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India warms up to Copenhagen

Oct 06, 2009

With the Copenhagen meet on climate change drawing closer, the fractiousness between the developed and the developing nations is getting increasingly strident. In a clever move, the Western nations have swiveled the spotlight on India and China, who can make or break the deal, writes Neeta Lal.

New Delhi: With 190 nations poised to forge a momentous agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – an international environment treaty that establishes legally binding commitment for the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) – there is still no unanimity on how to spread out GHG emission curbs.

The amount of financial support and clean technology rich nations should transfer to the poorer ones to help them cope with the cataclysmic effects of rising temperatures is also nebulous.

The urgency to save the planet is lost on no one. Science has proven beyond doubt that the ramifications of rising global temperatures can greatly imperil life on earth. The world needs to keep emissions levels pegged low to help push the planet off the precipice of global warming.

Rainfall patterns and agricultural activity – already hostage to nature’s caprices – are getting seriously impacted, hitting millions of farmers around the world to further diminish the world’s already shrinking granaries.

India prominent player

India – a prominent player of the Group of 77 countries that have a common negotiating plank – has based its climate change stand on two clear principles.

First, that the current stock of GHGs in the atmosphere is the cumulative result of emissions over 150 to 200 years for which the developed nations are entirely responsible. It is only fair, therefore, that the major emission cuts should also come from them.

Second, the UNFCCC outlines the principle of equity, according to which every individual in the world should have equal share of total emissions. India’s argument is that since its annual per capita emissions are way below the world average (1.9 tons), eclipsed by China’s 3.9 tons and the United States’s 24.3 tons, why should it be pressured further to whittle down its emissions?

However, if the developed world expects India to sign on to a carbon- reduction plan, it is only fair that the latter pays for it in terms of cash and technology transfer. Even the UNFCCC acknowledges the primary responsibility of developed countries in triggering global warming.

It notes further that the developing countries have to first address poverty eradication through economic development, and rich nations ought to assist developing ones with their mitigation efforts through both financial compensation and technology transfer.

Already, nearly half of India’s 1.3 billion populace lives in villages with no access to commercial electricity. This helps keeps tabs – albeit indirectly – on its emissions. In addition, more than half the Indians subsist frugally on less than a dollar a day, which is quite the antithesis of a Westerner’s consumptive lifestyle.

Despite this, pressure is ratcheting up on developing economies like India to agree to a time-bound and mandatory emissions reduction protocol. This point was also driven home by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her India visit in July.

Walk out threat

This prompted India’s Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, to state that India cannot let its environmental agenda obfuscate its growth and development. The problem, asserted the minister, has been created by the carbon profligacy of developed countries, and so India’s right to economic development cannot be imperiled by emissions caps designed to make up for Western progress.

Recently, the minister reiterated India’s stand yet again in a strongly worded message by stating “India will walk out of the Copenhagen talks if the Western nations insist on enforcing any kind of legal bindings on its emission trajectory.”

At the same time, lest India be seen as intransigent on the matter, Ramesh has asserted that India is already well aware of its global environmental responsibility. “For us,” said the minister, “GDP doesn’t mean Gross Domestic Product but Green Domestic Product. Unless we think of green economic growth, our growth will not be sustainable.”

The United States, under the Obama administration, is perceived to be willing to sign an agreement that puts restrictions on carbon emissions. As a reaction, India has already asserted that it would be “most unfortunate” if countries like the US decided to place border adjustment taxes on goods produced under less stringent emissions regulations.

Therefore, in a clever move, the Western nations have now swiveled the spotlight on India and China as the key players, whose agreement, or lack of it, will “make or break” the Copenhagen deal. In other words, if Copenhagen fails, we all know who to blame.

But India’s perceived recalcitrance notwithstanding, its government has engaged significantly with climate change through a prime ministerial directive called the National Action Plan (NAP) on Climate Change released last year.

It has also funded adaptation efforts such as economic support for small farmers to switch to growing crops suited to warmer temperatures all over the country. Overall, the government intends to spend two percent of its current GDP on tackling climate change.

Inarguably, the Indian focus – hitherto skewed more on “adaptation” rather than mitigation of the effects of climate change – will now firmly be on how to counter the challenges of environmental degradation and changing crop patterns.

The official approach is also being recalibrated towards proactive mitigation measures that would reduce the country’s dependence on conventional fossil fuel and oil imports to shift towards alternative clean energy solutions.

Mitigation Authority

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the government also proposes to set up a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority (NCCMA). This body will assign and monitor green targets to be achieved by the year 2020 towards reducing India's greenhouse gas emissions. The NCCMA's guidelines would complement NAP’s.

The NAP earmarks eight areas or “missions” for focused energy and climate policy interventions: solar ens,ergy, energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, Himalayan ecosystem sustainable agriculture, strategic knowledge for climate change and a “Green India”.

It also calls for boosting solar power production; reforestation so that a third of the country is forested, up from 23%; providing financial incentives for energy efficiency; research on glacier melt; and development of sustainable agriculture.

The Indian government’s other steps to control climate change include grassroots measures like increasing energy efficiency at the level of individual consumers, including a major drive to popularise energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps in households. The government hopes to increase sales of these bulbs by making them available for less than the market price, using the sale of carbon credits to fund this subsidy.

It is due to its renewed commitment to combat climate change that India has moved from being a bit player at erstwhile global climate change summits to wrest centre stage. Ed Miliband, Britain’s Climate Change Secretary, estimates that rather than a “deal breaker,” India will be a “potential deal maker” at Copenhagen.

This indeed augurs well for the country, bolstering its negotiating profile to make its voice count at perhaps one of this century’s most important summits.

Source : IPS
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