The Manmohan Singh government dumped India’s old negotiating strategy on climate change at Copenhagen in a big hurry, because the overwhelming consensus was that something had to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change and that India and China should be party to a global deal. The underlying assumptions may not have been derived by the scaremongering of the Al Gore type, but the conclusions of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had a big role to play. Now, with IPCC’s conclusions coming under a growing cloud of doubt, it is worth asking if India needs to kick off a new debate on what to do at future climate change talks.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
IPCC’s claims came close to making India rethink industrialization and economic growth. Claims that climate change would be irreversible if global temperature rose to 2 degrees Celsius above their level before the Industrial Revolution fuelled a global frenzy to “do something”.
Not everything IPCC has said may be wrong. The problem was the way its reports were used to put pressure on India to score a self-goal.
All this became evident in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference. The circus started somewhat like this. A year or so before the conference, non-governmental organizations (read friends of the poor) began arguing about the destructive effects of climate change on the lives of the poor. The cue was then picked up by, ironically, leaders of the rich countries who then began exerting pressure on India and China, home to a huge number of poor, to agree to binding emission cuts. With just months to go, Indian and Chinese leaders, visibly under pressure, started making noises about non-binding national strategies for climate change mitigation. So what began as an effort to help save the poor from ecological Armageddon ended up as an effort to preserve the lifestyles of the rich and the powerful.
Since the end of the Cold War, this is perhaps the first occasion when scientific work has been used for strategic ends on such a scale, openly and without any qualms.
Most policymaking efforts in the developing world are handicapped by the absence of meaningful analysis backed by scientific evidence. Poor countries lack the resources to do so. That is one reason for bad policies and waste of human resources. The lasting damage from this episode will be that policymakers will be forced to think of the strategic aspects of scientific advice.
Should policymakers trust the science behind climate change? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org