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The unholy alliance of four

Dec 28, 2009

India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh and others of his ilk ought to know that it is entirely in India’s interests to align ourselves with G77, writes Darryl D’Monte, Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India. The right to grow doesn’t only restrict itself to the GDP increase, he argues.

Reading the lines that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh delivered in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday and between them, the message is evident. “We have been successful in defending India’s national interests,” he said.

Darryl D'Monte.jpg

“I didn’t go to Copenhagen with the mandate of saving the world or humanity. My mandate was to defend India’s right to develop at a faster rate. For Western countries, it is an environmental issue but for us, it is a development issue.”

Ramesh is articulating what a section of India’s elite fervently believes: that it is entirely in our interests to align ourselves with the United States and other major emitters of greenhouse gases. Hence the unholy alliance of four, which China cobbled together, known as BASIC – Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

These are what the US and European Union were targeting in the build-up to Copenhagen as “major emerging countries or economies”, a term which doesn’t figure anywhere in UN negotiations that have been painstakingly proceeding since Bali two years ago.

These four countries are certainly going to be powers to reckon with in the future, in part due to their large populations and natural resources. However, does this mean that they are no longer developing countries?

Even China has a per capita income of only $3,000 and as many as 150 million Chinese live below the poverty line. The contradictions between the elites (till recently, exclusively white) of South Africa and Brazil and their majorities are too well-known to bear repetition; by some reckoning, Brazil has the worst class differentials of any society.

Where does that leave India? While there are ongoing debates about how many live below the poverty line – ranging from 50% to 27% – some common sense can help cut through the wrangling.

Mumbai is surely one of the richest cities in India: if 55% of its 16 million population lives in slums, they are obviously below the poverty line in not being able to afford decent housing, one of three essentials (roti, kapda aur makaan).

By the same token, isn’t the rest of India far worse off than Mumbai’s citizens? The Arjun Sengupta Committee reported in 2007 that 836 million Indians spend no more than Rs 20 a day. The ‘poverty line’ measured in calories should be redefined as the starvation line.

Ramesh and others of his ilk ought to know that it is entirely in India’s interests to align ourselves with G77 – the group of 130 developing countries, with or without China. That is our common future, not the interests of  the 250 million Indians whom New York Times columnist Tom Freidman dubs ‘Americons’, consumers on a US scale within this country, which would include all of us.

The right to grow doesn’t only restrict itself to the GDP increase, in which India is admittedly a star performer, but the distribution of that growth.

On that score, as the country with some of the world’s most abysmal human development indices – it figures 134th out of 182 countries in this year’s United Nations list, down from 126 in 2008 – it certainly deserves to be reckoned as a very poor country. Indeed, in terms of the absolute numbers of poor, it has the most in the world.

Ramesh’s second thesis only confirms the belief that some sections are seeking to redefine India’s status. He stated: “We don’t want international aid. Let us stop this technology transfer mantra. In the next five to ten years, we will be transferring technology to other countries.”

In recent years, India has sought to project itself as an aid-giving rather than receiving country, at least as far as its immediate neighbours are concerned.

"600 million Indians have to make do without commercial energy altogether and half of these have no access to electricity"

To argue the same in relation to the Copenhagen outcome is totally to deviate from India’s repeatedly-stated position. As the Kyoto protocol underlines, all countries have a “common but differentiated responsibility” to tackle climate change.

Furthermore, as our negotiators have been repeating ad nauseam, even in Copenhagen, India won’t agree to any compulsory commitments without industrial countries first providing funds and technology for this and other developing nations, which are the victims of global warming.

Ramesh’s much-vaunted ‘flexibility’ is one thing, elasticity is another matter altogether. Do we really believe that India has the technological prowess to become an exporter of renewable energy in the near future?

We may have the fifth largest installed wind energy capacity, but the technology is imported, as is that for solar power. China may have three of the top ten solar companies, but they have invested billions in such technologies.

Meanwhile, will it be impertinent to remind the minister that 600 million Indians have to make do without commercial energy altogether and half of these have no access to electricity? What has prevented the government from providing these most essential forms of energy – a clean stove to cook with, a light to read with, all these 60 years?

Source : HT
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