New Delhi: With just 67 days left to go for the December deadline to sew up a global deal on climate change, rich and poor nations are making offers and counter-offers to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming. India has slowly, but steadily, been tweaking its own stance on climate change. Moreover, India is also proposing a domestic legislation that will have a broad, indicative target for emission cuts, a strict no-no earlier.
In an interview, minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh talks candidly about why India is moving away from its demand that developed nations pay for the developing world’s transition to a low-carbon economy. A deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, has to be in place in time for a December meeting of world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark. Edited excerpts:
Taking a stand: Environment minister Jairam Ramesh says India should take a leadership position in climate change issues and not be defensive. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint.
With these new domestic standards that India is offering, what is the bare minimum it expects from the West?
Twenty-five to forty per cent cuts (in emissions) below 1990 levels by 2020. There is no dilution in that stand. That remains the starting point of any agreement.
The Japanese Prime Minister (PM) has made this offer. No one else has made this offer with reference to 1990 levels. Although the Japanese PM has premised this on actions by other developed nations, it is a concrete offer. But I draw a distinction between international commitments and domestic obligations. It is more important for India to get Parliament on board on whatever it wants to do. We have domestic responsibilities. Now, how those domestic responsibilities will be reflected internationally is a separate issue. It depends on a number of actions from developed countries.
But what we do domestically is not driven by what developed countries do. What we do is driven by our own assessment of our own vulnerability to climate change, which is considerable.
In Copenhagen, without a mid-term target from rich nations on emission cuts, would India look at other deals?
There are building blocks of an agreement, forestry, CDM (Clean Development Mechanism), technological cooperation, adaptation and finance. We can certainly work towards them, but whatever we do as part of the Copenhagen process has nothing to do with the domestic agenda. Our response to climate change should not be Copenhagen-dependent. It must be driven by our own perceptions. We need a far more aggressive domestic approach, which does not link what we do domestically to what is happening internationally.
So India’s domestic mitigation action will not be linked to finance and technology from developed nations?
Why should we link ourselves to finance and technology? Do we or do we not accept that mitigation is important. Do we accept that climate change will have an important effect in India? Yes. Do we accept that we need to mitigate? Yes. Then why should we link everything to international finance and technology?
Are we then delinking NAMAs (nationally appropriate mitigation actions) from finance and technology?
I am now discussing NAMOs—nationally appropriate mitigation outcomes, domestically. I want India to grow at 8-8.5% per year, but it is possible for us to grow, but at the same time moderate emissions growth. It is possible to have new coal burning technology. It is desirable to have fuel efficiency standards, it is essential to have climate-compliant buildings. So all these things that we are doing, why should we say that we need money from abroad? Why should we link what we are doing domestically with international support?
So this is a marked change in India’s stance?
If you want to call it that, you can. I frankly think it is in keeping with what the PM has said—that India has to be a part of the solution. That the per capita argument is essential, but we need to go beyond it. This is a per capita-plus approach. We keep to it and negotiate on it, but at the same time we have to offer them something more than that.
You recently said that our mitigation actions will be open to verification internationally.
Any activity that is supported internationally will be. Like when we are borrowing from the World Bank they are subject to international scrutiny.
But these are domestic actions, funded domestically.
That accountability is to Parliament. We only have an annual report and we submit that to UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and we can have an annual dialogue. What is wrong in that?
Critics say this is diluting India’s stand. Is it?
Let’s be a little more confident about ourselves. We are not a banana republic. None of us are going to sell out. No one sells the country. This is what was said of Dr Manmohan Singh during the nuclear deal. He sold it in 1991 and again in 2005. When you don’t have an argument, the selling argument comes into play. Let’s have an honest discussion. My objective is to put all this on the discussion table. The forum of accountability is Parliament, no one else.
The argument is about why we should pay for it (mitigation). For instance, the hugely expensive solar mission.
Do we need to do solar or not? Yes. Then we go ahead and do it. We will do it ourselves. We have to. Why are we hanging on to international finance and international technology coat-tails? If we want money, we will go and borrow money and if we want technology, we will go and buy the technology.
Is this the end of differentiation between North and South?
India is India. We have to think differently than we have been thinking so far. India should have a leadership position. We should not be defensive.
So does this align better with the US position?
No, we are aligning ourselves with India’s requirements. India needs a position of leadership; as the PM says, we need to be a part of the solution and not be seen as an obstructionist player and most important, India has to be doing something and not just because the Copenhagen process is on. Frankly it is because of the international process, that the national action plan was brought into place. Why should we hold our domestic agenda hostage to international negotiations or pressure?
What happens to the argument of (the West’s) historical responsibility?
Am I making an international commitment? I am saying that (it) is premised on 25-40% cut on 1990 levels. That is the starting point of my international commitment, but not my domestic commitment.
Where does the G-77 go now? What happens to India’s relationship with other developing nations? How will India sell it to the G-77?
We are the world’s fifth largest emitter of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. We are vulnerable to CC (climate change) than many countries. We have to do these things on our own. We don’t have to sell it to anybody. We have to sell it to our own people first. So it’s not a matter of G-77. Of course, internationally we are a part, of G-77 and (so is) China, but China is also taking domestic obligations. Only in this country is it taken as a sell-out.
India has previously asked for 0.5% of world gross domestic product for mitigation. That seems unreasonable now.
Frankly, do you think it is a realistic number? Let us be realistic in this game. If we think $500 billion (Rs24 trillion) are going to be on the table every year, we are living in cuckoo land... For the next two years one should have a sense of realism. So, let us bring a certain reality check. My mandate is to position India as a leader, as a proactive player, as somebody who is shaping the solution. I agree that we are not abandoning or forsaking G-77 or China, but at the same time, every country walks on two legs, every country looks after itself, its domestic agenda and also negotiates multilaterally. We have to engage with the Europeans and the Americans.
Now that the balance is changing in the G-20, should India and China be differentiated from other developing nations in the UN framework?
China is the world’s largest emitter and we are fifth largest. So in a way, without calling ourselves differentiated, we are different. We are big, growing economies. We have obligations to our own people. In the context of UNFCCC, we are not renegotiating it. The purpose of Copenhagen is to negotiate the next round of commitments in Kyoto.
So we shouldn’t accept an international finance architecture or depend on it?
A $100 billion deal is not on the cards. A $2-5 billion adaptation fund is on the cards. We should support it. If Maldives needs money for adaptation, India should offer money. If Bangladesh is going to need money and India can help, why shouldn’t India help?