24 September 2009

India puts its weight behind climate deal

By: Kaavya Nag

It is possible that with all the numerous high-level international summits taking place this month, with Japan's new Hatoyama Initiative, and China's serious pledges on climate action, the international community missed out a rather important development in India changing its position on climate.

No, India hasn't yet made a complete turn around. It hasn't said it will agree to legally binding emission cuts on a deal that could be made at Copenhagen. But it has said what it has consciously refrained from even stating, in the past fifteen odd years.

The big shift is in India publicly stating that it agrees to pursue unilateral voluntary measures (no values on the table as yet) for 2020. In a move welcomed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, our environment minister Jairam Ramesh said 'we are now talking of voluntary unilateral implicitly targeted mitigation outcomes, not just actions with specific quantitative targets enshrined by law'. He also mentioned a 'per capita emission plus'.

Always one to shy away from legally binding targets, and one of the key players to push for an equitable treaty mirorring historical responsibility (necessary and key guidelines of climate negotiations today), India had probably gained the reputation of a deal-staller. Word has it that India's negotiators talk tough and have talked tough ever since the Kyoto Protocol came into action. India and China's refusal to change their negotiating position despite the need for a compromise, even after the EU's commitment to big emission cuts, has meant that Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United States would not commit to any ambition. This was clearly visible in Australia and New Zealand's caveats to cut even 10 percent emissions from 2005 levels 'on the condition...'.

China in the mean while, has quietly become the world's largest emitter, but also has the largest installed wind energy capacity, solar photovoltaic manufacturing units, and has reportedly planted twice the number of trees as compared to the rest of the world. They have also calculated their current and projected emissions, say they will peak by 2030, and have committed to participating meaningfully at the climate negotiations.
Clearly, it is time for India to bite the bit. India is now angling for a change in international perception. But patience wears thin as talk (and no action) on our National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and other domestic actions to cut emissions have remained on paper. The secretive draft of the solar mission suggests it will be released on 14th November 2009, everything else is 'proposed to be out by December'.Surely we are rather famous for Missions, Policies, Missions and Policies?

Only recently has the rhetoric changed, with the PM asking India to be a deal-maker, not a deal breaker.
The PM has spoken of a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority (NCCMA) - that will help realise implicit targets, and Jairam Ramesh has been speaking of a proposal to introduce an overarching central law that will guide the process.Opposition from the opposition is an drama we must expect once our ministers ready for the November session of Parliament. But as Jairam Ramesh says, we need to have everyone in the country on our side before we push for international commitments.

At this point in time, with a real climate crisis looming large (non-believers please see the IPCC report and anti-alarmists please read the papers), global collective cooperation is of utmost importance. This opportune moment will pass us by in a few years from now, and that would really make us 'the age of stupid'.

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