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BRICS is articulating the need for change at the global level: Ambassador Dasgupta

Dec 17, 2012

Chandrashekhar Dasgupta talks to OneWorld South Asia on the way ahead for BRICS countries over climate change negotiations as well as managing their economic growth. Dasgupta, a Distinguished Fellow at TERI, is engaged with research on Climate Change and other global environmental issues. Earlier, as an officer with Indian Foreign Service, he was the Indian ambassador to many countries.

Ambassador Dasgupta

OneWorld South Asia: The BRICS countries are currently playing a major role in propelling the world economy. Do you think they can hold on to the same levels of economic growth in future as well, considering that the other major powers like the US and EU have crumbled. Or, do you think they too are headed the same way-towards an economic bubble and a subsequent collapse?

Chandrashekhar Dasgupta: There is a wide technology gap between the BRICS countries and the most advanced OECD countries. This applies even to Russia which, unlike the other BRICS members, is classified as a developed country. BRICS countries are, therefore, in a position to benefit from the possibilities of technology leapfrogging, i.e. to move directly to the latest and most efficient technologies without passing through several intermediate stages. This explains the rapid growth achieved by the BRICS countries in recent years.

However, as the BRICS countries succeed in narrowing the technology gap, the possibilities of further leapfrogging will necessarily register a decline. This means that growth rates will tend to decline over the long run as the BRICS (and other developing countries) raise their technology and living standards to levels closer to those of the most advanced countries. After a certain stage, growth rates will inevitably decline.

OWSA: There is intense global pressure on some of the BRICS countries to rein in their emissions. How will the BRICS respond to this challenge? Will this pressure cause fissures in the grouping or will they remain committed to the other?

Dasgupta: There is mutual consultation between the BRICS countries on climate change but this does not mean that they have a common position in international negotiations on the issue. Russia is a developed country; its commitments under the climate change treaties in regard to greenhouse gas emissions are similar to those of other developed countries. The other BRICS countries – Brazil, India, China and South Africa – are developing countries and they accordingly share many common interests. These four countries constitute the BASIC group and closely coordinate their positions in the climate change negotiations.

OWSA: The fourth BRICS Summit in Delhi this year has already discussed the developments and changes of contemporary global and regional importance - a faltering global recovery, the euro zone crisis; concerns of sustainable development and climate change; the concern over the developing political scenario in the Middle East and North Africa. What else can the DSDS 2013 with its theme - 'Choices before the BRICS and a new economic construct' add to the BRICS dialogue? Do we see anything new come out of the deliberations for BRICS?

Dasgupta: In my view, a relatively small number of advanced countries, all of whom are OECD members, currently play a disproportionate role in decision making on global economic issues. The balance of economic power is, however, changing quite rapidly. The BRICS members (together with a number of other countries) are ascendant economic powers but their rise is yet to be fully reflected in global decision making processes. As the 21st century progresses, we will witness a much wider distribution of economic power than we have seen in the past two centuries. This will inevitably be reflected in the rules and decision making processes in multilateral economic forums. The BRICS countries are articulating the need for change.

OWSA: With almost 40 per cent of the global population in the five BRICS countries, of which four are considered as emerging economies, can they adopt a middle path so that their growth is not compromised; their people are pulled out of poverty and also that their environment remains clean?

Dasgupta: These are vitally important challenges confronting all countries, not only BRICS. What you describe as a ‘middle path’ can only be the path of sustainable development, the path of meeting the needs of the present generation without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This does not mean balancing development against environmental factors. What it means is that we must not confuse depletion of our environmental capital with development. We should not measure development by using a distorted yardstick. It means that we must harness development to protect the environment. Our aim should be to achieve rapid and inclusive development, while taking care to use some of the additional resources generated by development to replenish and enhance our environmental capital.

OWSA: China recently signed a deal with the EU to cut down on the greenhouse gases. Russia's emissions have declined considerably since the Soviet-era time. So, at the global climate change negotiations, India has often been cited as the bully and recalcitrant over environment protection. How does India change this image?

Dasgupta: I do not think it can truly be said that India has often been cited either as a bully or a recalcitrant party in the negotiations. How can India be cited as a bully? Have we ever used pressure tactics against any party, such as threatening to cut off aid or development cooperation? How can we be described as a recalcitrant party when - unlike some countries - we have neither withdrawn from any treaty nor refused to implement any treaty obligation? India is only calling on all countries to enhance implementation of the climate change convention and the Kyoto Protocol. If anyone chooses to describe India as a bully or recalcitrant party, we need to scrutinise the accuser’s own record.

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