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We need to revisit our national position on the climate change negotiations, which says that India’s per capita emissions will never exceed the average of developed countries. This is essentially a defensive stand that served us well as long as our commitments were not on the agenda. We now have to state what we will actually do.

The National Action Plan on Climate Change is clear that our focus is demand-side management of energy, water and other natural resources. However, we seem to be oscillating between this perspective and the decarbonization of energy supply. Instead, recent formulations of our approach to Copenhagen are driven by what others are doing rather than being based on our national circumstances and interests.

Photograph: Shaun Curry / AP

We cannot compare ourselves with China. China will be a developed country in the next 10 years, and will then take on all the obligations that go with this status. For example, in the period from 1990-2005, its per capita energy use has increased nearly 50%, which is three times higher than ours. The demographic profile of China is also such that it will stop growing around 2030, while we need the policy space to continue to grow till 2050.

The question we need to ask is whether we should now consider carbon management as a policy issue, or continue with our policy of focusing on demand-side management. Both will lead to reductions in emissions, through different means and with different implications for our future, and for international cooperation.

The problem is that while globalization increases the rewards in coordinating policies, the interests of major economies need to converge and domestic costs should not be high for adoption of commitments under a multilateral agreement. Therefore, we need to consider very carefully the implications of the approach of the developed countries in seeking agreement on a price for carbon and the key role of market -based instruments in discovering this price, as the shared vision that will emerge from Copenhagen.

As the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, the key issue in designing these carbon-based mechanisms is how to allocate emission rights, currently valued at around $2 trillion annually: that is 5% of global gross domestic product, and the “only serious defensible principle is equal emission rights per capita, adjusted for past emissions…as a process of slowly easing in emission rights would increase inequities associated with past emissions". Even if this entails large redistribution, it is not clear why this should be treated differently than other property rights.

Clearly, our interests diverge from those of developed countries, and negotiations around a carbon market established by trading emissions rights are best left unresolved at Copenhagen.

Stiglitz goes on to argue that climate change will require a new economic model—patterns of consumption and innovation must be changed, as “only through changes in patterns of demand will adverse effects on developing countries be mitigated".

The conclusion of the United Nations Human Development Report 2007-08: Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World, is also that the “fundamental challenge is the way we think about progress... Carbon intensive economic growth is symptomatic of a deeper problem…that the economic model which drives growth, and the profligate consumption in rich countries that goes with it, is unsustainable".

Therefore, the outcome of international cooperation at Copenhagen should not be negotiated commitments to modify planned activities in developing countries to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide but broad consensus on directional shifts in the global economic growth pathways. The challenge in all countries is demand-side management, to increase resource productivity—using fuel, water and raw materials more productively.

The current impasse results from the way the agenda has been framed around the single issue of carbon management. This requires us to commit that our emissions will peak “as soon as possible" with developed countries only committing that the private sector play the “pivotal role" in providing financial resources and technology transfer. Developed countries themselves will only support the goal of reducing emissions “in aggregate", implying that as there are no internationally mandated national targets, these actions will not be legally binding. This raises the question whether these countries are seeking a fair outcome.

This situation provides us with the opportunity to take the leadership in Copenhagen by shifting the focus to activities where emissions continue to increase in all the major economies, rather than focus on national emissions.

Since consumption patterns are converging, we should further develop our position on per capita emissions, and push for an agreed limit on per capita emissions in all countries from the transport and residential sectors, as these will account for over half of the global emissions in 2050.

Mukul Sanwal has served in various policy positions in the government of India. Comment at theirview@livemint.com

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Updated: 02 Dec 2009, 08:59 PM IST
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