Sunday, April 18, 2010

World Politics Review: India's Shifting Approach on Climate Change

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India's Shifting Approach on Climate Change
By: Priyanka Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI -- Emerging differences within the Indian government regarding whether to adopt a more flexible approach to climate change negotiations came to a boil recently, when the prime minister's special envoy on climate change, Shyam Saran, quit his post.

Until now, Saran -- who has been leading India's negotiations at international forums, including Copenhagen -- opposed efforts by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to soften India's line on climate change methodology. Indian media have been highlighting ( ( the disagreements between Ramesh and Saran, which center around Ramesh's attempts to update India's basic principle of per capita emissions norms to define burden-sharing between developed and developing nations in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

Referred as "per capita plus," Ramesh's approach calls for India to assume more domestic responsibilities with regard to emission cuts, in order to make its stance more palatable to Western nations. Saran has questioned Ramesh's line of thinking in the past, arguing that per capita emission principal is the only basis for equitable burden sharing. For Saran, diluting the per capita principle in determining necessary efforts for cutting emissions today amounts to letting developed countries off the hook for their historical emissions. Saran and Ramesh have also differed about the need for enforcing strict domestic legal statutes, with Saran instead proposing a fiscal regime that facilitates clean energy.

Ramesh, on the other hand, has said, "A per capita approach is essential, but not a sustainable basis for negotiations. A 'per capita plus' approach will include a law giving incentives for emission cuts and renewable energy."

Ramesh has now appointed a commission of experts headed by Arvind Subramaniam, a member of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, to redefine "equity" as used by India in ongoing climate change negotiations. In his published works ( (, Subramaniam has criticized India's approach to climate change so far, arguing that the per capita emissions line is akin to asking for a "right to pollute" and treating the atmosphere as a "global sink." Instead, Subramaniam argues that India and China should make much greater attempts to implement carbon efficiency.

In the past, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has generally backed Saran, with Ramesh forced to toe the line ( ( at the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. But in a letter to Singh late last year, Ramesh said that India's interests would be better served by siding with the developed nations. He also hit out at India's official negotiators, led by Saran, saying that they have turned "argumentative and polemical."

As matters stand, China and India's support for the Copenhagen Accord is highly conditional. The two nations have written to the U.N. confirming they could be "listed" in the agreement, which they helped draft at the summit last year. However, the listing is short of complete "association" with the accord.

However, Saran's exit could herald a new Indian approach at the end-of-the-year summit in Cancun, Mexico, when countries will again look at binding emission pacts.

Despite the differences in approach between Ramesh and Saran, there is near-unanimity among Indian experts that climate change poses a threat ( ( to India's strategic security, water resources, rainfall patterns, agriculture and poverty-alleviation efforts. "Emissions are already changing the character of monsoons in India," Ramesh recently said, calling for increased efforts to promote sustainable forest management and the role of forests as carbon sinks, as well as to reduce India's emissions intensity by 20 percent to 25 percent by 2020.

As part of India's efforts to promote renewable energy generation, it has set up a National Clean Energy Fund and imposed a coal tax to finance the National Solar Mission's goal of producing 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2022.

Presently, India's per capita emission of GHG is 5 percent of that of the United States. By volume of gases emitted, however, India is the fourth-largest polluter in the world, with the U.S. and China being the top two.

India's shifting stance must also be seen in the context of China's approach to climate change policy. India and China have come under increasing pressure to address their galloping economies' increasing carbon emissions. And as the world's two most-populous emerging economies, they both have a vested interest in tying emissions norms to population levels.

After a visit by Ramesh to China last year prior to the Copenhagen summit, India and China agreed to coordinate their negotiating stances ( ( at all major climate change gatherings. More recently, Xie Zhenhua, vice minister of China's National Development and Reform Commission, said that, "In future negotiations and cooperation on climate change, we will continue to be good partners," and added that the two governments had signed a memorandum of understanding enhancing their "climate partnership." During the upcoming visit of China's vice premier to New Delhi, Ramesh also expects to enhance cooperation in the areas of forestry, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Both countries have also resisted allowing intrusive supervision of their work on environmental restoration, apart from consultation on the subject with international bodies. And prior to Copenhagen, Beijing declared its intention to reduce per unit GDP carbon emission by 40 percent to 45 percent from 2005 levels in a voluntary fashion -- without permitting international monitoring.

Nevertheless, New Delhi appears eager to take advantage of the recent China-U.S. disenchantment sparked by the Copenhagen negotiations to reposition itself on emissions norms. Ramesh's "per capita plus" approach will certainly blunt some Western criticism of India and China's negotiating position, but what remains to be seen is the domestic political reaction to such a stand. Furthermore, although Ramesh's approach, if adopted, may help resolve some of the stalemate in climate change negotiations, it does not yet represent a global strategy to the problem.

Priyanka Bhardwaj is an
independent journalist and risk analyst based in New Delhi, India. She

has covered diverse issues related to the Indian subcontinent for seven

years. Her work has been published in Asia Sentinel, Opinion Asia,

Siliconeer Magazine, Asia Times, and Business Times (Singapore), among

others. Her areas of interest include marginalized social strata, women,
children and climate change. Fluent in more than eight Indian

languages, Priyanka is writing a book about her travels and experiences

on the Indian subcontinent. Photo: Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy on climate change, Shyam Saran (U.S. State Department photo).

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