Saturday, July 25, 2009

India cannot be pressurized on Climate Change

While the U.S. Senate has opted to put the climate policy hearings on the back-burner for now, President Obama’s climate lobbying can be tracked to U.S. Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu’s visit to China and Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton’s recent call on India.

Mrs. Clinton’s recent high profile meet at Mumbai could best be described as an imbroglio of sorts. While the expressions of goodwill on the defense and nuclear sales front, meant tangible gains for both sides to the tune of $US45 billion and more, the strong stance taken by India on the climate front was a firm declaration of India’s priorities. Minister Jairam Ramesh’s refusal to accept legally binding limits on its emissions, has not gone down well with U.S., who fears that this may impede the Obama Climate legislation.

"There is simply no case for the pressure that we – who have among the lowest emissions per capita – face to actually reduce emissions." India's minister of environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, told Clinton and her visiting delegation.

"And as if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours," he added.

The latter comment alludes to last month’s cap-and-trade bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. This includes a clause to impose tariffs from 2020, on carbon-intensive imports from countries that do not reduce emissions.

In tune with President Obama’s supposition that India along with China and other developing nations will sacrifice development at the altar of climate change even as U.S. continues to be a gas-guzzling nation with the highest per capita carbon footprint, Hillary Clinton expressed optimism about an eventual climate change deal to mutual benefit.

Todd Stern, Obama’s Special Envoy on climate change, in an interview with CNN-IBN expressed the Mumbai talks were inconclusive but “have been constructive.” Does this mean the U.S. has further aces up their sleeves to arm-twist India into agreeing to their demands? Perhaps along lines of the recent trade penalty provision of the Waxman-Markey bill?

With just five months leading up to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and a divisive mandate on reductions, it is clear that Washington will exert a great deal of pressure on India, alongwith China, as major polluters in absolute if not per capita terms. Yet India’s stand has been inflexible. Industrialised nations have to put their own house in order and commit to pay developing countries to cope with climate change.

This was made clear by Dr. Manmohan Singh on the eve of the G8 summit earlier this month.

"What we are witnessing today is the consequence of over two centuries of industrial activity and high consumption lifestyles in the developed world. They have to bear this historical responsibility.”

Dr. Singh's proposal that the price of co-operation would be for industrialised countries to pay at least 0.5 per cent of their GDP to help developing nations invest in cleaner renewable sources of energy and reduce their carbon emissions, has left the Western officials stunned.

Mr Pachauri has also endorsed the stand made by Jairam Ramesh that India would not bow to pressure to accept emission reduction standards.

"I think it is a principled stand. What he (Ramesh) said is absolutely right. India cannot be pressured into taking commitments. There is no rational basis for asking India to do that," Pachauri, also the Chairman of the Noble prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told PTI in an interview.

While we must commend Minister Ramesh’s rigid stance in the face of U.S. pressure, as a fast developing country we need to move forward with our own domestic climate change policy with concrete goals. A judicious mix with strong focus on alternative renewables while phasing down the emissions in totality is a must-do. Vandana Shiva’s sustainable solutions based on diversity and environmental justice rooted in our very own traditions, does require a re-think and suitable implementation. In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether this turns out into a ‘green-trade war’ as some leading business groups and analysts fear.

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