22 September 2009

India does more climate homework

By: Kaavya Nag

Makes 'nuanced shift' on climate position

He may not have made one bolt-from-the-blue statement that got him in trouble and on prime-time news although he may have come close. But many would agree that Jairam Ramesh, our Minister of State for Environment and Forests, has managed to keep the environment and his Ministry in the news every single day since the time he assumed office – whether owing to the introduction of new legislations, statements or interviews.

This in itself is a record for any environment minister in India till date. But Jairam Ramesh hasn’t stopped at that. He has exercised thought leadership in making the ministry more accountable, transparent and accessible, and in his efforts to bring in policies that will live on after he leaves office.

Sure enough, Mr. Paryavaran Bhavan has made his ministry a much more interesting and ‘happening’ place to be in. But intentional or not, he hasn’t stopped at that either. Right from the time UPA 2.0 took effect, Mr. Ramesh has been towing the government line on India’s position at the international climate negotiations. India has long maintained that developed nations must bear historic responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, that they must act first and fastest on the issue, and that they must pay developing nations for using up their ‘development space’, for adapting to climate change, and to buy expensive but cleaner technologies.

But August and early September saw the PM himself urging India to be more proactive in climate discussions, and for India not to be viewed as negotiation blocker. This resulted in a ‘greening the face’ of India’s negotiating profile and position. There has been a steady increase in policies that can dually benefit sustainability and emission mitigation. A slew of independent publications on India’s emission trajectory also boosts the greening move, and provides indigenous food for thought on the climate debate.

At the core of it, India’s international position has changed little. However, Ramesh accepts there is a ‘nuanced shift’ that India is ready to make, by agreeing to possibly quantify cuts in emissions into a ‘broadly indicative number’.

By a ‘nuanced shift’ Ramesh means that India is ready to set itself non-binding targets to cut carbon emissions, through the use of implicit targets – say a mandatory fuel efficiency law and building codes by 2011, or that 50% of all coal power must come from clean coal. To bring this into effect, Ramesh has proposed an overarching central legislation to help guide actions that will cut emissions. While this may well be a difficult proposition – it involves stepping on the toes of the heavyweight ministries of power, urban development and agriculture and the opposition, just to mention a few, the wily politician in Ramesh realizes that there needs to be enduring political consensus within the country which can then result in successful international agreements.

The Prime Minister has also proposed to set up a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority (NCCMA) that will assign and monitor green targets to be achieved by 2020 and after.

This slow volte-face is the first time ever that India has talked of quantifying emissions, or of making moves to reduce them. These developments are also refreshing in that one is reassured that India’s positions on climate neither are staid rhetoric nor cast in stone. They indicate that the debate is still evolving, moving towards a promising balance between adaptation and mitigation, and that this is a rather momentous achievement.

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