At the poker game that is climate change negotiations, the Manmohan Singh government is playing like an amateur at a table for pros.
One week it happily agrees that the global average temperature rise shouldn’t exceed 2 degrees Celsius, another week it is adamant—as minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh was this weekend—about not accepting binding emission limits. Then again, as last week’s capitulation to Pakistan shows, resoluteness has hardly been our strong suit.
If the government can’t decide what hand it is holding on climate change, we’d urge it to turn to Thomas Schelling, an economist who knows a thing or two about negotiations. In an interview this month for the Atlantic Monthly, the 2005 Nobel Prize winner in economics noted the ill wisdom of “(demanding) anything of China, India and so forth that will significantly impede their economic progress”.
To say Schelling’s work in game theory is pioneering would be an understatement, so allow us to reproduce excerpts from the interview.
On cutting emissions: “…I think (nations) ought to drop the idea that there are going to be enforceable commitments. There have never been enforceable commitments on anything of that magnitude. And I think they should try to negotiate not what emissions level they will seek in 20 or 50 years, but what they will actually do.”
On India: “I think the best hope for India is to grow its economy as fast as it can in order to outgrow its vulnerability to climate change. Most of the vulnerability is in agriculture.”
On the paradox between growing and exacerbating climate change: “If the developed countries…are really serious, they’ll tell India and China and Brazil, ‘We’re going to provide enormous assistance to help reduce your dependence on fossil fuels. And we don’t expect you to pay for it yourselves.’”
Schelling here not only debunks the West’s attempts to control climate change—for trying to enforce emission cuts for a future date—but also makes India’s case better than Singh’s government is doing currently.
That’s not encouraging, considering climate change negotiations may prove to be the mother of all poker games. The West wants developing countries to cut emissions, yet appears in no mood to grant money for, or access to, alternative technologies. Against this, India will need to show its strongest hand.
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