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The Curious Case Of The Global Atmospheric Commons: Equity And The Climate Lock Jam

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By Meenal Tatpati:

While man has been successful in drawing boundary lines on land and to some extent in the oceans, the atmosphere still remains a global commons. Each country uses it as a “source” of resources (air, to be precise) and as a “sink” for all our “growth” activities, some being as simple as cooking, to massive emissions from thermal power plants and since the latter half of the last century, radioactive material.

As this article is being written, representatives and negotiators from several countries are negotiating the fate of the Kyoto Protocol at Durban, a controversial global treaty that addressed the problem of equity in climate change and green house gas emissions, head on. Ask a student of Environmental Sciences and he will happily testify to the fact that this protocol is the “holy grail” of all competitive examinations, what with it featuring in every question paper. I wonder though, how many of us actually take the time to understand and realize that this Protocol, signed by many, rejected by a few; this “code of atmospheric-emissions conduct” is actually very near to being chucked out of climate talks. It may finally breathe its last after this month’s conference at Durban.

Even though the atmosphere of the earth is a common resource shared by all countries, as a sink, it has been used and abused, historically, by only a few countries. When the problem of climate change came to the forefront in the 1980’s, the major blame of facilitating climate change was with only a few countries of the world. USA, from 1950-2007, was responsible for 26% of the global CO2 (Carbon dioxide; one of the main green house gases that cause climate change) emissions, the entire block of EU countries were responsible for 22%, Russian Federation 9% (Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) Version 8.0. (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2011).

When the climate change conferences began, it was evident that there was a historical responsibility of these developed nations to cut down on their emissions to allow growing economies to emit more and achieve their growth targets. The first such climate conference was held at Rio in 1992, famously called the Earth Summit which created the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). This convention adopted the stance that developed and developing countries had “differential” responsibility towards cutting emissions. This meant that every nation was responsible but the developed countries had to take the onus of cutting their emissions to a greater extent.

As the successive climate conferences came and went, the emission reduction target was never set up. Finally however, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 ended this and set a common emission reduction goal. 5.2% reduction in the emissions at 1990 levels by 2012. However, far from accepting responsibilities, states like the USA never ratified the treaty. Also, by a way of shunning responsibility, the countries that did ratify the Protocol relied on creating a market out of emission space. It devised technologies and institutions like Clean Development Mechanism and Carbon Credits that allow these countries to totally absolve themselves from cutting their domestic emissions while encouraging developing countries to cut their emissions further.

This means that developed countries continue to pollute, while developing countries are made to reduce. Well after Kyoto, the emission levels have not changed. In fact they have increased.

Some argue that the emissions from developing countries too have increased. But how much? They are still miniscule as compared to the mounting carbon debt of developed countries.

At Copenhagen in 2009, the world, browbeaten by a few countries submitted into finishing off these responsibilities. The Accord made way for voluntary emission cuts for all countries. So it seems like the Kyoto will finally be finished off in Durban this year.

Many argue that the way forward is to attain voluntary emission reduction targets. However, the question of Equity remains.

The first lesson is that the main source of environmental destruction in the world is the demand for natural resources generated by the consumption of the rich(whether they are rich nations or rich individuals and groups within nations)…The second is that it is the poor who are affected the most by environmental destruction.

– (Anil Agarwal, 1986)

All climate change conferences that are being held after Copenhagen will continue to dilute this fact.

More than any other country, the small island states are the ones that face an immediate threat from climate change. These include several States like Maldives, Tonga and Singapore to name a few. They are vociferous in their demand and quite rightly so. Increased green house gas emissions threaten their very existence. A 1degree rise in the average global temperature spells a meter rise in global oceans-and this is an opened seal. It will keep rising once it reaches the 1 meter mark. The global temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees. Catastrophe is not far away, like it seemed during the time Kyoto was being framed. These countries are justifiably looking at any emission cut as a good emission cut.

However these countries too have been coerced into accepting whatever little falls in their plate since they are desperate.

The issue of global commons does not require another round of shadowboxing in yet another conference. Has anyone ever thought about the carbon footprint each of these conferences leave in their wake? The time to realize equity has long passed. The First Assessment Report on Climate change by the research body, IPCC which was out in 1990 said that immediate emission cuts of 60-90% were required. We have now come to the end of the Kyoto Commitment period, yet no serious cuts have been made by those who pollute.

However, the problem of equity does not only lie between nations, it also lies within nations. India at present emits about 3% of total CO2 emissions in the world. Here too, the rich emit more than the poor.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar has said, “We must begin by acknowledging that there is a complete absence of two things in Indian Society. One of these is equality. On the social plane we have an India based on the principles of graded inequality, which means elevation for some and degradation for others. On the economic plane we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty.”

In our country today, the scenario is such that economic development is neglecting the environmental and social impacts of development. The poorer majority is exploited for their resources and in the process the environment is degraded. Multi corporations leave in their wake a degraded environment and an unhealthy population. Car brands sell petrol guzzling SUV’s in our prosperity hungry country. The indicators of economic growth-consumerism and credit debt in the urban areas are making themselves evident in our country as they have in developed countries. In all economies the problem lies in the fact that economic growth benefits only a certain section of society. The poor are sidelined. So is the environment. Any economy must be analyzed for its cash flow and equal monetary distribution must be given to all stakeholders including the ones who are affected by the economy in terms of resource use and pollution caused by the economy.

The conflict between the poor and the rich over environmental issues, especially climate change stems from the fact that the rich are unwilling to curb their green house gas emissions. Unfortunately in Copenhagen, India advocated this highhandedness of the rich nations by helping in the creation and signing the now famous Copenhagen Accord. The Accord does not give any thought to amount of emissions to be cut down by countries and literally bribes poorer countries by providing bait money for acceptance of the accord.

The Durban conference, as yet, does not seem promising at all.

The truth is that the world stands at crossroads today. The real and present danger is Climate Change. It is going to affect the vast majority of the human race. It is up to us to either curb this crisis through sustained world co-operation or to ignore it and face the wrath of nature.


  1. Who is responsible; Factsheet by Center for Science and Environment, Delhi, 2011
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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