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Updated: June 7, 2013 02:17 IST

Change the climate for India’s poor

Arun Mohan Sukumar
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New Delhi should stop its flip-flops and adopt a coherent policy in its negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions

If the great Scott Fitzgerald were to have walked into the grand plenary hall of the Durban climate conference in 2011 to announce once again, “show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” all fingers would have pointed to the tiny Indian contingent in the room. There, Fitzgerald would have caught a glimpse of the feisty Jayanthi Natarajan, Union Minister for Environment and Forests, holding the fort against attempts by developed countries to impose binding emission cuts on the global South. The “greatest tragedy of all time,” Ms Natarajan would herself acknowledge, would be for negotiators to abandon the principles of equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). Two years later, this tragedy is imminent — only India’s heroism remains.

The first signs of this tragic denouement were visible a few minutes after the Durban plenary closed. Negotiators from the European Union, the United States and the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries simply huddled together and struck a deal to negotiate an international agreement with legal force on, inter alia, emission cuts by 2015. In this arrangement, known now as the ‘Durban Platform,’ equity and CBDR principles struggled to find relevance. India somehow claimed victory in helping resuscitate the Kyoto Protocol — a treaty rendered worthless without its engagement with the world’s largest carbon emitters, China and the U.S. Throw in a vacuous institution like the Green Climate Fund to save face, and India’s message was clear: we will live to fight another day.

That day is nowhere near the horizon. What is, though, is a perfect storm of international and domestic politics that threatens not only to produce an agreement which fails the imperative to tackle climate change, but also derail India’s core concerns in the process.

‘U.S. intransigence'

The news from Bonn, where U.N. climate negotiators met last month to flesh out details of the 2015 agreement, is not reassuring. The U.S. has proposed a mechanism by which countries define their own “contribution” to emission cuts. Once such contributions have been agreed upon nationally, a peer review mechanism could be put in place for monitoring and compliance. The U.S. submission, which Washington claims is driven by ‘realistic’ expectations, is nothing new. In fact, the narrative of “contributions” takes two steps backward from the language of “commitments” that the Durban platform recognises. Even within this minimalist framework, the U.S. has audaciously called for an agreement that lends “flexibility” to countries to “update their contributions.”

What is worrisome, however, is the international community’s surprisingly warm reaction to the U.S. proposal this time round. To some extent, this was inevitable. Negotiators in Bonn were well aware that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide had neared a staggering 400 parts per million (ppm); a week after their meeting, this threshold was crossed. If the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), whose very existence hinges on the outcome of these negotiations, had already thrown in the towel for the sake of an(y) agreement, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) too have joined the chorus. As Sebastian Duyck, an analyst and blogger at the ‘Adopt a Negotiator Project’, observes: “negotiators of many countries have begun to consider how to accommodate U.S. intransigence.” The U.S.’s “bottom-up” proposal, which emphasises national autonomy over multilaterally negotiated commitments, comes too little and too late to achieve any measurable progress in setting the climate clock backwards.

The jury is still out on the fate of equity and CBDR principles — what India refers to as ‘non-negotiables.’ Over the next two weeks, as negotiators who have returned to Bonn discuss contentious issues relating to reduction targets and technology transfer, differences between the BASIC group and developed countries will be thrown into sharp relief. That said, the European Union’s position, which takes off from the Durban consensus, has evolved to be more accommodative. In its submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Ad Hoc Working Group, the EU calls for a ‘spectrum of commitments’ that is fair and equitable to countries at different levels of growth. Its bottom line is, however, clear: commitments should be comprehensive and legally binding.

‘Sovereignty’ card

India is reluctant to accept either a bottom-up or a top-down model — the former, we have rightly argued, offers little to address climate change. Yet, while discussing the issue of binding commitments, we have stubbornly held up the ‘sovereignty’ card, saying it is for none to dictate what India should do to mitigate carbon emissions. This is a fair contention, but New Delhi has set no qualitative or quantitative parameters for the equitable distribution it would take to agree on a legal framework. Taken in sum, the U.S. and EU proposals — along with India’s established position — set the stage for a head-on collision in Paris two years from now, the result of which has only been too frequently visible at previous Conferences of the Parties (COPs).

The emerging strategic framework between India and the U.S. is also likely to prove decisive in future climate change talks. The Obama administration could present a possible deal on shale gas exports to India as a carrot in return for a flexible negotiating posture. Unlike the nuclear deal which served a largely symbolic purpose, shale gas exports — which India has sought desperately, given its rapidly depleting fossil fuel sources — are an effective bargaining chip. What lends credence to this theory is the U.S.’s recent courting of China (India’s Man Friday and de facto negotiating partner at COPs) and Japan (which refused to extend its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol after 2012) on climate change. If the U.S.-China Joint Statement on Climate Change, issued during Secretary Kerry’s visit to Beijing in April, is any indication, the U.S. is likely to work with major carbon emitters on a bilateral basis than go through the rigours of multilateral agenda-setting. After all, China, Japan and the U.S. have a mutual interest in seeing the Kyoto Protocol off.

Arguably, the biggest obstacle that stands in India’s way of articulating and achieving its goals at climate change talks is internal politics itself. Much has been said and written about India’s lack of a ‘coherent’ negotiating strategy — there is little doubt that between the COPs at Copenhagen (2009) and Durban (2011), India did a volte face on the issue of emission cuts. That neither Jairam Ramesh, then Environment Minister, nor Ms Natarajan sought to ‘tie’ India to legally binding commitments is moot. In 2009, we presented a radically different vision of equity — one that departed from the age-old claim that India has had historically low emissions per capita, and thus shouldered little responsibility vis-a-vis developed countries for the damage caused by greenhouse gases. By 2011, we reverted to square one, pretending that the stance at Copenhagen was a result of ‘personality politics.’ Without commenting on the merits of Mr. Ramesh’s views, one must ask why India’s climate change negotiations have lent themselves to internal turf battles between diplomats, bureaucrats and ministers.

This question assumes importance as India prepares to elect a new government next year. Thus far, the United Progressive Alliance could have afforded not to institutionalise internal deliberations in India’s climate diplomacy. Ultimately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Union Cabinet were able to paper over differences between negotiators. Since 2007, when the Bali Roadmap was announced, the same handful of policymakers has decided India’s negotiating strategy on an ad hoc basis. But the luxury of continuity is short-lived: it is far from certain whether the incumbent will remain in power after 2014. In particular, a fractured mandate, prone to federalist compulsions, can have serious consequences on India’s empty-shell position on climate change.

Two years stand between the Bonn Conference and COP 21 in Paris, where negotiators are expected to churn out a legal instrument. For now, India’s stance runs contradictory to its desire to confront climate change. If our future per capita emissions are likely to be small compared to other industrial economies, of what use are voluntary ‘green initiatives’ without having major emitters on board? A new report by the International Displacement Monitoring Center has put a number on people displaced by climate-induced disasters in 2012. The tally reads thus: India 8.9 million, European Union 0. Yet India continues to press, almost unconscionably, for “incentives” to be part of a climate deal. We will be one of the worst-affected when the effects of global warming precipitate; our reactive climate diplomacy conveniently ignores this truth.

New Delhi would do well to reassess its notion of equity, as other developing nations have rightfully done. When, in 2011, Ethiopia announced its intentions to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2025, it effectively abandoned the premise that low emitters can forever point fingers at industrialised countries. Just as developed nations bear responsibility to assume more ambitious commitments, India should treat its differentially positioned population in equitable terms. The pernicious effects of climate change will be most acute among India’s vulnerable sections. If the West owes a historic obligation to the rest in confronting climate change, so too does India towards its impoverished.

(Arun Mohan Sukumar is at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University)

More In: Lead | Opinion

Do Indian Politicians know anything about Climate change? Why not
regular meetings be held between Scientists to finalise a Plan of action
and points of interest to India which are to be argued and form pressure
groups to achieve the declaration to suit Indian conditions.

from:  Sreepada Rao
Posted on: Jun 8, 2013 at 00:22 IST

Plenty of holes were pointed out in the "Man made Global Warming Theory" and a lot of scientists call it extreme exaggeration
Science should not be used as a political tool to harass people
People will soon start loosing faith in Science
A real effort on climate change will be very different from levying extra tax on plastic bags and harassing citizens for pollution checks
India should not accept any legally binding terms, Will the US or India give up their auto Industry or for that matter any other industry?
If the answer is no then please stop harassing citizens
Spending a trillion dollars to save a thousand dollars is definitely corruption
Connecting everything to poor people is an insult to poor people
Statistics show that from 1981 to 2010 less than 10% of people in poverty came out of poverty , these numbers dont even take inflation into account , If people are really concerned as they claim it should have been above 90%

from:  david
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 23:10 IST

India is a failure under the UPA and the Congress regime since independence due to political corruption, mockery, violence and abuse of power. India will takes centuries to be out of poverty if this climate continues despite many nations are out of the woods since independence. Dynasty politics has contributed more harm than good to the nation and thus uneducated leaders are elected to fail the people and nation.

from:  Shiva
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 20:09 IST

The article is ignoring the stand of India. First of all, the share of
India in global climate change is very low and thus India cannot be
significant in cutting down of emissions.
Secondly, India has repeatedly made it clear that it is willing to set
better targets if developed countries can transfer their technologies.
How can you except a developing country to reduce emissions when most
known methods are patented by Japanese and US companies who sell it at
absurd costs? Besides CO2 emissions would come down a lot once nuclear
technology in India becomes more widespread. And if we are somehow
able to use Thorium, India can well become completely self-sufficient
in energy for 100,000 years. Well the future does hold many
possibilities.

from:  raman
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 18:06 IST

India should insist on a per capita basis for emissions, as this is more equitable, but that's not all. Indian leaders don't pay anything more than lip service to Climate Change,as this has no relevance to their getting elected. Thus they continue to do what they have have always done well - give platidunous speeches and release more hot air. Bereft of imagination or any sense of responsibility to the country, they do not care that South Asia's people and agriculture are going to be the most severely hit by the climate change, with changes in rainfall patterns and rise in sea levels. This could mean large scale migrations and unrest involving Bangladesh, Pakistan and India's affected areas. Instead of being led by the West's agenda, India should have been working on an emergency based greening of the countryside, afforestation of the Himalayas, Water and(real not sham)Food security. The West, which is culpable, could be asked to compensate for this and even help in implementation.

from:  Javak
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 17:44 IST

it is too easy to guess.

from:  rajashekar reddy
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 16:27 IST

"The pernicious effects of climate change will be most acute among India’s vulnerable sections. If the West owes a historic obligation to the rest in confronting climate change, so too does India towards its impoverished." Such statements have no meaning. These types of arguments are part of globalization scenario. No body wants tackle the real issue of food security and vulnerability of poor for weather and other natural aberrations. These are nothing to do with climate change. These are associated with population growth and protection and distribution mechanism. Dr. M.S. Swaminathan presented an article in The Hindu in February on the real issue of Bengal Fanmine in 1942-43. Also later he presented at a meeting, we need to adopt organic farming. We need better storage and transport and PDS mechanism. Better timely warning. Do attend practical aspects and not Climate Change in which we are surviving for centuries.

from:  Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 15:43 IST

This is sickening!From one side the west wants to harness the cheap labour available in India, China, Vietnam and Bangladesh for their high end consumer and from other end they arm twist these nations for not adopting the green technologies, which unfortunately not only expensive but unaffordable. I wonder would the west be still interested in a product that is being offered on par with their cost of production!

from:  Venky S Rao
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 14:49 IST

It is absolutley necessary for countries to arrive at a consensus on replacement regime for Kyoto protocol by taking on board the concerns of all countries including India.But to focus narrowly on reducing greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions alone misses the point that climate chnage is here to stay and its impacts have already been felt by the poorest.Therefore,the other often neglected policy response viz. adaptation,needs greater attention in international climate negotiating forums.Since it is a accepted fact that most of GHGs responsible for the current global warming hence impacts,originated from developed countries,it is incumbent on them to fund the adaptations measures in poor society as they are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.While not forgetting the emission reduction measures,in fact both responses-mitigation and adaptatio- should go hand in hand,greater focus on adaptation solves the contentious issues of equity and fairness in climate response.

from:  abujam manglem singh
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 14:37 IST

If at all any country is committed to reduction in carbon emission
adhering the resolutions and party to the conference, the actions
should be target oriented and clear road map to reach the target.
Otherwise the monitoring agency would not be in a position to do their
job and the committed country would be aimless in implementation.Simply
in terms of bulging population, India is heading for a chaos in respect
of wastage disposal as there is absence of broad based planning.

from:  scnehruroy
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 12:29 IST

If 8.9 million Indians are going to be affected by climate change, it
must be agreed upon that these 8.9 million will belong to poorest
section of Indian Society. Thus, isn't there a need of "domestic"
equity and CBDR principles? For instance, a car owner uses more fossil
fuels, more space on the road. Rich section produce more waste and
more per capita CO2 emission.

May be the author is correct that there is need of being realistic and
futuristic at international negotiations, but to save 8.9 millions
lives, we do not need international agreement where we will be
sacrificing our "EQUITY and CBDR" principles but instead, we need
domestic adoption of these very principles. For instance, congestion
tax, carbon tax, coal tax, luxury tax, compulsory rain water
harvesting, waste generation tax etc.

8.9 million live can also be saved if the burden of climate change is
shared amongst all of us Indians equally.

from:  Mahesh
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 09:21 IST

Reducing our emissions need not mean compromising economic growth. With rapid
maturation of solar technology, and with cost of a 1 kw solar module comparable to the cost
of a Tata nano it is nobody's case that PV technology is beyond our reach. In fact the diesel
genset that gets used several hours a day in many cities, factories, office complexes
generates power at 70% higher cost than PV. The government needs to drive decentralised
PV hard to power our homes, irrigation pump sets and more. Off shore wind is another
technology that can generate hundreds of MW near coastal cities close to demand
concentrations.

Inherently the renewables entail,smaller decentralised investments compared to cash
strapped governments.

With clear thinking and a clear policy push India can arrest growing emissions footprint and
make growth continue to happen.

from:  Anand
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 06:41 IST

India's emissions per capita is one third of USA. But it's emissions per unit area is almost on
par with that of US. India has an emissions foot print of 1742 million tons compared to 5415
million tons for US. India's land mass area is one third of US. Given that it is the total CO2
emissions that drives climate change and not emissions per capita it is in India's own self
interest to control it. India's middle class is insulated from climate change. They will use air
conditioners more often, will buy more tanker water if municipal water supply fails and will
buy food at higher prices. Whereas It is India's rural poor who will get more impacted. They
would need to walk longer distances to fetch drinking water, be saddled with debts as crops
fail, or be subject to displacement under flash floods.

By balking at addressing climate change we are doing disservice to our poor.

from:  Anand
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 06:23 IST

Climate change highlights the fact that the available resources cannot
indefinitely support the present population. What will we be leaving
for the future generations ? I wonder if our leaders just push away
inconvenient thoughts to keep their sanity.
Hopefully it is just the pessimist in me.

from:  gopal
Posted on: Jun 7, 2013 at 05:19 IST
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