Opinion / Analysis

Back in the Fray: India and Climate Negotiation

Avilash Roul

India’s announcement on voluntary reduction of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has accelerated otherwise snail-paced negotiation on a deal to be reached at Copenhagen this December. It is a welcome step but tactical move. From the solitude of obstructing, as many argue, to all inclusive to the Copenhagen, India has sent a signal of relief to the climate negotiators, mostly representatives of developed countries. If world sees this Indian move as a surprise, they are wrong. India’s Environment and Forest Minister announced that India is in a position to quantify the reductions into a broadly indicative number that can be shared with the rest of the world. “We are already taking a number of actions that will result in significant reductions of our greenhouse gas emissions," Environment Minister told to an Indian English Daily last week. In true sense, the Indian position has not changed at all in the international climate negotiations on the binding cuts of emissions of GHG which causes climate change. India’s most communicative Environment and Forest Minister told that legislation was being drafted to limit India’s carbon footprint ahead of Copenhagen. This legislation would set India’s own targets for mitigating carbon emissions through various domestic initiatives which will be consistent with India’s annual growth rate. Also, it will be consistent with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance that India will never exceed the per capita emissions of the industrialized nations. while India is now at 4th position in terms of national carbon emissions, its per capita emissions remain among the lowest in the world. While some believe that the announcement as ‘first time’ in terms of quantifying reduction or ‘flowed’ from India’s national climate change action plan or ‘breakthrough’ for the slow progress on Copenhagen deal or ‘nuance shift’ as in Minister’s own word, the timing of the announcements by the Minister of Environment and Forest in several occasions in a short span is a tactical move. To send a message of India’s seriousness on combating climate change across the Globe especially European Union, to steadfast the US Climate Bill, signalling to meeting of Major Economies Forum, a special session on climate change before the commencement of the UN General Assembly and over all the remaining talks for the Bangkok, the statement was released. The government announcement also comes at a time when the other key player in the climate negotiations, the US, is finding it difficult to pass its domestic legislation on climate change. The EU which always push India to join the reduction club are now re-redrafting its proposal to the Copenhagen after this announcement. The announcement is also a blow to the radically unsound climate plan for Copenhagen proposed by Australia. While key actors in the climate negotiations are preparing plans to propose for the Copenhagen, even after submitting to UNFCCC Secretariat, will be rethinking again after India’s tacit move. On this background, the rudiments of tacit move by developed countries will be seen in immediately in UNFCCC intersessional meeting in Bangkok. India’s announcement is not new with respect to international climate negotiation. What Indian Minister announced is to make verification within its domestic emissions. It relies on the mindset of the development planners to resort to less carbon emitting models of development. While the Indian stance has been and will be remaining so on the legally binding emission cut till the talks begin on Copenhagen Protocol-II i.e., till 2020. This ‘tough’ position, as the US special climate negotiator pointed out, will remain as tough during the talks of Conference of Parties (COP). In all probability, the Chinese premier’s speech on the eve of UN General Assembly gathering will roll out the same voluntary cap for the China as well. The massive investment on renewable energy in China will be one of the arguments for the voluntary mitigation in Premiers climate plan. However, the way these two Asian giant, India and China have been presented in the climate change debates depend on the argument experts put forward to rationalise their positions. Mostly the Scandinavian countries/EU and the environmental NGOs based in the developed countries who follows the suit of their countries voice strongly argue that without India and China’s commitment the climate deal won’t occur. Probably, this argument is gravely mistaken. The Kyoto Protocol is on without the US as well! Both countries have taken measures gradually to address the issue within their national boundaries and within their capabilities. On July 9, 2009,(at L’Aquila, Italy), the 17 member countries Including India and China agreed that ‘vision for future cooperation on climate change, consistent with equity and our common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’. There has been deliberate attempt to make a fissure among India and China positions on climate change. So far the attempts have been failed to succeed. World has been witnessing India’s positions from a strong moral representation of developing world to a realistic nationalistic tough stances on environment for the last four decades since Stockholm Summit. ‘Poverty is the worst polluter’ in 1972 to ‘committed to ecologically sustainable development’ in 2009, India has seen many instances of the impact of climate change. The reluctantly engaged Vajpayee government in the climate negotiations has remarkably shifted to willingness of engagement under the present Prime Minister. This all started in the preparation for the G-8 meetings in 2005. Although this statement is tantamount to a massive debate from the oppositions in the Indian Parliament, it has rather received applause from the experts in India. Hopefully, other South Asian countries will also agree on India’s tacit move. India wants to see the Copenhagen outcome as “credible, equitable and pragmatic". Some sort of Kyoto Protocol which will be keeping India out of the legally binding mechanism would be most welcome by India.

Author Note
Avilash Roul has been closely monitoring climate negotiation since 1994. He presently works with NGO Forum on ADB in Philippines.