loss and soaring emissions. The Alliance seems to be hijacked however, by synthetic fertilizer companies  like Yara and Monsanto. More than 350 civil society groups are calling on COP21 to reject the concept and the Alliance, labelling it ‘green-washed false solutions’.

So the COP21 in Paris is not just a discussion between the political leaders of governments  but a complex maze of hidden forces triggered by the business of the powerful, mighty NGOs and researchers/academicians who often provide conflicting information.

There is a lot for the business to win and lose due to actions on climate change. The  renewable energy sector will particularly be on the rise and pressure on fossil fuel based  energy generation is expected to increase closer to 2030. Investors are showing their preferences too, especially towards renewable energy.

Innovation to address climate change is a hope. Here we will see emergence of special  funds and long-term partnerships being struck between the academia and the industry in  the form of business models. In India we have more than 40 research parks today but none of these parks are looking at producing low-carbon materials, goods/products and services, with combating Climate Change as the umbrella theme. We will certainly need to work on capitalizing innovation while meeting the emission reduction targets. Make in India is therefore very relevant and critical.


spoke to my Professor friend about my concerns and observations and asked him whether he was attending the COP21 on behalf of the Government of India. He said indeed he is but this time he has a major role to play as he has been appointed by the UNFCC. I was excited to know more, so we met at our usual coffee shop.

“First of all, on the logistics front,” said the Professor. “All COP21 participants will be staying at hotels with lowest carbon footprints. These hotels have been identified through the application of a comprehensive software application provided by the World Resources Institute followed by site visits conducted by KPMG. To prepare for the event, all staff at these hotels are given an orientation program on Climate Change by Winrock International so that they can understand and converse with the participants in the  ‘carbon language’. The hotel menus have been decarbonized (low-carb diet essentially) by experts from the FAO. All participants will use public transport. Taxi drivers have been instructed not to take any participants to the conference venue. The idea is to lower the  carbon footprint of the event to the extent possible. These are all my ideas,” the Professor paused to light his cigar.

Oh, you are really looking at all the details I said

There are many such details that I have worked on as regards the venue, but I would rather tell you about the major step that we have taken. It’s a secret that will guarantee success  in the negotiations – of course all in the interest of this planet.

The Professor was now speaking in a serious tone. So I asked for a second round of coffee.

“One of the major reasons for conflicts and arguments at such meetings is the lack of  common vision. Further some leaders are either short-sighted and remain so – causing an  obstacle to the long-term thinking and understanding of climate change. Some leaders  have a blurred vision and some have color blindness so what they often see is not real!  Their suggestions and arguments remain irrelevant.

To correct this situation, we have opened a state-of-the-art eye clinic at the COP21 venue  right at the registration counter. Services of the clinic are free and those who use these  services will get a free pass to some of the best cabarets in Paris such as Lido, Crazy Horse  etc. This is an added attraction.

(I started imagining Lido full of climate-sensitive people attending the second show.)


(Eye Clinic at COP21 for Vision Correction)

The Professor continued

“In the clinic, we will examine the eyes of every participant, see his/her nationality and  INDC and provide or change the lenses to correct his/her vision. Visions of all participants  with myopia (shortsightedness) will be corrected with appropriate lenses. Participants  who wear trifocals or bifocals will be given a progressive lens. Progressive lenses have a smooth progression of power, enabling the wearer to see at intermediate distances as well as near and far. We expect that after changing the lens the participants will take progressive steps towards implementation of their INDCs. Essentially, these participants  will take a balanced position for 2030, 2050 and 2100 scenarios and not just focus on 2030.

For business honchos, we will be offering photochromic lenses that automatically darken  when exposed to sunlight, eliminating the need for separate sunglasses. Using these lenses, the business tycoons will be able to manage their transition to different  geographies, while meeting their personal or business pursuits.

I suspect most influential NGOs are color blind so I will be providing them Enchroma Red-Green lenses.

For economies in transition, I have proposed polarized lenses with antireflective coating  or blue light protection that reduces glare reflected off surfaces, making images appear sharper and clearer. Participants from transitional economies often suffer from a blurred  vision due to astigmatism.

For troubled economies, I have recommended polycarbonate lenses that are resilient and  impact-resistant. These leaders need such a lens as they are really on a roller coaster of
internal conflicts and wars that are unnecessary.

Then there will be an eye surgery unit that will fix problems of Presbyopia (age-related  long sight), Cataracts and Glaucoma. Again no charges will be levied and the vision will be restored or corrected.

This is wonderful Professor. I said “by changing the lens and restoring the vision of the  participants to what it should be, you will certainly influence the outcome of COP21.”

“Keep this a secret,” the Professor extinguished his cigar and said.

“Well, so far so good. I wanted however, your advice. What lenses should I recommend for  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar?”

I decided to settle the bill as perhaps this was an easier option than answering the question.

(cover image sourced from )



  1. I really enjoyed your article Prasad. The views presented in a polished manner are excellent You deserve a loud applause.
    Why such a conference is held in Paris? Will the purpose be served? These are billion dollar questions answer. Unconcerned people for several years are suddenly started reciting buzz words like CO2 emissions and carbon footprint without knowing its deeper meaning. After 4 years another group of people from the world will gather in some other place for the same purpose.. As an analyst, I am still confused of reliable estimation of carbon footprints with statistical accuracy. Can it be done?
    Noting comes out of such policy level conferences. Global warning on warming is an issue being handled by the unconcerned. Organising a Video conference would have been cheaper and environmentally friendly. Let us decide to waste money and time..

    In a lighter vein
    Conference is the gathering of distinguished ( unconcerned) personalities who can not do anything and collectively decide that nothing can be done. Only unanimity is on the next conference venue, say, Banff in Canada.
    Indian Scenario
    Infrastructure development is roads, flyovers, industry, large multi complexes and the last is environment. . In 1969, discharging waste water into sea ( and pollute the sea( was adopted by MCGB-and the reason was (and is) that there is no money for constructing waste water treatment plants. In my view there is no political and administrative will power. I did express my views in those days but who cares?
    Professor Ashok Deshpande.

  2. Dear Dr. Modak

    Your professor called me this morning to request you to kindly not to invite him for coffee next time as someone who wasn’t invited is furiously calculating all those GHG emissions from those coffee meetings – amount of electricity used to brew so many rounds of coffee, resources used to grow coffee, processing, transportation, grinding milk sugar disposal of waste…… List goes on. He will get back once the people shift their focus on people drinking beer and until then kindly lay low. In the mean time he Will be happy to communicate with you in his new mansion given by Mr. Midi, in recognition of the excellent services rendered by the professor in facilitating BJP win in the recent Bihar elections. Hope you understand and appreciate the rationale behind his decision.

    Warmest regards Panneer from Manila airport Qatar airlines lounge.


    Sent from my iPhone


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