The Global Commons Today — Issues and Challenges


Keynote Address presented (slides are here) the International Conference on the Global Commons, organised by Department of Politics and International Relations, Pondicherry University and the Faculty of Law, Social and Political Sciences, University of Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris-Cite. Thanks to Prof. Mohanan for the invitation.

I don’t have a written talk. And I have also taken some slides from Tejal Kanitkar’s Manthan presentation for my use here  for making a different, though quite related, argument.




Q&A with Times of India on IPCC Special Report on Global Warming at 1.5 deg C



(The version appearing in print in the Times of India of 22nd Oct., 2018 is an edited down version of this full text from the interview by Sugandha Indulkar of TOI).

What, for you, were the most significant changes between the latest IPCC report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade, and the earlier reports?

The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming at 1.5 degrees, to give it its official title, is particularly noteworthy because it was in response to a specific request from the Parties to the Paris agreement. For the first time in the Paris agreement the limit of 1.5 degrees centigrade of global warming above pre-industrial levels was mentioned as a goal that countries should strive to achieve. Hence a special report from the IPCC was called for.  Subsequently, in designing the outline of the report, it was agreed that it would look at the methods of achieving these goals; involving, mitigation options and consequences of adaptation even to 1.5 degrees of warming. It would also examine the differences between mitigation and adaptation for a 1.5 deg and 2 deg target for limiting global temperature rise, while keeping up the goal of sustainable development. So in this respect, the report was significantly different.

With respect to specific details,  the report makes it very clear that the difficulty of reaching the 2 deg target  was less steep compared to achieving the 1.5 deg  target. At the current rate of emissions, of about 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, the cumulative emissions permitted for the 1.5 deg target would be reached very quickly — between 10 to 30 years from now on. For the first time, the report introduces a widespread role for negative emissions arising especially through methods of removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Some of these methods have been field tested on a limited scale, but by and large the scale on which they are required for a 1.5 deg limit are significantly very difficult, some would say impossible, to achieve.

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Climate Action and the North–South Divide: An Assessment of COP23



At COP23 in Bonn, notwithstanding the United States’ announcement of its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the developed countries remained united in diluting or reneging on their commitments to developing countries, particularly on the issues of finance, and loss and damage. In a concerted pushback, the latter obtained a few important procedural gains, including bringing back to the negotiations the issue of equityin the implementation ofthe agreement.

Published in Economic and Political Weekly, 23rd Dec., 2017, vol. 52, Issue no. 51.


Following the general celebration that attended the signing of the Paris Agreement, the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Marrakech in November 2016 was already something of a let-down, coinciding with the election of Donald Trump, the arch proponent of climate inaction, to the presidency ofthe United States (US). A year later, with the expected announcement of the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement having come true, COP23 (Bonn, Germany, 6–17 November 2017) began with two interrelated issues being of keen interest. One was what the attitude of the US would be in the negotiations, since, by the terms of the Paris Agreement, it would be three years before their withdrawal would take effect. The second was the progress that would be made towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement under the circumstances and who would be, as the global media would have it, the “climate leader” in the event of the withdrawal of the US.

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Spurious linkages between extreme temperatures and farmer suicides


KAMAL KUMAR MURARI, Assistant Professor, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

MADHURA SWAMINATHAN, Professor, Economic Analysis Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Bengaluru.

T. JAYARAMAN, Professor, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

A recent paper, published by the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States) and authored by Tamma A. Carleton, titled “Climate Change and Agricultural Suicides in India” claims that “temperature during India’s main agricultural growing season has a strong positive effect on annual suicide rates.” Using state-level data for 1967 to 2013, the author suggests that an increase in 1°C temperature in a single day can cause 70 suicides. It also claimed that the evidence leads to the conclusion that it is the damage to crops by extreme temperatures that leads to economic hardship and suicide.

Regrettably, the paper has received widespread uncritical coverage in the Indian media.

We consider these claims to be baseless. These claims are a consequence of the uncritical use of data, bad assumptions, flawed analysis and unacceptable neglect of the existing literature on global warming and Indian agriculture as well as farmer suicides. Taking the conclusions of the paper at face value would lead, we strongly believe, to dangerously incorrect policy measures. Such conclusions also divert from the study of the real challenges that global warming, and extreme temperatures in particular, poses for Indian agriculture.

The paper is marked by several serious errors. The paper:

  • Incorrectly uses suicide data

  • Wrongly identifies extreme temperatures for crop production,

  • Wrongly identifies only kharif as the relevant agricultural season in which to consider extreme temperatures, and

  • Wrongly identifies the relevant crops.

As a result, the meaning of the correlation that the author claims to find between extreme temperatures and suicides is unclear. The manner in which the paper analyses the link between extreme temperatures and crop production is wrong.

The signatories to this press note have themselves conducted a detailed study of the impact of extreme temperatures on crop production in Karnataka, one among several such studies conducted by other responsible Indian and foreign authors. No such study provides any corroborative evidence for the dramatic conclusions of this paper.

The authors of this press note have also submitted a formal comment on the paper to the PNAS, where the original paper is published.

Uncritical use of data

The paper uses state-level data on suicides, data that includes both urban and rural suicides. How can urban suicides be included in an analysis of agricultural suicides? The paper also sets aside the fact that the suicide data, taken from the National Crime Records Bureau, has separated farmer suicides from those of other occupational categories only after 1995 and the inconsistency in data prior to that year. Suicide data are gathered from police records so there is likely to be underreporting.

Bad Assumptions

The paper, in attempting to show that temperature increase affects agricultural yields does not directly examine physical yield but only considers their monetary value, based on 1960-65 prices. It is widely recognized in the climate change literature, that the impact of extreme temperatures on crops and their economic consequences should not be confused with each other. It is well-established practice to consider physical yield as the first direct impact of increased temperatures and lowered monetary income a consequence that is also affected by a host of other economic and policy factors.

Further, and more damagingly, the author does not analyse individual crops but only considers a basket of such crops including rice, wheat, sorghum, sugar, maize and millet. Cotton, closely associated to farmer suicides wherever it is grown, is a notable omission as are a host of other cash crops.

The author, surprisingly and wrongly, considers extreme temperatures only during the kharif season. She completely ignores the rabi season, despite clear evidence to the contrary from ICAR and other authoritative research from India and across the world. Rabi crops like wheat are in fact most sensitive to extreme temperatures as has been well-established by research. Despite the fact that the predominant wheat-growing season is rabi, the paper includes wheat in its analysis but does not include the impact of rabi temperatures.

The paper also considers temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius as extreme temperatures. This is flatly contradicted by what is known of the temperature dependence of crop production. In general, temperature ranges of 20 degrees to 29 degrees Celsius are known to be beneficial for crop growth. Every crop has a specific temperature threshold, ranging from 33°C to 38°C, above which a negative impact on yields is possible, and extreme temperatures in the literature refer to temperatures above these corresponding thresholds.

Flawed analysis

As a consequence of the errors explained above, the results on the negative effect of temperature on crop yields are not tenable. Of the six crops pooled, rice is mainly a monsoon crop, wheat is a winter crop, and sugarcane is a 12 to 18 month crop. How can the July-September “growing season” temperature explain changes in the combined yields of these crops?

The author finds a strong positive coefficient of proportionality when aggregate State level deaths from suicide are related to the total heat exposure in the kharif growing season alone. The quality of data on suicides is in doubt, and the definitions of temperature threshold and growing season are incorrect. The author refers to robustness checks of her results but all these checks retain the erroneous assumptions listed above. Without further study, it is not clear how we interpret the observed coefficient that she claims to find.

We are astonished to find such a poor analysis based on incorrect understanding of data and wrong analysis should find its way into policy discourse on climate change and agriculture. There is much excellent literature being produced on this important subject. The dissemination of such important and scientifically valid research is hampered by the publication of flawed papers such as the one in question.

Trump and the Paris Agreement


The U.S. pullout has sparked a surge of commitment to the accord, but not a focus on its deep flaws

Published in the Hindu on June 9, 2017.

Make no mistake, U.S. President Donald Trump has just dealt a body blow to the Paris Agreement. In its refusal to acknowledge the significance of this threat to global security, his decision to pull the U.S. out of the climate accord has virtually no parallel since the beginning of the post-World War II era of multilateralism.

Ripple effect likely

The rejection of the Kyoto Protocol by the George W. Bush presidency, signed by the Clinton administration in 1997, a rejection driven by both Republican and Democrat legislators, caused an 18-year hiatus before a new agreement could be crafted.

The new hiatus may not last as long, but that is small comfort when the climate threat has advanced considerably since then. Mr. Trump’s move is likely to set off a domino effect of inaction among other known climate laggards, the U.K., Australia, Canada, Japan and Russia being some of the most prominent among these.

Despite the diplomatic rhetoric, the weakening or dismantling of their domestic institutional arrangements for climate action has already given cause for alarm, while the radical deceleration in climate research by one of its leaders, the U.S., will also have grave consequences.

What exacerbates the danger is the hype that has greeted the Paris agreement since its signing and the illusions this has promoted. The agreement leaves the solution of a global collective action problem to purely voluntary action, with binding commitments only to processes and not to the adequacy of efforts to enforce greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, especially by the developed nations.

More bizarrely, even as the accord sharply diluted any attempt to ensure equity for developing countries, it also promised to attempt to limit global temperature increase to not more than 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels. But drowning any articulation of these deep flaws, the Trump decision has now renewed a surge of commitment to an already weak agreement, an outcome that will worsen the prospects of holding global temperature increase to even the 2°C limit.

No talk of climate leadership by the European Union and China, or joint action by other national, regional and local governments worldwide, can obscure the dangers of non-participation by the U.S. Without one of the world’s largest emitters on board, global emissions cannot be limited to the global carbon budget appropriate to the 2°C goal. Any such attempt, even as the U.S. consumes global carbon space at its current pace, will turn the screws, ever more tightly, on the development options of India and a large section of the G-77.

More fundamentally, Mr. Trump’s decision has called the bluff on the real rationale of the agreement, articulated by the outgoing Secretary of State, John Kerry, a year after Paris at Marrakech. Acknowledging the inadequacy of the agreement’s mitigation goals, Mr. Kerry argued that it nevertheless sent a strong signal to business the world over, and would stimulate industry and markets to action. This rationale has been reiterated by many following the Trump decision. Billionaire businessman-politician Michael Bloomberg’s pledge to provide a fraction of his vast fortune as a contribution to climate action speaks of the hubris of global capital in the contemporary world, of seeing personal charity as the key to the security of the planet.

The long-term future of the world hangs today by the slender thread of faith in neo-liberal economic theory and the hope and a prayer that this will work. Surely something more tangible and substantial is needed.

India as a Climate Leader – Impossible Dreams of Superpower status



It is the perennial temptation of journalists — to fall for the rhetoric and dreams peddled by politicians instead of keeping their eyes, minds and keyboard action focused on the realities of the world around them. Hardly has the (metaphorical) ink dried on a short piece I had just written on the Trump decision (unfortunately it is likely to be published, so I cant post it yet), warning of its seriousness, that a piece predictably appears on how it is an opportunity for India.

All the usual mythology is duly present:
i) How US was the climate leader and piloted the Paris Agreement to completion (really, Neville Chamberlain seems positively realpolitik — the reality being that it was the leading climate laggard and everyone had to bend over backward to accomodate it — and then it has done a Kyoto ver 2.0 and walked out anyway, as Trump himself has acknowledged.)

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Utopian Rhetoric on Global Warming


Book Review: Vijay Parshad (ed.), “Will the flower slip through the asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change,” Leftword Books, New Delhi, 2017.

P:ublished in the Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 52, Issue No 20, 20 May, 2017.

Amidst the increasing outpouring of literature on global warming and what the world should do about it, there is very little that is written from the perspective of enquiring into the relationship between capital and global warming. This is obviously not the same as writing on the economic or socio-economic dimensions of the problem or even writing that is passed off under subject headings such as the “political economy of climate change” or “politics of climate change.” To write about capital and global warming is clearly to adopt a viewpoint that sees capitalism as the essence of the global political, social and economic order, evoking clearly a critical Marxist view of how capitalism structures the relationship between human society and Nature. Expectedly the literature from this viewpoint on global warming is very sparse. Which is why this book will undoubtedly arouse the expectations of many who come across the title.

This slim volume counts among its more well-known contributors Naomi Klein, John Bellamy Foster and Amitava Ghosh, alongside others from various parts of the world. The main contribution is the essay by Naomi Klein, with a number of short comments on this by the others, and an introduction by Vijay Parshad. Klein’s essay is in fact her Edward Said lecture of 2016, available widely on the internet. Apart from this none of the comments appear to convey anything novel or particularly insightful that has not been published before, a possibility that is in any case curtailed by the format of brief comments. The volume as a result is not particularly attractive to those who are fully engaged with the issue of global warming, nor, given the brevity of contributions, particularly useful to those who would like to know more of the subject under discussion. Whatever may have been the original intent, one is left with the uncomfortable feeling of a public relations exercise for Naomi Klein and her brand of “Left” rhetoric on the issue of global warming. It is this last point that should perhaps engage us more seriously.

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COP22 at Marrakech — Uphill for the Third World in the post-Paris era (Part II)


(Published in People’s Democracy, 11 December, 2016)

As has been noted in the first part of this note, the emission reduction commitments made by the developed countries in the Paris Agreement are nowhere near enough to guarantee that global temperature increase will stay below 2 deg C over pre-industrial levels. At the same time, the Agreement puts enormous pressure on the development of Third World nations (bar China of course) in terms of the energy options that are available to them at reasonable cost. But the story does not end there. In the Paris Agreement, the principle that the developed nations are responsible for taking the lead in drastic emissions reduction since the bulk of the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere were put there by them in the first place was set aside definitively. Apart from setting aside this principle of historical responsibility, even in the paragraphs dealing with loss and damage due to “adverse effects associated to climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset disasters”, the agreement made it clear that the developed nations did not consider that this provided any support to the notion of liability or compensation. In sum, apart from reminding the developed nations repeatedly, ad nauseum, of their promises there is little purchase or hold that the Third World appears to have on developed countries to force them to urgent and serious climate action.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the discussions over the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which would extend the Kyoto Protocol into a second phase of emissions reduction to cover the period upto 2020. Under this amendment, a set of developed countries (different from the original list for the first phase) are committed to reducing emissions by 18 percent below 1990 levels in the period 2013 to 2020. After 2020, of course the Paris Agreement is expected to take over when it becomes operational. Ratifying the Doha amendment was also only one piece of a set of measures referred to as “enhanced pre-2020 actions” in the decision accompanying the Paris Agreement that was concurrently passed at COP21 at Paris last year. For the developing countries, enhanced ambition and action in emissions reduction and the provision of finance by the developed countries was the acid test of the genuineness of the developed world’s commitment to meet their voluntary targets under the Paris Agreement. The Doha Amendment requires 144 countries to ratify it before its “entry into force”, a condition more onerous than that of the Paris Agreement, and to date only 74 countries have done so. The Kyoto Protocol is in many ways more stringent than the Paris Agreement in terms of the accountability of the developed countries (with legally binding reductions and not mere voluntary commitments which need only to be reported upon). So the reluctance to ratify the Doha Amendment in contrast to the speed of ratification of the Paris Agreement is indeed striking. Even the European Union (EU) has not yet ratified, held up by Poland, which wants the European Investment Bank to finance coal-fired power plants (the bank has officially stopped investment in new coal plants) in exchange for accepting the ratification!

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COP22 at Marrakech – New Threats and Old Challenges (Part I)


(Published in People’s Democracy, Dec. 4, 2016)

Despite the brave face put up by the Moroccan hosts and the participating delegations from almost 190 countries, the 22nd edition of the world’s annual climate summit at Marrakech, was held with a gun pointed at their heads by the President-elect of the United States, Donald Trump. While the finger on the trigger may have been that of the newest hero of global reaction, taking world climate action hostage had the support of the most backward sections of the big capital cheered on by a groundswell of support from some of the most backward sections of the US polity. During the two weeks of negotiations, the question hung in the air, whether the Paris Agreement and the subsequent discussions on its implementation would be set at nought by the United States once Trump took office.

While many political figures and officials from developed nations asserted that negotiations would remain on track, there was no Fidel Castro or a Hugo Chavez as in the days of the Copenhagen climate summit of 2009, with the courage to name and shame the global superpower and its allies. In the event, the first formal acknowledgement of the Trump threat, kept out till then from the negotiating halls, came at the closing plenary of the summit. Both the Foreign Minister of Morocco, President of COP22, and the Prime Minister of Fiji ( Fiji is the host country of COP 23 to be held at Bonn, Germany) appealed, to Trump directly. They urged him on the grounds of pragmatism and his commitment to humanity to take climate change seriously with Fiji’s Prime Minister going so far as to plead, recalling the Second World War : “You came to save us then, and it is time for you to save us now.”

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If Trump reneges, who will be the climate leader?


Anjali Sharma asked in response to the earlier blog on Trump and climate:

If Trump does decide to walk out of Paris Agreement, what, according to you, is likely to happen? Will the accord collapse, or will new alliances, and possibly a new leader come up? I use the term ‘leader’ to refer to a country which dictates the terms for climate action globally. Multiple articles are floating in the US media which say that USA’s days as the ‘climate leader’ are over, and China is likely to take its place.

My response, partial of course, but still:

Sorry, dont mean to be rude, but your framing of the problem — following what others say — is exactly the point at issue.

a) The term leadership has this ambiguous meaning — setting the terms of the debate as well as taking the lead in emissions reduction and “getting the job done”. In terms of the latter, the US is the laggard, reluctant follower, dragged kicking and screaming into climate negotiations — no leader. The Paris Agreement is the world accomodating US idiosyncracy and not following a leader.

b) Equally, in terms of setting the debate, the US is still the global superpower, dominating the global scene — as they say, if the US catches a cold, we will do the sneezing and so will China. That, of China, it is partly true the other way round, is small comfort. This includes economics, politics, trade, security, etc etc.

c) All this discussion is predicated on Paris being a “good” agreement. Of which the less said the better, given all its problems.

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