Conference sessions on Biodiversity, Climate, Forests and Water

The session on Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Society included four plenary speakers: Dr Siddhartha Krishnan summarised ATREE’s contributions to conservation research, discourse, policy and practice over twenty years. Dr Breena Holland, Lehigh University, asked what it means to create an “environmentally just society”. Dr Robert Pressey, ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, stressed the need to bring science into conservation policy in a way that makes a difference. Prof Arnold van Huis, Wageningen University, described the role of insects as food and feed and what an insect cookbook might look like.
This was followed by a panel discussion on “Conservation in the ‘Anthropocene’: What are the Prospects for Biocentric and Anthropocentric Conservation Policy and Practice?” The discussion was moderated by Dr. Nadarajah Shanmugaratnam, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), and the panelists were Dr. Breena Holland, Dr. John Linnell, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Dr. M.D. Madhusudan, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Dr. Jayashree Ratnam, National Centre for Biological Sciences, and Dr. Eivin Røskaft, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
The panelists reflected on the connotations (negative and positive) of the term Anthropocene and how equity, justice and power figure into conversations about how humans are changing the planet. They also discussed the role of the current consumption culture and how we might turn the conversation to “what it means to be a different kind of human?” as Dr. Linnell put it.

Climate Change, Mitigation and Development

The first day ended with a session on Climate Change, Mitigation and Development to mark ATREE’s foray into this area of research. Ms Ulka Kelkar, Fellow at ATREE, described ongoing work on the transition to solar energy in the city of Ramanagara near Bangalore. Using data on clean cookstoves and household diets, Dr Narasimha Rao from International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) illustrated that win-wins in terms of both emissions reductions and human health are possible. Dr Geir Heierstad, from the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research described some of the possibilities and concerns with the Indian Smart Cities Agenda. Finally, Dr Radhika Khosla from the Centre for Policy Research described the links between energy and climate change focusing on the demand-side of Indian energy.

Forests and Livelihoods

The session on Forests and Livelihoods began with a key-note address by Dr Esther Mwangi, Principal Scientist with the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Elaborating on the inequality in forest resource governance, and gender inequality in particular, Dr. Mwangi said "When it comes to land tenure rights, no one talks about cultural issues. But when it comes to women's empowerment, local culture is used as an excuse to question change. We need to see culture as something dynamic, that can change, can be negotiated."
This was followed by a series of invited talks on Forests, Governance, and Livelihoods. Dr. Sharachchandra Lele, Senior Fellow, ATREE presented insights and challenges of forest governance in India. Prof. Tamara Ticktin, University of Hawaii at Manoa stressed the need to understand Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) as a part of a larger socio-ecological system in order to harvest them sustainably. Prof. Tor A. Benjaminsen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences critiqued the equity impacts of pilot REDD+ projects in Tanzania.
A panel discussion on the challenges posed by conservation to local populations was moderated by Dr Nitin Rai, Fellow, ATREE and featured Mr Sandeep Virmani, Hunnarshala Foundation, Bhuj; Prof. Charlie Shackleton, Rhodes University; Mr Tushar Dash, Vasundhara; and Ms Ilse KÖhler Rollefson, League for Pastoral People. “There is no such thing as a pristine nature left anywhere in India, communities have played a key role in shaping ecosystems” said Ms Rollefson while talking about the complex interactions that the pastoral communities and livestock have on the grasslands in Madhya Pradesh. Most panellists agreed that there are shortcomings in our educational system, which are making young people disconnected from nature. Many children from tribal areas are sent to residential schools where they promote a kind of education, which is contradictory to their culture.

Water and Society

The Water and Society session included a keynote talk by Dr. Upmanu Lall of Columbia University, who said, “We can argue that we have consumed the environment mightily over the years”. His extensive research on water use patterns in India revealed the role perverse subsidies play in influencing cropping patterns. The study showed that if these are eliminated, the net benefits would far exceed any cost to farmers. India’s PDS system should be targeted to meet nutritional requirements.

In a series of invited talks on the global water crisis, Dr. Chris Scott of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona wondered if in pursuing food security, we are jeopardizing water security. Dr. Margreet Zwarteveen, UNESCO IHE Institute for Water Education and University of Amsterdam said, “Metrics like the Water Footprint are useful to show people in rich countries how much water they are indirectly consuming. But it should not form the basis for disciplining small farmers in developing countries”. She also stressed the need for more scientific research in developing countries, saying “where science is being produced matters”. Dr. Richard Allan, James Hutton Institute and Strategic Advisory Board: Environment European Committee for Standardisation spoke about Scotland’s experience in providing safe drinking water to rural communities.