Carbon credits are good, but are they for everyone

Written by Sukalp Sharma | Sukalp Sharma | Kirtika Suneja | Updated: Feb 5 2012, 07:27am hrs
Elinor Ostrom, American social scientist and political economist who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons, tells Sukalp Sharma and Kirtika Suneja that a textbook approach to policies for the environment is bad. Excerpts:

On the issue of carbon footprint, what is the most basic thing you would like to see governments do

There cant really be a universal solution, but something as basic as responsible pricing should certainly be employed, at least by the US. As the price of carbon rises in terms of gasoline, people will be forced to use less and then real emphasis could be put on cleaner and renewable sources of energy. What we in the US are not doing is pricing gasoline in a responsible manner. What Id like to see is tax on gas going up and it being allocated to solar energy, wind energy and other sources of clean energy. Its extremely important to find ways to facilitate small-scale producers and small-scale enterprises to enter a new energy market to deal with the carbon consumption question.

How viable is trading of carbon credits as a mitigation measure

They work well in certain systems, but then, is it for everyone I believe that our textbook thinking is pretty bad here and I am not blaming anyone. But Im trying to get people to recognise that theres a huge difference between various styles of life and thats why some of our policies are not better sustained than fashion. I like to challenge this single-track approach, which is propagated as a magic wand to solve all the problems everywhere. It might suit some, it might not suit the others.

How satisfied are you with the kind of work that is happening at the ground level in India with regard to the common pool resources (CPR)

Its true that theres not been much going on in India. Theres always more that can be done. Learning from similar but very successful systems, and sharing information is the important thing. For example, I dont think there are too many networks of local communities involved in this work that could possibly share a lot of information. Local autonomy is an important need of such efforts. In Nepal, there have been successful cases of farmer-managed irrigation systems. Now you might say that not everyone would participate in these networks, but I can tell you that a lot of the local communities will when they see the direct benefits of similar systems, as is evident from the experience in Nepal.

Youve consistently talked about reorienting education to face the sustainability challenge better and save the global commons. How do you feel that can be effective

I would really like to see a lot more inter-disciplinary work. The education system has to be encouraged to approach these problems in a comprehensive manner, as they involve many different facets. For example, most biology students are not really aware of social systems, and a lot of social science students would hardly know much about biology. So if you want these students to understand governmental issues on say forestry, theyll require a sound knowledge of both biology and social sciences. I am not saying that the education system needs to be transformed completely to this effect. But its extremely important to provide ample opportunity to those whod be interested in this kind of work and study.

Where is the global community, and especially developing nations, lacking in dealing with issues of sustainable development Is there a lack of cohesion of ideology and thought in the world

Yes there is. But if we have too much cohesion, well miss out on the range of outcomes and the range of possibilities. We have to recognise ways of encouraging local, regional and national activity on these issues, but theres really no simple uniform formula.

What would be your advice to the Indian government on what needs to be done to save the global commons and fight climate change

The biology, weather and ecology of all the Indian states are quite different from one another. Its a big and diverse country. So partly its about formulating policies that make more sense for the ecology and weather of say, Indias east coast versus the west coast. There cant be an envelope and uniform policy. It has to be region specific.