It’s time to fight for climate justice!

More than 200 countries participated in the summit held on climate change in Poland between December 2, 2018 and December 15, 2018. The notable change of this summit was that the youth turned against the decisions of elders. Most importantly, they were able to attract everyone’s attention as they raised their voice towards ‘Climate Justice’.

“My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden. I now speak on behalf of Climate Justice. Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. Every time you meet, one only discusses about the changing environment and never reaches a decision. Remember that every wrong decision you take today might turn out to be fatal for our future. So, instead of begging before you, we children will unite to fight…’

These words by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden at the climate change summit held by United Nations at Katowice startled all the senior dignitaries.

The speech rendered by Greta in the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP24 which was attended by 200+ countries, did not come into limelight in India.

Inspired by her speech, more than one lakh students of 8th, 9th and 10th standards in Australia,  walked out of their classrooms onto the roads to strike against the government. The reason being wrong climate related decisions taken by the Australian government.

Industrialisation has led to rapid global warming effects. We have already realised its effect on us with the increasing cyclone, tsunami, drought and desertification. All these are due to the changes that are taking place in the climate. The first bait to this change will be agriculture; followed by health and economy that will have to face the brunt of it.

The foremost reason for global warming, changing farm cycle and climate change is the surge in carbon usage. These climate change summits held every year debates about how the usage of carbon can be reduced and also decides about the capping value of carbon usage.

However, the poor countries opine that the responsibilities of rich countries have increased. If around 25% of the pollution is being caused by America, then India stands to pollute less than 5%. But, India is a rapidly growing country. Even a meagre increase of temperature by 2 degree Celsius will get us in trouble. All the island countries will submerge under water if the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic region starts to melt.

How does this influence India?: There is a direct linkage between climate change and poverty. Change in agricultural cycle affects livelihood in a substantial manner. We have already reached an era where we find it difficult to predict the onset of monsoon. At this juncture, enhancing the earnings of the farmer through economic activities based on alternative fuels like the solar power, biogas etc., will act as a support system to the subsistence of the farmer and his family. Organizations like SELCO which provide sustainable solutions have to be involved in this work. Solar powered sewing machine, roti making machine, blacksmith fan blower, milking machine and other such machines which help in earning the daily bread can be used  anytime and anywhere, even at places which are not connected to the electricity grid. Such machines can be used for livelihood purposes and therefore help to make a living out of it.

With the exception of Brazil and Turkey, the 200 other nations who attended the COP24 Summit at Katowice, have come in consensus and have even agreed to the decisions of 2015 COP Summit.

Brazil has a population of around 10 crore. The Amazon rainforests of Brazil are widely known as the ‘lungs of the world’. Deforestation of Amazon forests has a direct repercussion on many countries including Africa and India. Unfortunately, Brazil has turned adamant in telling that the forest belongs to them and they will resort to cutting of trees.

How can we handle such a disaster?: We are not realising the gradual change in environment and the expanding process of desertification. We need to have a clear foresight about the changing environment. A drought in Maharashtra pushes the farmer to commit suicide. If a similar situation of drought arises in Karnataka, then what has to be done? How should they lead their life when there is scanty rainfall? The solutions to these questions have to be found by us through the usage of technology.

There are a lot many things to be considered in the field of environment. The country’s laws have to be strengthened in this regard. There has to be a systematic and strategic plan regarding climate change in every panchayat, taluk, district, state and the entire country. Most importantly, our youth, just like the kids of Australia and Greta of Sweden, have to start fighting for the cause of climate change and have immense care for environment. India has to send the younger generation as representatives to the next COP Summit, as the decisions of today shape their future. We should not be the culprits in the eyes of our future generation. This fact has to also get etched in the minds of our legislators.

(The author is a solar engineer and Ramon Magsaysay awardee. This article was originally published in Kannada and has been translated for our readers.)

Read the orginal version here:

ಹವಾಮಾನ ನ್ಯಾಯಕ್ಕಾಗಿ ಹೋರಾಡುವ ಸಮಯ!

The Indian Urban Migrant Crisis – A Need for Inclusivity

Over 1,20,000 migrants live in the urban slums of Bangalore alone. There is an urgent need to address there housing needs.

Manjunath moved to Bangalore from Yadgir two years ago with his family. He drives tractors for a living, while his wife Kaveri earns her daily wage through “coolie” work at  construction sites.

The couple leaves home at 7.30am and returns at around 6 pm, leaving their two toddler children at home under the care of neighbors. The children are unable to attend school because there is no government school in the vicinity of the area. The family earns an average of Rs. 12,000 a month, depending on the amount of work they get. As soon as she reaches home in the evening, Kaveri begins preparing the evening meal for the family. This schedule is followed by the family on all days of the week except Sunday when they take the day off.

A similar story is narrated by Nagamma (name changed) who migrated to Bangalore with her family almost a decade ago from Gulbarga in search of work. In the few years after moving to the city, Nagamma lost her husband and elder son due to deteriorating health conditions. She works as a daily wage laborer at construction sites around the community she lives in. She earns around Rs. 10,000 a month which also contributes towards her younger son’s education along with their monthly expenditures.

Manjunath, Kaveri, and Nagamma are examples of people whom we commonly refer to as the urban poor. They work on a daily wage basis under various employers, thus are unable to access any employee benefits such as sick leaves and pensions. Taking a day off work due to health or other reasons means forgoing a large part of the income for the week.

The unhygienic conditions in the urban migrant communities increase the possibility of such a calamity occurring. A question here would be – why would such residents of such communities not invest in better infrastructure? The answer being that urban migrants do not intend to live in the city for long. Their aim is to save as much money as possible and return to their villages where they most likely have families and houses. Thus, they compromise on their urban lifestyle and live in cheap unhygienic conditions that have underlying long-term implications on their health.

The plight of Manjunath, Kaveri and Nagamma is similar to the 1,20,000 migrants residing in similar informal settlements in urban Bangalore. A large percentage of the rural population migrates in search of better work, income and living conditions. The dream of living life king size in a big city remains short lived as reality sinks in – unhygienic living conditions with little or no provision of basic infrastructure. Since the community members consist largely of daily wage workers in the construction industry, they prefer squatting in settlements that are in close proximity to construction sites; hence most communities are settled in the peri-urban areas of Bangalore where a lot of developmental work is underway. The migrants shift their place of residence on a regular basis depending on availability of work. The communities are also vulnerable to regular evictions from the concerned authorities due to illegal and informal conditions of the settlement. This vulnerability increases when communities settle in public litigated land and are at the mercy of the local authorities who retain the power to evict. In certain areas where private vacant land is available, landowners utilize the land demand to create profit by charging a small amount of rent from squatters. Such settlements are less vulnerable to evictions on a short notice period, although not entirely.

Since there are no toilets in the community or its vicinity, open defecation is the common practice. Not only is the practice unhygienic, women in the community have customized themselves to defecate only twice a day – early in the morning and late at night – when it is dark.

This is to ensure personal safety as there may be onlookers during the day. The practice adversely affects the health of women, especially during menstruation and pregnancy.

As mentioned in the case of Manjunath and Kaveri, the community comprises of houses made of a tarpaulin sheet that is propped on 8-10 poles. There are no considerations for natural lighting or cross ventilation inside the house. The health repercussions of such houses are manifold, especially when cooking occurs inside the closed space of the tent. There is no electricity supply; hence kerosene lamps are used that are both expensive and harmful to health. The lack of strength of the structure increases the vulnerability of squatter communities in case of natural and man-made disasters. The low-income communities are the ones most affected in the case of disasters – natural or manmade- as was seen in the Chennai floods of 2015, the Gujarat earthquake of 2006 and the Uttarakhand cloudbursts of 2013.

The nomadic nature of the migrant workers depending on availability of work makes it difficult for their children to attend school. In a lot of communities where children do attend school, elder girl siblings are expected to remain home to look after their younger toddler siblings while their parents are at work. When inter-state migration occurs, the medium of communication becomes an issue for children as most government schools teach in the local language.

The biggest challenge low-income migrant groups face is that in the eyes of the government they remain an invisible population. The Prime Ministers Awaaz Yojana (2014) is the latest policy framework to address the issues of housing within the low-income sector. The policy provides various frameworks for low-income communities to buy construct or upgrade their houses based on requirements. However, it does not address the needs of migrant low-income communities who do not intend to live in the city for long. Larger construction companies set up labor colonies for both skilled and unskilled workers for the course of the construction period. These services are sometimes extended for their families too. Certain construction companies also provide skill development services for the laborers before project commencement. The training sessions develop the skills of the laborers and help them find better jobs after project completion too. However, laborers employed on a daily basis for smaller projects through local contractors are unable to access services similar to those of a labor colony.

On a long term plan, provision of rental housing services is one of the ways the problem of housing in urban migrant communities can be mitigated to a certain extent. However, the current housing policies of the government do not address this as an issue that needs to be looked into. It is important that the social rental housing stock be located in close proximity to livelihood opportunities.

The provision of night shelter services for the homeless in the city too is lagging behind in terms of numbers and quality of services provided.

However, there is a need to address the needs of such communities on an immediate basis too. Such solutions need to be temporary and portable considering the nomadic nature of migrant communities. Temporary shelters are the need of the hour for vulnerable urban migrants. However, there are multiple aspects that need to be understood during the design of such shelters, along with provision for basic lighting and cross ventilation. The risk of eviction is one of the biggest threats in urban squatter communities. This risk increases when the community becomes significant in the landscape of the city. Thus, it is very crucial for the structure to blend in with the existing blue tarpaulin structures to avoid any unnecessary interference from the concerned authorities. The structure should also be easily portable and must address the aspect of cost as the intended audience belongs to the low-income group. Such temporary structures may also be used for relief strategies during natural or man-made disasters.

A question that may arise here is – are we encouraging migrants to squatter illegally on urban areas through the provision of services that improve their living conditions? To which my answer is no; the reason being that rural to urban migration is inevitable.

Agriculture which is the largest source of income in rural areas is adversely affected through repercussions of climate change. Many crops also grow only in certain seasons; hence families have no source of income during other seasons. The earning members of such families tend to migrate to urban areas for the nonproductive seasons to sustain their families.

But the biggest fact here is that the city and its various developers rely on urban migrants for development work, particularly in the construction sector. The people who help make high-rise luxury apartments and shopping malls are the ones who live in the worst conditions. Hence the government needs to recognize this invisible population and allocate resources towards the development of such communities. However, it is unfair to make the low-income migrants wait until such a policy framework to address their needs is created. Temporary solutions mitigate the problem on a short term basis until long-term solutions are created to address the issues of unhygienic and unhealthy living conditions in similar communities in Bangalore and other urban centers of growth in the country.

Have a look at Selco Foundation’s Portable Housing Project for Labour colonies.

Grid Integrated Mini Grids (GIMS)

For most urban, office-going, apartment-living Indians, when electricity goes out the inverter or generator kicks in just minutes later. What if we extended this idea to villages plagued with unreliable electricity supply? When electricity goes out, could a solar mini-grid provide a backup to the DISCOM’s grid in thousands of villages in India? Or even better, could we allow mini-grids to support the central grid? This will require some amount of ecosystem building, for instance financing technological innovation in the advanced smart control systems arena.

GIMS are capable of feeding excess energy to the DISCOM’s grid. Unlike a traditional grid-tied system, it remains active and provides back up in the absence of DISCOM power. It allows for the use of the existing distribution network of the DISCOM or RESCO (renewable energy service company) mini-grid with bare minimal upgrade. The main aim of GIMS is to encourage local DISCOMS to collaboratively work with RESCOs to supplement their energy supply. In other words RESCOs could be viewed as a franchisee of the local distribution company for last mile voltage drops, especially where grid cannot be extended or is not viable. By generating electricity at the point of consumption, transmission losses can be avoided to a large extent.

By creating a framework for the determination of tariffs, the GIMS model seeks to push current policy and regulatory framework to pave the way for innovative grid-interactive projects in the future. GIMS aims to overcome traditional revenue and operational challenges associated with mini-grids by engaging the community, leveraging DISCOM’s existing metering infrastructure and collection mechanism, and sizing the plant optimally considering revenue generation for a long period of time.

Decentralised renewable energy solutions such as mini-grids, have long been used as an alternative to the expansion of electric grids to bring electrification to remote rural areas. Traditionally, these mini-grids have operated in isolation from the main grid, but this is changing as main grids extend their reach into rural areas, offering the opportunity to integrate existing mini-grids with DISCOM infrastructure. Grid integration can enable end-users to rise in the energy access ladder—going beyond lighting and basic needs, to cooking, water heating and rural industrial loads. For the RESCOs, grid integration may provide an opportunity to increase revenue by selling surplus electricity from the mini-grid to the DISCOM.

GIMS can be owned by the gram panchayat, RESCO or DISCOM itself. If it is the former, a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) can be signed between the RESCO or Gram Panchayat and the DISCOM to sell the power generated by the plant. Should DISCOM choose to integrate and acquire an existing mini-grid, the regulatory framework should provide guidelines for assessing the cost of mini-grids.

All the power supplied to the end users (from the DISCOM grid or backup system) can be metered in their regular energy meter (paying the normal tariff as charged by DISCOM or creating a common tariff regime for neighbouring regions). Thus, this model overcomes traditional collection challenges associated with mini-grids, by capitalizing on the existing DISCOM collection mechanism. The financial model largely depends on the ownership model. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds can be leveraged to bridge the capital expenditure or to reduce the cost of innovation in the piloting phase. Financial solutions can be overcome if RESCOs can sell power to the DISCOM.

To begin with, policy frameworks exist for small-scale rooftop systems (less than 1MW) and for medium- to large-scale utility systems (more than 1MW). For a small village of 500-1000 households, a Grid Integrated Mini-grid System with Back-up can be less than 1MW, but it does not fit into either of the available policy categories. The guidelines therefore need to be updated to incorporate GIMS category of projects, and appropriate tariff determination mechanisms need to be put in place. Any central financial assistance being offered for mini-grids also needs to be extended to GIMS.

Second, DISCOMS’ safety concerns need to be addressed by bringing evidence-based research of similar technical solutions that are have previously been implemented. Additionally, working closely with the DISCOMS as collaborators would be instrumental in making these types of projects successful. Finally, the government should improve transparency in electrification plans—with no actionable frameworks in place, the grid reaching a mini-grid site is seen as a threat. However, the community would benefit from cheaper power and the microgrid could act as back up and or sell power back to the grid. Should mini-grids be installed in areas that then receive grid access, the local DISCOMS can complement RESCO’s efforts to provide electricity to end-users.

GIMS can help local DISCOMS achieve their goals of providing uninterrupted electricity to end-users. It can support the global transition to low carbon development. While the energy market is growing with efforts such as Panasonic and AES’s announcement of installing India’s first large scale 10MW battery based energy storage project, there are little efforts to direct these types of innovation to benefit the underserved. GIMS is currently in the ideation phase that is slowly transitioning into the piloting stage; these pilots could provide crucial lessons that could help the model evolve over the next few years. Refining the right technological, financial and operational models has the potential to increase energy access and improve quality of life for underserved populations.

What does the Indian government’s goal of installing 100GW of solar capacity by 2022 mean in the aftermath of COP? These goals will remain dreams, if the right ecosystem is not fostered for decentralized renewable energy (DRE) to thrive. Electricity Regulatory Commissions and Energy Departments must make provisions for DRE to complement the grid—this will help India achieve its dreams of becoming the “superpower” it aspires to be.