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Swinging from Inaction to Capitulation on Climate Policy

Manmohan Singh's government appears to be contemplating a 180-degree turn to India's twodecade old position on global and country-wise commitments to combat climate change. The leaked contents of an extraordinary communication from Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicate that the new thinking is only a thinly veiled proposal to barter India's energy and developmental future for an illusory superpower status that would contribute little to the nation and its people. The focus on the new thinking is on the accommodation of developed nations' interests on climate change rather than finding means to force them to live up to their commitments.

COMMENTARY

Swinging from Inaction to Capitulation on Climate Policy

T Jayaraman

Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);

(iii) India, in the interest of securing some kind of agreement at the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen in December will agree to the watering down of emission reduction commitments by the developed countries to well below the tar-

Manmohan Singh’s government appears to be contemplating a 180-degree turn to India’s twodecade old position on global and country-wise commitments to combat climate change. The leaked contents of an extraordinary communication from Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicate that the new thinking is only a thinly veiled proposal to barter India’s energy and developmental future for an illusory superpower status that would contribute little to the nation and its people. The focus on the new thinking is on the accommodation of developed nations’ interests on climate change rather than finding means to force them to live up to their commitments.

T Jayaraman (tjayaraman@gmail.com) is at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

A
fter a decade and a half of inaction and bringing up the rear in global climate change negotiations, India’s climate policy seems all set to swing to the opposite extreme of capitulation to the demands of the industrialised nations. R ecent media reports, notably in the Times of India (19 October 2009) and the Reuters News Agency (16 October 2009), suggest that important sections of the government of India, led by Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, are pushing a radical rewriting of India’s c limate policy.

As reported by Times of India, some of the key changes that are being pushed are the subject of a letter addressed by Jairam Ramesh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While Manmohan Singh himself has not addressed this policy shift publicly, it is clear from the minister’s Reuters interview that the formulation of a new policy direction has the explicit sanction of the prime minister. In a press release on 20 October, the environment minister has sought to assuage public concern by reiterating that the fundamentals of India’s climate policy had not been seriously altered. However, the statement does not address key, specific concerns that have been reported in the media, and other concerns that have also arisen from Jairam Ramesh’s statements themselves in various media interviews.

Key Changes Mooted

The key changes that form part of the 180-degree turn in climate policy that is currently under way appear to be the following: (i) India will declare unilateral climate change mitigation actions without seeking any quid pro quo or conditionality on emission reduction commitments by the developed world; (ii) India will agree to the monitoring of its commitments in some form, even if not as formal reporting requirements to the United Nations Framework

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gets recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC);

(iv) India will not seek any quid pro quo from the developed world in terms of adaptation financing and technology transfer for the developing countries and will be prepared for a considerably lowered financial commitment; and (v) India will no longer tie its position to that of the G-77 (namely, all developing countries) but will focus on the G-20 as its arena of intervention.

To cap it all (the pun is certainly intended), the minister’s letter suggests that India’s climate change positions must be “pragmatic and constructive”, that India “must listen more and speak less” in global negotiations and, most strikingly, that India’s current climate policy positions are not in keeping with “India’s aspirations to permanent membership of the Security Council”.

In this set of critical giveaways, the first three are clearly the most damaging ones. The idea that a unilateral declaration of emission reduction commitments by India would be of value in global negotiations is entirely misplaced. It is deeply disturbing, however, that this misunderstanding reaches the highest levels of policymaking in this country. Even if India were to undertake unilateral commitments, they are of little use if the bulk of the world’s rich industrialised nations (who have contributed 76% of the current stock of greenhouse gases (GHGs), in the atmosphere and contributed roughly 52% of all GHG emissions in 2005) continue to refuse to undertake the drastic emission reductions that are part of their historic responsibility. Unilateralism of this kind merely sanctions the continued occupation by the developed nations of more than their fair share of the global atmospheric commons (in terms of the available space for GHG emissions). Clearly the task before India, that is outside the ranks of the biggest emitters by a long shot (Indian annual per capita emissions of carbon d ioxide are roughly 1.2 tonnes compared

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to 22 tonnes for the United States and a pproximately 4.3 tonnes for China), is to find a means of curbing these emissions. Unilateralism is fine talk but clearly of l ittle use in protecting the Indian people from the impacts of unrestrained global warming, if such indeed is the minister’s motivation for unilateralism.

‘Realism’

It is clear that in the new climate policy framework, the focus is on the accommodation of developed nations’ interests rather than finding means to force them to live up to their commitments. The watchwords under this new policy, as proposed by Manmohan Singh (and emphasised by Jairam Ramesh to Reuters) are “flexibility” and “realism”. In practice this implies that India would accept much lower emission reduction targets on the part of the Annex I countries. Indeed the minister has suggested that even targets as low as 25% reduction with respect to 1990 annual emission levels by the year 2020 would be acceptable. This is in marked contrast to the earlier Indian stand of insisting on the IPCC recommended figure of 40% reduction by the year 2020 with respect to 1990 emission levels.

The government of India is clearly getting ready to accept a considerable rewriting of the Kyoto Protocol by the developed economies in the post-2012 period. According to the minister as reported by the Times of India:

We must welcome initiatives to bring the US into the mainstream, if need be through a special mechanism, without diluting basic Annex 1/non-Annex distinctions. If the Australian Proposal of a schedule maintains this basic distinction and nature of differential obligations we should have no great theological objections.

The touching concern for the world’s foremost emitter and the only nation to have had climate denial enshrined as national policy is striking, as is the willingness to rewrite Kyoto to suit this nation. More disturbing though is the new found enthusiasm for the “so-called” Australian proposal. It is a characteristic case of the Manmohan Singh government’s penchant, as in the case of the nuclear deal, to be satisfied with the wordplay of inter national agreements ignoring their substantive content and implications. The Australian proposal ostensibly differentiates between Annex I and non-Annex I

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by referring to “legally binding commitments” on mitigation by the former as opposed to “commitments” by the latter. The proposal also distinguishes between national actions and commitments, leaving unclear the exact distinction between the two kinds of commitments. Apart from the considerable ambiguity in the definition of commitments there is also further uncertainty in the manner of their implementation through so-called “national schedules”. These national schedules are to have a common format for all countries, which will be required, among other things, to submit proposals for long-term pathways of emissions reductions and proposed peaking years for emissions.

A detailed discussion of the Australian proposal is clearly beyond the scope of this comment. But it is clear that the blithe attitude of the minister, dismissing detailed consideration of its serious implications as “theological objections”, is wholly misplaced.

The acceptance of the Australian proposal together with the readiness to provide unilateral commitments on emissions reductions without any quid pro quo from the developed nations is tantamount to closing India’s future energy and developmental options.

One-sided Unilateralism

It bears emphasis that this new unilateralism is of an entirely one-sided kind, with an overwhelming emphasis on cooperation with the global North rather than paying equal attention to attempts to force clear commitments from them. One may agree with the government of India that the Kyoto Protocol need not be considered to have been inscribed in stone. But what is not on the agenda of the government of India is any initiative that would exert the slightest pressure on the Annex I countries.

One such initiative could have been a clear and forthright statement on carbon offsets, insisting that developed nations’ mitigation actions must take place at home and that no offsets could be included as part of domestic mitigation accounting. It is notable that the minister’s proposals are totally silent on the question of carbon offsets that represent a significant attempt by the developed nations to pass on their emission reduction burden to the developing

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nations. Equally it also represents an attempt to evade the direct responsibility of developed nations to develop new green technologies. In critical high-emission sectors such as power generation, many European Union countries like the United Kingdom look forward to carbon offsets rather than the development of new technologies as the main option for mitigation. The developing countries have a sufficiently onerous task in developing new low-carbon pathways of development without the additional burden of carbon offsets.

Another unilateral initiative that would have been worth considering is a commitment to compulsory non-exclusionary l icensing of all “green technologies” in the manner of the provisions already available for essential drugs and pharmaceuticals. Or to go further, a unilateral declaration of the non-availability of strong intellectual property rights protection for “green technologies” could have been put on the agenda. It is noteworthy that such initiatives do not have any place in the current surge of unilateralism on the part of the government of India in climate policy.

While clearly it would be politically u nacceptable in India that the country u ndertakes any kind of binding emission commitments that is subject to UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol style verification, there are clearly proposals afoot for India to a ccede to some kind of verification for its mitigation actions without any hint of i ndependent or multilateral verification requirements for the advanced industrial nations. The Australian proposal has made this clear in its tying up of monitoring and verification with the provisions for adaptation financing and assistance for technology transfer.

Sensible Independent Proposals

Democratic and progressive opinion in this country has for some time now a rgued, driven also by scientific opinion, that large developing countries also need to play a proactive role in climate change mitigation, even though they have little or no responsibility in creating the problem of global warming. In particular it has become clear, as a recent analysis published in this journal showed (Tejal Kanitkar et al, EPW, 10 October 2009), that large developing countries have a substantial role to play by lowering

COMMENTARY

their growth rate of emissions from their current growth rates by at least 25% by 2030. Subsequently, they have also to participate in emissions r eduction in absolute terms between the years 2030 and 2040. Amongst these countries, China has a special role and needs to initiate action at an earlier date than other developing countries.

From this point of view they had been critical of the earlier negotiating stance of the government of India that tended to view the climate change issue as a foreign policy issue rather than a critical issue r elated to the development trajectory of the global South.

However, they have also always emphasised that from the basic perspective of climate equity and equitable access to the global atmospheric commons, any mitigation action by the large developing nations should be conditional on appropriate a ctions by the industrialised nations, such as have been outlined above.

It was also clear that India, despite the rhetoric at the global climate negotiating table (undoubtedly sincerely conducted by the country’s representatives), also piggybacked on the previous Bush administration’s climate denial stance by undertaking little proactive efforts to break the deadlock in global talks on this issue. It also pointedly avoided any criticism of the Bush administration from the highest levels of the government on the issue of climate change. It also progressively agreed to several market-driven, private sector dominated strategies for combating climate change that were being advocated by the United States and the rest of the global North, many of which were far from being beneficial to developing countries. In many ways, as one can argue, climate policy was seen as an arena for concessions to the US when pressure mounted in areas such as nuclear policy.

US Shift, Indian Shift

With the entry of the Barack Obama administration that has a proactive attitude to climate change, the Manmohan Singh has had to shift its stance. However, it is clear that the government of India is still driven by its foreign policy orientation on climate change, except that now the emphasis has shifted to playing to the Obama administration’s concerns and those of the rest of the G-8. The illusion that India’s aspirations for superpower status would be served by capitulation on key contentious issues in climate change negotiations is a laughable one.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the proposals is the suggestion that India break ranks with the developing nations as a whole. The suggestion that India should focus on the G-20 in negotiations in reality would mean getting into the orbit of the G-8 in terms of climate policy, a move with profoundly negative consequences for the poor in India and the developing world as a whole. India’s climate policy must be founded on the development needs of the majority of its population and the needs of India’s future development. The proposals in their current form are only a thinly veiled proposal to barter India’s energy and developmental future for an illusory superpower status that would contribute little to the nation and its people.

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