Stick to Kyoto

The clarifications made by environment minister Jairam Ramesh on the letter he wrote to the prime minister proposing changes in India’s position on climate change issues will not remove the misgivings which have been created. It is likely that the letter was a test balloon to probe public opinion, both domestic and international, on some new ideas. A confidential communication to the prime minister would not otherwise have found its way into the press. The initial reaction within the country has been one of strong disapproval, with even the Congress distancing itself from the contents of the letter. The clarification that the letter contained only notes for discussion and India’s position will be based on the consensus that emerges from these discussions is disingenuous and such a consensus already exists.

This position seeks time-bound and mandatory carbon emission reductions by developed countries as they have contributed to global warming more than developing countries and transfer of clean technologies and financial assistance to adapt to climate change and reduce the use of carbon. These were the basic assumptions of the Kyoto Protocol which is to be replaced by a new international agreement to be finalised at the Copenhagen summit in December. India, along with China, was leading the developing countries’ bloc in the negotiations, even as late as last fortnight at a preparatory session in Bangkok. Jairam Ramesh’s letter proposes dumping of the Kyoto Protocol, breaking ranks with the developing world and accepting emission targets without any commitment by the developed countries on clean technologies and finances. The argument is that it is in India’s interest to reduce carbon emissions.

This u-turn, if accepted, will weaken India’s and the developing countries’ negotiating power at Copenhagen. There will be hard bargaining at the summit and it is not even certain that there will be an outcome acceptable to all in December. Whenever there is an agreement, it will be the result of compromises by all contending parties. India too will have to give something to take what it wants from the developed countries. But the letter, if it has some official backing, has prematurely shown India’s hand and given rise to the suspicion that it may ultimately yield substantial ground. The mention of some trade-offs with the US does no credit to a country of India’s size and stature.

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