Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Indian approach to Climate Change

Unlike the rest of the self-righteous developed world that is more occupied with finger-pointing at less developed nations than examining its own defaulting positions of large carbon emitting status, India has been adopting a pragmatic approach.

The Indian minister in charge, Jairam Ramesh not only acknowledges the serious problems brought about by climate change in India, but has also approached the entire climate issue with a three-pronged tactic.

Recognising that climate change has of recent times transmuted from the geo-political to the political in the global arena, Mr Ramesh has tackled the ongoing climate discussions with suave diplomacy that will perhaps be a trend-setter in both international and national climate scenario.

First, even while acknowledging the need for India to take concrete steps in conjunction with developing nations, Mr Ramesh has stressed that India has two requirements for Copenhagen. Industrialized and developed rich nations must consent to steep cuts in carbon by 2020 and also provide monetary and technical help to the developing nations to effect a pro-actve green shift. Projecting itslef as a “deal maker” in the climate conundrum, India has set the tone for a fast-paced climate negotiation , with its own constantly evolving strategies and solutions in the climate talks.

At the same time, India has historically maintained that legal limits on carbon would stunt India's economic development. Though continuing to oppose mandatory carbon limits,t by adopting a soft-line realistic 'self-imposed' approach on the domestic front, Mr Ramesh has appropriately stressed that growth and development needs prime consideration, even while maintaining fuel emission and efficiency norms.

On the third front, steps are being taken to ensure an internal follow-up of the ‘per capita plus’ approach adopted vide legislations. As Mr Ramesh said, "without a solid domestic consensus, or even domestic constituency” India could not fruitfully work on Climate change without stunting growth.

As India places a self-imposed cap on its per capita emissions, this cements its seriousness of in climate mitigation programmes.. Notwithstanding India’s assurance that even while ranked 50th in the world per capita emissions, India would stay below per capita emmissions of other nations.

The message has gone across loud and clear, that India will not accept categorically the emission standards laid down. It will work on its own internal agenda to cap emissions. This has cleared up the fog surrounding India’s stance in climate politics, labelled that of nonchalance. India’s willingness to co-operate is now an established fact with the recent commitments made by Mr Ramesh on several global platforms.

While the U.S. is moving ahead with its climate laws at a frenzied pace on the eve of the Copenhagen Climate Meet, India herself has moved ahead with tangible reforms set to be laid down in the proposed Congress-led UPA legislation within the fortnight. It will log NAMOs, or Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Outcomes as coined by Mr Ramesh.. This legislation proposes accountability on the part of Governments towards maintenance of fuel efficiency standards. It draws inspiration from the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management regulations that make it mandatory on the part of governments to adhere to pre-set fiscal norms.

An additional provision of an external audit opening up the country’s mitigation programmes to international monitoring or even laying itself open to an annual UN sponsored review as proposed, is not entirely laudable. For this would put India in the delicate position of being answerable to external forces, compounding its already vulnerable status of a fast-developing nation that is walking the tightrope between carbon emission reduction and a historically carbon fuel based economy.

At the same time, David Victor (energy expert who researches India's Climate Change policies} believs that India will distinguish itself from nations like Mexico, Brazil and China that have mature economies and greater carbon emissions.

"The Indians need to be very careful that they are seen as a different kind of country."

Even as India is set to meet hold climate talks later this month with China climate analysts feel clubbing India with china is not on level. This fosters the impression of the two nations being equal emitters or at least functioning at similar levels. Albeit, the fact is that India emits a fifth of the carbon emissions of China, in both totality and per capita. China comprises 23% of all worldwide carbon emissions while India contributes 5%.

Mr Ramesh says in his own inimitable style,
“We (India) have to learn to conduct bilateral dialogue and negotiate multilaterally. That is what I call walking on two legs"

Minister Jairam Ramesh has some lessons for our Indian politicians. One needs more than the ability to rig elections and indulge in voter bank politics, to serve the nation’s needs best. It requires spontaneous ripostes and think-tank political game plays with constant improvisation for excellence in the international arena. For it was undoubtedly Mr. Ramesh’s initial rigidity about legalised emission caps, coupled with readiness to meet halfway and list of sustainable measures at the UN conference last month that finally clinched things! It compelled U.S. to come up with something fast and viable before December and has hopefully set in motion the wheels of a fast driven vehicle of climate solution.

The stance taken by India has been twice stressed in the past week. First, by a group of NGOs led by Greenpeace at Bangkok, formulating a draft 'Copenhagen Treaty' for Copenhagen, that bears similarities to actions drafted by India. Second, with the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change report released this week, that says reiterates India's stand,

"High-income countries also need to act quickly to reduce their carbon footprints and boost development of alternative energy sources to help tackle the problem of climate change."

As Mr Soros said,

“The problem of global warming is primarily a political problem at this point. The science is beyond dispute, but how do we achieve the objectives we all know are necessary? That is a political problem.”

If India. plays the geo-politics game shrewdly, at Copenhagen and thereafter, she may emerge the ultimate winner with a sustainable and thriving economy to her credit, with a smorgasbord of green jobs and global energy investments lined up. Despite the pessimism in the wake of the Bangkok UN talks, India can look forward to a solution which sets it apart as a sustainable low carbon emitting developing economy, balancing all its fronts.

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