CLIMATE CHANGE: India Plays Guessing Game Ahead of Copenhagen

Inter Press Service, December 01, 2009
With one week left before the start of the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen, there is still no reliable word as to whether Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will attend, or whether or how much the South Asian state will commit itself to emission cuts.

Pressure has been building up on Singh to attend after Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and United States President Barack Obama announced commitments to reduce emissions and also make it to the Copenhagen negotiations to control emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases causing global warming.

The negotiations, which start on Dec. 7, will end with a meeting of heads of state on Dec. 18. At least 90 world leaders are expected to attend the conference, though not necessarily the summit. Obama will stop at Copenhagen on Dec. 9 on his way to Stockholm to receive his Nobel Peace prize.

On Thursday China announced willingness to bring down its energy intensity by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels over the next decade soon after the U.S. made an offer of reducing its emissions by 17 percent below the 2005 levels by 2020.

“Now the pressure is even from the advanced developing countries on us to declare targets on emissions, which are not legally binding,” said India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh before embarking on a trip to Beijing on Nov. 27 for a meeting with representatives from Brazil and South Africa, considered “critical emerging countries”.

At the Chinese capital Ramesh suggested that India might be willing to consider reducing its carbon intensity by 20 to 25 percent. Ramesh’s offer made at a conference in Beijing drew howls of protest from activists and opposition leaders in India.

“The Environment Minister should make his stand clear on the issue of climate change. He says something here and something else in China,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. “India should continue to follow the policy of voluntary emission cuts. It should not change its stand under international pressure.”

“China’s offer to cut emission per unit of GDP [gross domestic products] by 40 to 45 percent over 2005 levels by 2020 should not be a reason for India to follow suit,” said Siddhartha Mitra, climate scientist with the Consumer Unity and Trusts Society, a powerful Jaipur-based lobby. “To begin with, the Chinese operate at a much higher level of energy intensity than India and has a higher growth rate,” Mitra told IPS.

The Chinese GDP growth rate tops India’s by two percent per annum—10 percent versus eight percent approximately over the last five years. If these trends were to continue in the next 11 years, Indian GDP would increase by 133 percent and China’s by 185 percent over 2009 levels.

China also has far higher energy intensity levels than India because of its massive manufacturing industries while India’s economy is more dependent on the services sector, Mitra said.

Indian ranks fifth in emission intensity rankings, with 1.8 tonnes of emissions per thousand dollars of GDP compared to China’s 2.85 tonnes, Mitra said, adding that India was also at a different stage of development compared to China and needed to catch up on building basic infrastructure like roads and power plants.

Mitra said there was an element of perfidy in China’s having agreed to develop a joint stance with India at Copenhagen only to make a sudden turnaround to make a unilateral announcement.

On Oct. 21 China and India announced a joint plan to cut emissions, suggesting plans for an alternative climate treaty to what the developed economies wanted them to commit to at Copenhagen. They emphasised that the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol are the most appropriate framework for addressing climate change.”

The U.S. rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol because it exempted developing countries, including India and China, from obligations to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases, or gases trapped in the atmosphere that create ‘global warming’.

“Any commitment made by India at Copenhagen should be aimed at reducing the rate of growing emissions through gradual measures such as encouraging the use of public transport, the introduction of green energy and regulating dirty industry,” Mitra said.

On Monday Ramesh seemed to harden up and told the ‘Economic Times’ newspaper that India was reviewing its position after the Chinese announcement but had not decided on putting forward any numbers. He also said that India would not accept a peaking year for absolute emissions, as suggested by a draft climate change proposal released by Denmark ahead of the Copenhagen conference.

The lack of clarity from the environment minister has not been helped by the perception that there are serious differences on what India’s stand should be between him and the country’s main climate negotiator and former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran.

Commenting on the Danish draft at a conference of the Confederation of Indian Industry on Monday, Saran said that India’s main challenge was to counter an “attempt by rich countries to up the decibel of their campaign against developing countries like India and China and remove the distinction between developed and developing.”

In an earlier interview with IPS, Saran said what could be expected from India and other developing countries was a “commitment to depart from a business-as-usual approach rather than any binding commitment to emission cuts.”

India’s traditional position has been that rich nations historically responsible for global warming should pay for reduction efforts in developing countries. It also favours sticking to the Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 wealthy nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, but asked for no commitments from developing countries.

In response to the Danish draft, Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) are preparing an alternate draft with different targets for the developed and developing countries. It is expected to be presented to Copenhagen later this week. India may swing in with the BASIC approach, which calls for cuts in carbon intensity for developing economies and thereby showing a degree of flexibility.

Ramesh said the “BASIC draft” met India’s “expectations and aspirations” and supported this country’s “non-negotiable stands of no binding emission cuts’ (with) mitigation and adaptation actions to be supported by an international fund.”

Responding to charges in Indian Parliament on Nov. 25 that he was deviating from India’s stated position, Ramesh said his aim was to see that India did not “earn a reputation of being a deal breaker” and become isolated when several major countries were announcing cuts.

At the moment, India has drawn up a National Action Plan on Climate Change, which includes increasing solar power generation and improving energy efficiency. It has also been enhancing carbon sinks and has just announced an increase in forest cover by 728 square kilometres in the 2005-2007 period.

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