Bharati Chaturvedi, director of ASTM Partner Chintan shared her thoughts about #COP21 :
“I couldn’t help thinking about the link between food, wastepickers and incineration during the last few days at the COP 21. It sounds far-fetched, but it really isn’t. Let me tell you why, and I’ll limit myself to India.
A new study by the CEEW, (Council on Energy, Environment and Water), a policy think tank, recently released some new research that could have far reaching implications for the urban poor, including extremely marginalized groups such as wastepickers. The study suggested that a third of India’s crops would be hit by climate change, and maize crops could fall by as much as 50% by 2030.
When this happens, food prices will soar, while farmers, often women left behind as men migrate in search of work, will be severely impacted. So the urban poor will find it harder to afford food, while the rural poor will earn less, consume fewer calories, work as labour elsewhere, and possibly slip even further into the poverty trap. The urban poor will also consume less food, and their health will also decline – something that will impact the hard, physical work waste recycling requires. Women will be particularly hit, because they eat last. Both groups could be additionally hit by other effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events. Many wastepickers will be hard hit because, like other urban poor in India, they have strong rural links. Often, they repatriate money to the village to support elderly parents and wives. With incomes hit on both sides, poverty will be exacerbated.
Enter incineration, which is being spoken about positively during COP 21, as a technology that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Experience in India shows that such technology has severe socio-economic repercussions. In Delhi, when the Okhla waste-to-energy plant began operations, wastepickers lost livelihoods as their access to recyclable materials stopped. From the solid waste management point of view, this is poor policy, because recycling takes firm precedence over incineration. But it didn’t end with recycling. About 60% of the children dropped out of school and went into the labour force. India is already planning many more such plants, and if climate finance becomes available for these, this seemingly simple technology could become the norm. Imagine this scenario in the context of failing food security. What kind of extreme poverty will this unleash? What will India do when children stop eating adequately, have to stop their schooling and start working? Is that not injustice? How will they support themselves, let alone their dependent relatives in the villages?
The conversations at COP 21 have underscored how fragile India is, and how unimaginably severe the effects of climate change can be for the poor. While India and other countries intensely negotiate the treaty, policy makers within the country have to face up to the available data and start with the simplest step of all – no waste incineration, regardless of climate finance. The poor will pay too high a cost. Furthermore, other means of handling plastics, paper and cardboard are flourishing.
Read more about Chintan at #COP21 in the story of wastepicker Khokun Hamid and the reflections of Chitra Mukherjee, Head of Programmes at Chintan, on E-waste and the opportunity for creating inclusive green economies