Don't give in

The resignation of Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change, seems to suggest that subtle changes are taking place in India’s policy and negotiating positions on how to formulate and put in place an international agreement after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol. The appointment as National Security Advisor of Shankar Menon, Saran’s junior in the External Affairs Ministry, is unlikely to have been the reason for his decision to quit. Saran is known to have developed differences of opinion with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh over India’s positions on climate change. Ramesh has acknowledged these differences as relating to working styles. But they seem to go deeper and may arise from different perceptions on substantive issues relating to climate change, India’s interests and responsibilities and its role in the developing countries’ bloc.

The minister had proposed to the Prime Minister last year that India should consider voluntary emission cuts, delink itself from the group of developing countries and move closer to the developed countries. Though the import of the letter was underplayed, it sowed doubts about the minister’s commitment to the country’s well-known positions. These doubts have strengthened after the Copenhagen summit. Two other senior members of the Indian negotiating team, Chandrasekhar Dasgupta and Prodipto Ghosh, also had disagreements with the minister in the run-up to the summit. If Saran’s departure means that the minister’s line will prevail, it will mean a dilution of India’s position. Acceptance by the developed countries of their responsibility for climate change and a legally binding agreement which will make them pay for the mitigation efforts of developing countries have been important demands which India, China, South Africa and Brazil have made. Developing countries cannot also accept binding emission cuts and the principles underlying the Kyoto Protocol cannot be compromised.

There is likely to be pressure on India to make concessions to the developed countries on these issues. India’s political leadership has in the past withstood these pressures and its negotiating team has effectively conveyed its position in international fora. If Saran’s resignation is an indication that the country is vulnerable to the pressures, the government has much to answer for. Countries like China have not yielded an inch. India too should hold fast to its known positions and stick with the developing countries to protect its own national interests.

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