The Divecha Centre for Climate Change was set up in IISc in 2009 with funding from US-based philanthropists, Arjun and Diana Divecha, and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, founded by British investor Jeremy Grantham. Since its establishment, the Centre has focussed primarily on research, and on raising awareness on climate change issues.
Up until last year, the Divecha Centre was headed by J Srinivasan. Srinivasan’s association with the Centre continues – he is now a Distinguished Scientist. In a brief interview to Connect, he spoke about yet another goal of the Centre: to help shape policies on climate change, and the hurdles it faces in this endeavour.
What was the mandate of the Divecha Centre when it was set up?
When the Divecha Centre started, we, being from a science institute, were very keen on doing research. Arjun Divecha and Jeremy Grantham said, “Fine, if you’re happy doing science, we’ll support that. But you have to do two more things. You have to do a major outreach effort so that your science gets known to the public, and secondly, you must engage with the government so that you have some influence on government policy.” So since that time, we’ve been involved in engaging with the government, but not as much as we would’ve liked to.
In what ways have you engaged with the government?
At the Divecha Centre we now have many faculty with expertise in different areas. They are part of committees in ISRO, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Department of Science and Technology. So we’ve been involved in discussions on several issues where we provide our expertise. And this has some impact. Take for example the current emphasis on solar energy. I’ve been arguing for solar for the last 40 years. Not many took me seriously. They would say things like, “It is not practical, it is costly, it is unreliable, there’s not enough land.” But slowly the viewpoint has changed.
In fact, well before the Divecha Centre started, in 2002, we [the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences] made a big impact during the Asian brown cloud controversy [researchers from the Centre provided clarifications on several claims in the aftermath of a report published by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on a layer of air pollution seen over parts of Asia during the winter months]. India had to fight a case in the UNEP meeting. And at that time, we wrote detailed position papers on why their argument was not right.
People in Delhi always consult us just as they consult other stakeholders and I’m sure that our input goes into their thinking
So whenever the government needs any input, they consult us. Even recently, I got an email from MoEF seeking inputs for an IPCC [Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change] meeting on the Asian brown cloud issue which we thought had been resolved. It is now called short-lived climate pollutants. We’re saying that we should not get distracted by this issue and instead must keep our eyes on reducing CO2 emissions. So people in Delhi always consult us just as they consult other stakeholders and I’m sure that our input goes into their thinking. But you must remember that we are not a full-fledged policy centre.
What are the hurdles that the Centre faces in being more active in shaping climate policy?
Not being in Delhi definitely limits how much influence we can have. See, whenever the government has to make a decision, they consult people who are available immediately. They call a meeting, have a discussion and make a decision. So most people who have serious policy interests have to be in Delhi. All the major policy-related institutions and NGOs will have at least one office in Delhi because they know that at very short notice, people are called for consultations.
I would also argue that a big weakness of our Institute is that we don’t have a social sciences or humanities department. Research in these fields was part of the vision of our founder JN Tata. I can tell you that about 30 years ago, JRD Tata [who was also the President of the Court of IISc] reminded the Institute that that was in the charter and tried very hard to convince us to start such a department. And there have also been attempts to make the Management Studies Department focus more on policy issues. Though Prof Amulya Reddy [former Chairperson of the Management Studies Department] and Prof Balaram [former Director of IISc] tried very hard, it didn’t happen. But I think the Institute needs to have a proper humanities and social sciences department which should be interacting with all the science and engineering departments.
If we want to make a proper policy in the area of climate change, we need to understand the science, know how to communicate the science, and know how to formulate policies
I must also point out that researchers working in these fields in places like TISS [Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai] or in other such institutes don’t interact much with scientists either. So to me both sides do not understand each other. This I think is a major limitation. If we want to make a proper policy in the area of climate change, we need to understand the science, know how to communicate the science, and know how to formulate policies.
On our part, even though we don’t have such a department, we at Divecha have tried to find someone to look at policy issues. But people who have serious policy and policy research interests tend to go to IIMs or even IITs where there are big departments in social sciences and humanities. They think that they may not fit here in IISc because it is a pure science institution. But now we are working even harder to get a policy person, something that the Director [of IISc] is also very keen on. I’m sure it’ll happen soon.