Jairam Ramesh said that in fact India through its growth model can set alternative patterns for growth without leaving carbon footprints

A month before the heads of state meeting in Copenhagen on climate change, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said on Thursday that India was willing to be isolated but would not accept legally binding emission cuts. In the same breath, he said domestically India would have to be relentless and ruthless in moving on a low-carbon trajectory to minimise the effects of climate change on the country.

He made this assertion while releasing the ‘State of World Population 2009’ report of the United Nations Population Fund. “We need to distinguish international commitments from our domestic obligations. Our position in international fora will strengthen if we are seen to be serious with our domestic obligations,” he said, while calling for pro-activisim in turning India into a high economic growth and low emission country.

Questioning the move to brand population as the culprit for greenhouse gas emissions, a linkage reiterated in the report, Mr. Ramesh said evidence was to the contrary. Flagging China as a case in point, he said that despite a negative population growth rate between 1985 and 2005, emissions went up by 43 per cent. “It’s not so much a population issue but one of lifestyle and consumption patterns.”

Referring to the Western apprehension that India’s greenhouse gas missions would rise to 23 per cent — as in the case of China which has outstripped the U.S. — if the country were to grow at 9 per cent a year and break out of the poverty trap, he said this was not an iron law. Comparative analyses of the lifestyles of the most consumerist class in the developed world with their Indian counterparts had shown that India had a low consumption pattern. “So it is not necessary that we will follow the U.S. and Chinese trajectory,” Mr. Ramesh said, using the Gandhian philosophy to say that this was a great opportunity to demonstrate a new paradigm for economic development.

He also rejected the effort by the developed world to bully others into accepting black carbon as more dangerous than greenhouse gases. Admitting that India had a problem on this count, Mr. Ramesh said that the scientific link between black carbon and global warming and the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers had not been established as yet.

“Yes, we need to address the issue of black carbon because of public health, but Copenhagen is about greenhouse gases. Let us not shift the debate because the developed world is unable to control GHGs.”

Asked why India was shying away from setting emission targets for itself as Brazil and Indonesia had done, Mr. Ramesh said the commitments made by these two countries were because of avoided deforestation, not greenhouse gas emission cuts.

As for India, he said low-carbon sustainable growth would be central to the 12th Five Year Plan, and efforts were on to convert Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions into Nationally Accountable Mitigation Outcomes by indicating specific targets for industry, energy, transport, agriculture, buildings and forestry for 2020 and 2030.