“The most important milestone to be set at Warsaw is on climate finance,” says Jayanthi Natarajan, Union Environment and Forests Minister, in an interview ahead of the climate negotiations beginning November 11.

What are your thoughts on the view that historical emissions should not play a role in deciding responsibilities under the 2015 agreement?

India has consistently held the view that historical emissions are a very important pillar of issues of equity under the UNFCCC. This was part of the 2009 Bali Action Plan. I believe historical emissions account for vast percentage, well over 70% of the emissions that are currently swirling around. The developed countries for long had no obligations or commitments to reduce emissions and have contributed largely to the levels of emissions today. Even today, those countries which are responsible for historical emissions have not made any attempt or are not even inclined to make any attempt to cap their emissions. They only talk about the world at large working towards the goal of capping the global temperature rise at 2 degree Celsius. They have not taken any concrete steps towards capping their own emissions. The important and significant achievement that I see has come out of the negotiations where India played an important role in Durban and Doha – particularly in Durban – is the fact that the EU countries – except for those who jumped off – did extend the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It amounts only to about 15% of the total emissions. But, in terms of intention and as a signal in the right direction, I think, the extension of the 2nd commitment period of the protocol is very important.

So yes, historical emissions and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) are non-negotiable pillars of Indian strategy.

What do you see emerging from the Warsaw COP and what do you wish doesn’t come out of it?

What I wish comes out of Warsaw is a timeline for the 2015 agreement and the establishment of important milestones towards the agreement. The most important milestone would be climate finance and capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which has not happened at all. Developed countries that made a commitment earlier have now started talking of alternative sources of funding. Whereas in our view these are commitments of the parties to the COP. While others and alternate sources need not be excluded, I think the fundamental commitment is the provision of finance.

Another important discussion is going to be on actions of cities and towns to combat climate change that we intend to discuss quite intensely. Then the substance of the 2015 agreement which we feel needs to be thrashed out at Warsaw. The broad elements of this will be discussed and developed by December 2014 and a draft negotiating text will be available by May 2014. Importantly, the linkage of the new agreement with the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is something that is absolutely crucial. It is a mandate that was agreed upon in Durban. The new agreement has to be under the framework convention. Along with G77+China and LMDC we have also been insisting that current efforts which are now underway should not be an attempt to rewrite the framework convention but to forge an agreement under it.

The role of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) has grown over the years. Some say it’s too fluid a group, others see it as an emerging voice for developing countries. What are your views on it?

The flexibility of the group is something which is the strength of the group. The fact that we are like-minded in terms of the needs of developing countries is important and binds us together as a group. I think the best group that will survive is a group that comes together on issues such as CBDR, capitalisation of the GCF, no unilateral trade measures or trade measures disguised as climate change action, such as aviation emissions issue. These are all issues that unite us. So LMDC group is a very important emerging forum and its flexibility or fluidity is not only a strength but is matched by the commitment of the countries to stay together to give voice to these important issues.

What are the complimentary and supplementary actions outside the UNFCCC?

In the context of pre-2020 complimentary and supplementary initiatives and actions, there have been discussions on international cooperation in the area of black carbon, agricultural methane, energy efficiency in buildings, climate and clean air coalitions and other short lived climate forcing gases. We are of the strong view that any so-called complimentary initiative should be voluntary based on country specific priorities and not prescriptive in any way.

I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that India has taken far more initiatives than many and are internally very proud of these. We are by no means a nay-sayer. We only object to any prescriptive policies that are dictated to us by others who are actually not doing anything to combat climate change. We have a great deal to show. We have a law relating to energy efficiency, the PM has given a unilateral commitment to decrease the emissions intensity of our energy consumption and increase energy efficiency by 2020. We have initiatives to enhance building efficiency and we are doing studies on the issue of black carbon.

As far as black carbon is concerned in the Himalayan region, we have done considerable studies, we have done modelling and other studies and we have come to our own conclusions on how far it is a climate forcer and how far it can be taken forward and its importance.

I would emphasise that the country’s economy as a developing nation and the strategic context of development of economy is absolutely vital and foundational in taking this discussion further.

Second, the countries that talk about these complimentary and supplementary initiatives are not willing to talk at the same table about transfer of technologies, about capitalisation of the GCF and giving us the benefits of new clean technologies and consequently there is no funding. Our growth will be severely and adversely impacted, which we cannot allow to happen as our fundamental priority in this as in anything else is to ensure inclusive growth and equity. I would place these issues and principles right on top of the complimentary and supplementary initiatives.

On agriculture methane, I think there are several developed countries that have far greater emissions than India and they are not talking about it. Agriculture is such an important sector in our country’s economy, we are very careful to see that the growth of our agricultural sector is not impacted.

Which brings us to HFCs. What is your position on the refrigerant gases being shifting to the Montreal Protocol after the recently concluded meeting.

The UNFCCC is the forum where HFCs should be discussed. The attempt to take it to Montreal Protocol is something that has a long way to go because HFCs are not ozone depleting substances and the Montreal Protocol – one of the most successful protocol in international history – deals with only with ODS. Therefore even to talk about bringing it anywhere near the Montreal Protocol would involve amending the Vienna Convention at a Conference of Parties, which would only happen next year. So if the Vienna Convention amends the protocol then only can be done. This is the first issue.

Secondly, once its taken up at the Montreal Protocol, it can no longer be discussed at UNFCCC, which would be very wrong because immediately the issue of CBDR and equity would come into play because they are confined to UNFCCC. We don’t have specific figures but we have done some modelling and studies at a very preliminary level. First concern we find is the impact on industry as there are very few alternatives and those which are emerging now are being questioned for safety issues because of inflammability concerns.

If you look at impact on defence services you shall find that the use of these gases in armaments, submarines, tanks and aircrafts is to be considered. Then the impact of’ these on the cold-chain development in the country is a concern. Transport of perishable food in the country is very important. The social implications – the metered-dose inhalers of asthma, the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease patients, the non-medical aerosols like fire extinguishers and so on – all these segments of society would be severely affected. Talking in terms of economics, there are only a few alternatives, which are proprietary products of very few global producers. There are concerns about phasing out HFCs and relying upon a handful of these alternative producers instead which are actually quite mind-boggling. The costs are likely, according to our calculations are going to be at least 20 times more then the present costs – these are rough estimates.

In the spirit of carrying forward the climate change dialogue we have agreed at the G20 to discuss this in the task force with the US and this also figured in the Prime Minister’s talks with President Obama. So we have every intention of talking seriously about this in a way that it does not impact our economy and country.

Nineteen countries including some G20 countries have opposed the US and Micronesia proposal at the recent Montreal Protocol meeting. These included China, Argentina Brazil, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. The BASIC too was also strongly against the move to bring it under Montreal Protocol in its recent meeting in China.

There are countries that say national circumstances and capabilities of countries have changed since the UNFCCC was agreed upon and the 2015 agreement should reflect this when it comes to apportioning responsibilities. What is your view on this?

I do see that there has to be balance. India is not a nay-sayer. This government is very anxious that we work with the rest of the world to make sure that the 2 degree mark is not breached. Equally there is no doubt, that for some developing countries – of which India is not one – emissions have increased exponentially and they have to be taken into account. But the fact remains that if you look at historical emissions which are going to be swirling around the world for hundreds of years – the question of common but differentiated responsibilities will have to be taken into account along with respective capabilities. CBDR is a concept that takes into account the reality. It will take into account respective capabilities too. Which is why we insist upon CBDR as well as the principle of equity and inclusive growth.

What form and content is necessary in the 2015 agreement for the world to reach the required ambition?

I cannot say anything before the cabinet decides on this issue but our mandate at Doha was to ensure that equity and inclusive growth were part of the package and that we would play a constructive role and contribute to the negotiations under the framework convention.