Unwarranted dilution

India & Climate change


Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh stirred up quite a hornet’s nest. Strange  things have happened. The minister’s confidential letter to the prime minister through a leak reached the media. Without pausing for locating the source of the leak, perhaps it will be more useful to concentrate on the reported contents of the letter. Since the fact of the correspondence or its contents have not been controverted either by Ramesh or the prime minister’s office, it is fair to assume that it can be regarded as a serious point of view and can be the basis for some analysis and response.

What is Ramesh’s contention? The environment minister thinks that Indian negotiating position for the upcoming International Climate Change meet in December in Copenhagen should not prove to be a ‘deal-breaker.’ Elaborating, he has further explained that India should not insist on ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ of developed and developing countries, where the former are required to undertake binding emission cuts while the latter would be assisted through funds and technology transfer to adapt to climate change and move towards low-carbon strategies.

In a way, Ramesh’s contention to distance the Indian official position away from this approach has much wider ramifications. In fact, India’s present position to which Ramesh has suggested a revision is not just the Indian position but reflect the considered view of the UN framework convention on climate change to reduce global emission and restrict atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. It is on this that India till now has not only been sharing the common negotiating position of the emerging economies along with China, but also articulating the concerns of poor and developing countries.

This is important for two reasons. Firstly, developed countries particularly the United States had refused to accept the ‘differentiated responsibility’ and the underlying principle that those who pollute and thereby damage the ecology more have to take a much greater burden in redeeming the situation now.

And secondly, the developing countries and the emerging economies have to pay for the adaptation of technologies to pave the way for low-carbon development strategies. Clearly, the US and other developed countries are not prepared for this. They are hell-bent upon shifting the onus on to the emerging economies.

This cannot be acceptable to the Indian people because scientific studies have clearly established that while climate changes will affect all of humanity — the worst affects would have to be shouldered by the poor, especially in developing countries. India is likely to be among the major affected regions — with melting of Himalayan glacier, erratic and unseasonal rainfall leading to severe floods and droughts, changes in crop behaviour with adverse impact on production of cereals and of course, threatening the present occupations and livelihood of millions of primary producers.

Irresponsible behaviour

The record of the developed countries, particularly the US had been most irresponsible in the past. The factors affecting climate change could have been much more effectively addressed had the US accepted the Kyoto Protocol and the accompanying mandatory emission cuts. In the present course of climate change negotiations, the same attitude continues.

How can one be unmindful of the fact that compliance with Kyoto would have led to a reduction of emissions by five per cent compared to 1990 base-line level by now? The facts are stunning. The cumulative emission of the developed countries has gone up by 10 per cent and that of US, which stayed out of the Protocol by a whopping 17 per cent.

The cataclysmic proportion of the climate change challenge has been recently highlighted by Maldives — which is a low-lying island nation and a ‘frontline state’ facing the threat of global warming in a dramatic manner. This island nation — scientists are forecasting may disappear within hundred years if the current trend of climate change is not reversed. Obviously in this battle for survival — developed countries, led by the US, have a much greater responsibility as is clearly established from the past records.

The claim that India’s national action plan must voluntarily embark on a series of measures to conserve energy and reduce emissions can dovetail with the developed countries’ demands on emerging economies is an exercise in evasion. This is particularly so, because it fails to recognise that the challenge of climate change is indeed a global phenomenon and not a national one. Ramesh is actually tom-toming mechanically a slogan advanced by the ideologues of the developed countries — “Think globally, act locally.”

It is another thing that our national action plan can only be effective if it is premised with an objective to mitigate the existing levels of energy access inequalities. The Indian poor today suffer a double discrimination — having to disproportionately bear the impact of the global climate change and of an iniquitous energy access. They deserve a better deal.

So, the national negotiating position, in any case, should be the prerogative of the parliament and not that of the government. India must ensure that the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ of the developed and the developing countries is accepted along with the adoption of a credible and responsible pro-poor national action plan to conserve energy and reduce emissions.

(The writer is a Central Secretariat member of the CPM)

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