New Delhi: India’s play at the just-concluded Copenhagen climate talks was a success and India made it through without being called a deal-breaker.
“We have been successful in defending India’s national interests. I didn’t go to Copenhagen with the mandate of saving the world or humanity. My mandate was to defend India’s right to develop at a faster rate. For Western countries it is an environmental issue but for us, it is a development issue,” said Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for environment and forests, at a press conference after a Rajya Sabha debate on Tuesday.
He said other successes include India’s non-acceptance of mandatory emission cuts and a peaking year for emissions, adding that the country needs to peak in the 21st century or there wouldn’t be a 22nd century.
Climate or politics? Environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Kamal Kishore / PTI
Ramesh admitted at the press conference that the government had “nuanced” India’s climate strategy and it will continue to do so. “There is a change in India’s negotiations. That is flexibility. If assessments change with circumstances, we have to nuance our position to reach a larger consensus,” he said, explaining that realities had changed since 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, was framed. The Copenhagen talks were held under this framework.
India’s agreement to submit mitigation actions, which are not supported by international finance and technology, met with most of the criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and the Left at the debate in the Rajya Sabha.
Ramesh, however, went further to say, “We don’t want international aid. Let us stop this technology transfer mantra. In the next 5-10 years, we will be transferring technology to other countries.”
BJP member of Parliament Arun Jaitley called the accord a “betrayal of poor nations” in the Rajya Sabha, asking the government to clarify the accord’s consequences, after Ramesh delivered his suo moto statement. “Reports coming from across the world refer to this accord as a global disappointment. It appears to be a complete betrayal of the poor and the weaker nations, the developing nations, and the more powerful nations have almost been left off the hook,” said Jaitley.
The agreement at Copenhagen has not been well-received by most vulnerable nations and least developed nations, who have been slighted by being kept out of the deliberations and were told of the agreement only after everything was over.
Little consensus: World leaders including US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a multilateral meeting during the Copenhagen climate summit that ended last week. Larry Downing / Reuters
Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, also called the agreement a “compromised document”.
“We have opened the windows for jettisoning (the Kyoto Protocol),” he added. The Kyoto Protocol was a landmark climate agreement that held the developed countries responsible for historical emissions and thus allowed developing countries to have “common but differentiated responsibility”. India’s traditional bargaining strategy has been based on this element of the Kyoto Protocol.
Ramesh defended the agreement by saying it had carefully chosen words and did not compromise India’s sovereignty in any way.
“There was a lot of pressure from the US on the words—review, scrutiny, verification and assessment. The BASIC (India, China, Brazil and South Africa) countries were opposed to this. We said consultation and analysis within clearly defined guidelines while respecting national sovereignty. Guidelines will be decided by all countries under UNFCCC. We have been reporting to the WTO and the IMF with no loss to our country or risk to our freedom. We shouldn’t be afraid of it or be defensive,” he explained at the conference. WTO is the acronym for the World Trade Organization and IMF for the International Monetary Fund.
Ramesh hailed the unity displayed by the BASIC nations at the conference and also India’s image as a proactive country. But he admitted that India might not see eye-to-eye with some G77 countries such as the Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal who want emerging nations such as India and China to take more responsibility.
“By endorsing this accord, India has failed to protect the interests of the people most affected by climate change not only in India but worldwide. India shirked its responsibility to show leadership and let down the most impacted communities in the least developed countries and island states,” said Siddharth Pathak, climate and energy policy adviser, Greenpeace.
“No one in the international community is blaming India for being negative or being against a consensus without reason, though some EU countries are unhappy with the US-BASIC agreement. For us, the most significant point was that all the BASIC countries were united and negotiated together. The accord would not have been possible without that,” said Ramesh.
The next few months will see the government focus its attention on how the country will achieve the 20-25% emissions intensity cut it has on its wishlist. The Planning Commission will set up an expert group to decide the structure of India’s low-carbon economy. The terms of reference for this group should be announced in the next few days.
New Delhi will also host a climate meeting for the BASIC countries in March, while the next ministerial round of international climate talks will be held in Germany in June.
“Copenhagen is only a milestone. There is a danger in the future as many countries want to junk the Kyoto Protocol. Our priority is to see that it does not get killed,” said Ramesh.