India's agenda

India's agenda

India's agenda

The confusions and prevarications in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit, which is to open tomorrow, had created doubts about the Indian agenda for the crucial negotiations in the coming fortnight. Official announcements, deliberate leaks and statements from responsible officials had all added to the confusion. Creating a smokescreen is not always a bad bargaining ploy and that is the best construction that can be put on many diverse views which were aired in the past few weeks.
But the line of argument that has run through this welter of ideas has been fairly clear and stable, except for the proposals which were put forward in a letter written by Environment minister Jairam Ramesh to the Prime Minister last month, in which there were indications of a subtle change of position and willingness to sacrifice some accepted positions for the sake of unrelated gains in future. 

The two co-ordinates of this policy line are protection of national interests, defined in terms of economic growth, and collective bargaining in the company of other developing countries. Within these two parameters there is enough room for flexibility, which is necessary for any successful negotiations. The Prime Minister, in his latest statement, has reaffirmed the Indian position by ruling out acceptance of any legally binding cuts on carbon emissions and underlining the need for transfer of technological expertise and funds for mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries.

The charter of non-negotiable points, finalised on China’s initiative last week, and endorsed by India, South Africa and Brazil, has expended on this position. These are again a  rejection of international measurement, reporting and verification of national actions and linking of climate action to trade issues. They make up the cornerstones on which the developing countries’ negotiating platform can be built and can provide a good starting point at Copenhagen. The proposal for a peak year for emissions for the developing countries should be an absolute no-no, though there can be some flexibility on the idea of international scrutiny of mitigation actions.

The announcement of reduction of carbon emissions by 20-25 per cent of the GDP from 2005 levels by 2020, as done by China last week, will strengthen India’s position.
That will not only be an indication of the commitment to the goal of greenhouse gas emission reduction but will also be an attempt to shift the terms of climate debate to a different level. Both India and China are under pressure to quantify their emission cuts because in absolute terms they are big emitters of carbon. India’s claims of low emissions per capita have not impressed the world. This is because the growth of population will continue at a fast pace for the next few decades. A  position based on emission per unit of GDP may be more convincing and acceptable.

It should also not be lost on the world that the energy intensity of India’s GDP has been falling for many years. It means it is using less and less energy for every unit of national income. Other initiatives taken by the country can also be cited. India and China have signed an MoU for greater co-operation and sharing of knowhow on environmental issues. India has a national action plan on climate and proposes to set up a climate change mitigation authority. It has initiated other actions like revising the air quality standards and norms for motor vehicle emissions.

 Projects to tap wind, solar and water energy are being undertaken. There are still more actions like energy-efficiency certificates for the industry, alternative energy programmes, green building codes, adoption of green coal technologies and afforestation schemes. India has not given sufficient publicity to them and contrasted them with the poor action on the part of the rich countries. They will help to strengthen the country’s negotiating profile.

India’s vital role
But projection of national efforts, arguments drawing upon facts and numbers and moral postures based on historical experiences will not move the negotiations far enough. That is because strong national interests of the developed countries are involved and they will refuse to accept any agreement which will adversely affect their economies built on carbon.

Therefore, developing countries will have to stick hard to their positions and stick fast together if they want to make any impact in Copenhagen. As  a leader of the group India has major responsibilities to them, apart from its own obligations to the country’s people and the commitment to protect its future.