07 December 2009

Here comes Hopen-Copenhagen!

By: Kaavya Nag

The Fifteenth Conference of Parties is here – COP15 – in Copenhagen. The outcome itself is to be a political statement – way below initial expectations. But it can still be fair, ambitious, equitable and all of the other things it once promised. While we await the start of the opening ceremony, at which the Danish Prime Minsiter Lars Lokke Rasmussen is due to speak, one cannot but help reflect on the week gone by and the rapid pace of developments back home in India.
Jairam Ramesh visited Beijing at the express request of China, to meet with other developing country giants and sign on to a counter proposal for a draft political statement, now called the BASIC draft. Soon after, he spoke in the Lok Sabha and later in the Rajya Sabha, announcing that India too would take on voluntary, unilateral and non-legally binding emission cuts. The proposal is to reduce India’s carbon intensity by 20 to 25 percent by 2020, and includes mandatory fuel efficiency standards and building codes to help make that reduction. Considering India’s historic position and unwillingness to put forward any targets or numbers, this is a watershed development of sorts. And the timing could not have been better. India was, by the time of the BASIC meeting (other than South Africa), the only key player in the negotiations to have refrained from putting forth any ‘intent of action’ statements on the table.
Jairam Ramesh’s proposal in the Lok Sabha, last Thursday, was not met with a walkout, but with concerted discussion about climate change and what it means for India. While many members of Parliament asked for India to clarify what its stand would be at Copenhagen, and were clear on developed countries acting first and fastest, the discussion indicated that climate change was on the minds of many MPs, and that many were ready for change. The Minister’s good fortune did not however, carry through to the Rajya Sabha, where opposition party members led by Arun Jaitley did stage a walkout, termed the current proposal as an ‘abandoning’ India’s historical position, and accused the government of unilaterally changing India’s position. While Jairam Ramesh and India have made it repeatedly clear that they will at no cost take on legally binding emission cuts, and there is ‘no dilution in our stand’, the BJP called the unilateral emission cut a ‘bad strategy’.
Some delegates of the Indian negotiating team also showed dissent at this announcement, and have not arrived in Copenhagen as yet. They include Ambassador Dasgupta and ex-environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh. Ambassador Dasgupta said he delayed his departure in order to seek clarifications from the minister on the implications of this cut in carbon intensity. While he claimed he had no issue with the cuts in emission intensity itself, his main concern was that this was a unilateral action that demanded no reciprocity.
While that may be a point to note, the very act of developing country giants China, India, Brazil and South Africa putting forth voluntary cuts predicates reciprocity of action from developed countries even on fundamental ethical levels. And we would be wrong in saying India has as yet played all her cards. This is the first hand – and a good one to start with at that!

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