Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Copenhagen Call and Beyond

As Jairam Ramesh prepares to leave New Delhi for Copenhagen this week, there is much that is being debated at home on the role that India will play in reaching a global agreement on climate change. Much drama was witnessed at the start of this week.
Firstly, two seasoned climate negotiators from the Indian delegation refused to leave for Copenhagen .They were Ambassador Dasgupta and ex-environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh.
Secondly, there was a united walk out by all the opposition parties in the RS on the issue of India changing its position on climate change. Arun Jaitley alleged that the government had unilaterally altered the position it held all along. The overall discontentment around Jairam Ramesh with this new position was that India had sold its future and had weakened its position as a Negotiator.So had Jairam Ramesh altered the Indian position after all these years?
Yes he had. And very rightly so.
What Jairam Ramesh has done in the last 6 months since he took over the Ministry has been to quickly fill up the leadership role on a climate agenda. There has been virtually no leadership in the climate change space in India –it has been vacant –almost a leadership free zone. Government voices on climate change in India had so far been inaudible. He started to think out of the box, he started to change the game and started playing a different card. So just what did he do and what did he change around?
For the un-initiated on climate change politics, here is the background.
Decades of high fossil fuel consumption by rich countries has created the climate crisis by pumping large amounts of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere - the onus to clean up and give room to others to develop in a carbon constrained world, therefore, lay with the rich countries. The rich countries had to pay for damages. But this reached a deadlock with developed countries not committing to emission reduction targets nor putting money on the table. India’s argument was that in order to continue on its development pathway of a 7 to 8% GDP growth it had a right to emit and therefore could not take on any target for reducing emissions. Its development story had just!
Nothing wrong with this argument – it is the “polluter pay principle” in action. Those who pollute must clean up and pay up. However, the developing countries continue to suffer climate consequences through no fault. Infact, in a recent estimate, the World Bank suggests that the developing world will suffer 80% of the damage from climate change despite accounting for only one third of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So discussions have been around issues like –who pays whom and how much, transfer of technology, funds – issues around equity has been central.
With 1.1 billion people – or a population of just under one sixth the global total – India’s per capita emissions are a mere 1.7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per capita, compared to 23.5 tons CO2e per capita for the US. China is at 4.5 tons per capita (China has recently moved to Number 1 polluter in aggregate terms). Having such a low per capita emission really means that India must continue to emit to ensure its road to development continues – nothing can come in its way. India had a carbon emission right.
But this argument is unhelpful – the per capita argument allows rich Indians to hide behind the carbon strapped poor.
Playing the blame game has not made us prepare for the climate onslaught. India has spent year after year fighting this argument, justly so, but 15 years have gone by. While our GDP continues to gallop anywhere between 6 and 8% ,the most vulnerable continue to bear the brunt of climate change – floods, droughts, water scarcity, rising temperatures and disease, agricultural impacts, rise in sea level along coastal areas are some areas of intense vulnerability.
From the days of Kyoto Protocol lots has changed for India. Jairam Ramesh was quick enough to recognise this and get India to Copenhagen with a number .The Minister wants to show that we are a climate responsible nation – not for the sake of Copenhagen but for the sake of millions of Indians at risk.
A target to reduce its carbon intensity by 20 to 25% by 2020 was announced. This is indeed ambitious and has taken people by surprise. Further, India has joined the other developing countries (and NOT the developed countries) to go to the table and demand deep commitment targets from developed countries. It goes into the talks better equipped to negotiate having puts its ambition out on the table along with the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China.)
This new position shames the developed world - there is a sudden reversal in leadership. Jairam Ramesh has made it very clear that there is “no dilution” in India’s position and at no cost will India take on legally binding emission cuts. India’s interest and India interests alone shall dictate the negotiating stance while continuing to insist that developed countries take on legally binding deep emission cuts.
I do not know what the outcome will be on December 18th 2009 when the Copenhagen summit ends but this much I know.
That the challenge for India will be to build a new economy and build it at a speed that will allow us to meet climate deadlines – a world where our forests will expand, our food will be local, where our renewable energy sources rise, where rainfall will be predictable, where farmers do not live under uncertainty of droughts and floods, where are coastal cities are safe, where are glaciers continue to feed our rivers and where we can safely say we have secured the future of our children’s children.

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