Climate Change and Climate Policy
Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick
The recent Discussion Note of the Minister for Environment and Forest on changing India’s negotiating position is deeply disturbing as it goes against nationally agreed consensus in this country worked out over the last two decades. While there is an urgent need to clinch a climate deal in Copenhagen this year, India succumbing to the US pressure is hardly the way to go about it.
There is no doubt today that there is a global climate crisis developing due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which will threaten the lives and well being of major sections of the world’s population. The poor and the marginalized, being the most vulnerable, will be the hardest hit. The developing world will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change. The rich industrialised countries, which have contributed the major part of today’s greenhouse gases and still continue to do so, are not willing to take the deep and necessary cuts of their greenhouse gas emissions and want to pass this burden on to the developing countries. The on-going climate change negotiations, with the crucial meeting being held in Copenhagen in December this year, is taking place in this context.
The key issue in the climate change negotiations is how the goal of global equity – between nations and within nations – can be reconciled with the need to protect the climate from disastrous levels of Green House Gases (GHG’s) accumulation. Carbon dioxide, the main GHG component, is a long lasting gas and it is the accumulation of carbon dioxide that is the key element in global warming. Limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 deg C, means that the total amount of carbon dioxide release needs to be limited keeping in mind the objective of both equity and development.
The carbon space (carbon dioxide amount converted to carbon) available to the world as a whole, based on the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) target of GHG’s concentration of 450 ppm is limited. Already, about 50% of this space has been taken up. Of this space that is already occupied, the rich industrialised countries have grabbed 77%, even though they have less than 15% of the world’s population, while the remaining 85% of the world's population have to make do with about 23%. The current climate change negotiations is how to divide up the remaining space and also compensate the developing countries for the rich countries inequitable capturing of this global atmospheric commons.
The figures coming from various studies make clear the following:
1. The rich countries will have to make deep and immediate cuts
2. With the major part of the carbon space already gone, the emerging economies and the rest of the world will also have to peak their emissions at some future date
3. Using market mechanisms and carbon trade has not reduced the global emissions and only allowed the rich countries to grab even more carbon space
This is the backdrop to the current climate change negotiations. These negotiations are about the share of the global carbon space for each country and its people.
National Consensus on Climate Change Negotiations
The fundamental premise for any climate change agreement must be based on the inalienable right of every individual for carbon space. Based on the above premise, there has been a national consensus on the major elements of India's climate change policy. These include:
* Convergence of per capita emissions by developed and developing nations.
* The principle of common but differentiated responsibility in tackling global warming.
* Immediate and sharp cuts in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions to be undertaken by the rich industrialised countries that today have contributed to the bulk of GHG stock in the atmosphere and the provision, by the developed countries.
* Technology and adaptation financing for the developing countries as a small measure for repayment of this carbon debt. This is not just a real debt, but only partially compensating the developing countries for a far more expensive low carbon path that they are now being forced to follow due to the rich countries capturing the bulk of the available carbon space.
* All climate change technologies should be available without Intellectual Property Right restrictions.
Shifting Negotiating Position
The recent moves of the Government on the issue of negotiations have been particularly disturbing. The Minister of Environment and Forestry, Shri Jairam Ramesh, has circulated a Discussion Note suggesting major departures from the positions that the Government of India has taken in the past on this issue. It suggests that we take a so-called “per capita plus approach'', suggesting that we could agree to make binding commitments, take on further unilateral action on reducing emissions, and all this without any reciprocal commitments from the developed countries. The Note also talks about diluting India’s stand on financial and technology transfers from the developed countries to the developing ones. Worse, all this is supposedly for bringing the US into the global climate change compact and suggests India’s geo-strategic interests are better served by distancing from the G77 and being a part of the G20. The Note also suggests that such a positioning will possibly assist India in obtaining for India a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.
The Minister's letter is a complete move away from the earlier national consensus on India's basic positions in climate policy and seems to focus solely on strategically aligning India with the US on climate issues. The argument that India should be with the G20 and not G77 has nothing to do with Climate Change Negotiations – India emits only 1.2 Tons Carbon dioxide per capita as against the figures of the US 21 and 10 tons for the EU. India is not on the same side as the club of the rich and any attempts to side with the rich countries will not signify any independent position but a capitulation to their continuing grab of the global carbon space.
It is obvious the position advocated by the Minister is a move to placate the US, the only hold out amongst the rich countries from Kyoto. India cannot abandon positions agreed after decades of global negotiations merely to please the US. The argument in this context given in Jairam Ramesh’s discussions note that India should sign a climate change agreement with the US during the PM’s November visit and before Copenhagen will be a completely a wrong message to the global community. The world will see this for what it is – India’s shift from a leader of the non-aligned movement and the G77 to a subordinate ally of the US.
We have no quarrel with the Minister’s argument that India should work out a comprehensive climate mitigation plan and enact domestic legislation for this. The Minister's advocacy of domestic action without linking it to the global negotiations would have some merit if all his suggestions were not in line with what the rich countries have been demanding from India – cut your emissions and take binding commitments. The one domestic initiative that India can and should take does not figure in his list. This is enacting domestic legislation that any technology, which helps Climate Change Mitigation, can be compulsorily licensed similar to the provision for life saving drugs. This would make India (and the developing countries) transition to a low carbon path easier and would remove the double burden that the developing countries are being asked to pay. On one hand, we have to adopt high cost technologies for reducing emissions, on the other we have to pay monopoly prices to global MNC's to buy such technologies.
Breaking the unity of the developing countries just before Copenhagen will rank with India's about-turn in accepting Intellectual Property being introduced in the GATT negotiations in 1989. The consequence has been the imposition of TRIPS and the iniquitous WTO order with its enormous adverse impact on the global poor. The climate change negotiations are not just about the environment but about India and the developing countries right to development. This is what is at stake here.
The Minister's Note also implies that since climate change will affect India more, we should take unilateral action. The experience of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty shows that one-sided agreements generate no pressure on the rich and the powerful. Unless the world stands up and says that the US and the club of the rich cut their emissions immediately and drastically, the world cannot be saved. Unilateral action by India with its low level of emissions – less than 5% of global emissions -- without linking it to binding emission cuts for developed countries would in no way solve the problem. Even a Nick Stern has talked of India and developing countries putting conditionalities on the developed world and forcing them to change their ways. A Jeffry Sachs talks about the need to lift all Intellectual Property Rights for climate mitigation technologies. It is indeed strange Indian ministers and officials speak in a completely different voice.
India’s climate policy must be founded on the development needs of the majority of its population and the needs of India’s future development. The Minister's proposals in their current form are only a thinly veiled proposal to barter India’s energy and developmental future for a seat at the high table curtsy the US. This we must reject.