India Launches Climate Research Network

NEW DELHI—India has announced the creation of a new program for climate studies, the Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment (INCCA). Speaking in parliament on 3 December, India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh, a mechanical engineer, said the country needs to invest in the field because India is one of the “most vulnerable to climate change” but doesn’t produce its own research data. Most relevant studies have been done by western scientists, he said. The new plan calls for setting up a network of 220 scientists at 20 institutions within India. The government’s goal, Ramesh explained, is to develop an “independent and credible research capacity.”

Subodh K. Sharma, a climatologist and national project director for climate change at the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), says the government is commissioning 57 studies on a range of topics, including the impact of climate change on agriculture, forests, oceans, coastal zones, and cities. “The total funding is still being worked out but it could be of the order of $250 million over 5 years,” says Sharma. He notes that $4 million has already been earmarked over 3 years to gather satellite and ground-based data for a study of the impact of warming on Himalayan glaciers.

One of India’s aims, said Ramesh, is to counterbalance the “sensationalism going on in the name of climate science.” MoEF last month released a study contesting the view—circulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007—that global warming could cause the Himalayan glaciers to disappear by 2035. Ramesh cited this example and an earlier disagreement over the amount of methane produced by Indian agriculture as cases where Indian science could make a strong, independent contribution. Officials say the first full report on “India’s assessment” of climate change will be available by November 2010.

Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, a climatologist at the National Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Tirupati, welcomed the national research initiative. He says it “will help in focusing Indian research, especially since climate change is a complex multi-disciplinary subject where India has really not contributed enough.”

As it prepared for the Copenhagen summit on climate change, India said it will not accept binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It declared instead a goal of reducing carbon emission intensity (carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP) by 20% to 25% below the 2005 levels by 2020. Some industry leaders have endorsed this pledge. Jamshyd N. Godrej, chair of the Climate Change Council of the Confederation of Indian Industry here, said “this reduction in emission intensity over the next 15 years is completely doable and will give the opportunity for India to lead by synchronizing a low carbon growth.”