Subtle shift in climate policy

Minister espouses flexibility without sacrificing sovereignty

Subtle shift in climate policy

MoS for Environment & Forests Jairam Ramesh at Parliament House in New Delhi on Monday. PTI

“Our thinking on climate change has to evolve and not remain frozen in time,” Ramesh said in a statement on the outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Analysts believe Ramesh’s statement, though cryptic, was indication that the UPA government could be veering around to a view that Western governments have been voicing on developing countries’ responsibility toward emission cuts. The environment minister’s statement should therefore be seen in the light of the deal it struck with the United States the day Copenhagen concluded.
Seeking “flexibility within a framework of certain non-negotiable,” Ramesh said that the Copenhagen conference was “not a destination but the beginning of a long process.”

Less than week after the climate conference ended, many analysts not only believe that Copenhagen was a failure but they apprehend that the summit may lead to a new climate order deviating from the path charted by the Kyoto Protocol.
Since Copenhagen, India has come under criticism for being a party in allowing “international consultation and analysis” even on nationally supported mitigation projects, a move which the government steadfastly opposed even in Parliament ahead of the summit.

Ramesh, however, claimed such consultation would always follow a clearly defined guideline to ensure “national sovereignty was respected.”

While no one in government has any issue on international measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) on projects funded by foreign donors, the Centre ruled out permitting foreign inspection of domestic mitigation projects even on the floor of the House. 

The indigenous mitigation projects were to be reported to the United Nation as a part of India’s national communication every two years. A clear diversion in the Copenhagen Accord, therefore, worries many.  According to Pradipto Ghosh, a former Union environment secretary and a member of the Indian negotiating team, it was an “extremely difficult and contentious” issue.

“The most difficult and contentious task will be finalisation of the guidelines for international consultation and analysis of the mitigation actions while respecting national sovereignty,” Ghosh said.

Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said that in a clear violation of the UN principles the Copenhagen Accord attempted “to obliterate the distinction between supported and unsupported verification.” Similar sentiments were echoed by CPM’s Sitaram Yechury who was part of an Indian delegation.

Pleading guilty to the charge that the government had shifted its stand, Ramesh said the repositioning was necessary to avoid being tagged as “blame boys.” New Delhi relented because the US insisted on a transparency clause before agreeing to release funds to India’s neighbours like Bangladesh and Maldives. “Transparency clause is directed at China which emits 23 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gases. Nobody has anything against India,” he said. Ramesh brushed aside apprehensions, arguing that the negotiations, expected to culminate in Mexico City, would not undermine India’s sovereignty.

The US wanted words like ‘scrutiny’, ‘review’ and ‘verification’, which was resisted by the BASIC group . BASIC’s suggestion to use ‘dialogue’ or ‘discussion’ was not acceptable to the US. Both sides finally agreed on the clause on “international consultation and analysis.” “India has been holding consultations with the WTO and the IMF for years. There is no erosion of sovereignty. We should not fear the clause as there is no great sell out,” Ramesh clarified.

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