New Delhi: Is India’s willingness to take up discussions outside the United Nations (UN) forum a sign that it is changing its negotiating stance on climate change? Several analysts and a government official claim it is.

Soon after it inked a deal at the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on energy and climate on 9 July in L’Aquila, Italy, committing India to agreeing to act quickly to limit global temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the country would once again be engaging representatives of the developed world at the Group of Twenty (G-20) meeting, scheduled for 24-25 September in Pittsburgh, US. The agenda for the meeting now includes exploring financing options for efforts to mitigate climate.

Not a numbers game: The Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change Shyam Saran insists that the consideration of climate change in different forums is a genuine effort to find common ground. PIB

The MEF agreement raised questions whether India had implicitly abandoned its stiff opposition to binding emission targets that could harm economic growth and poverty alleviation.

Climate change financing, which sets the terms of which countries will pay what to mitigate climate change and how the funds should flow, is one of the key issues being debated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Experts worry that the negotiations are incrementally setting the agenda even before the UNFCCC meets in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December to work out a new global agreement to combat climate change.

“The concern is all the process like the G-8 (the group of eight most industrialized economies), the MEF, or the G-20 are meant to dilute the UN processes. And in order to make sure that you don’t give away the house, you need to know where you need to go. Governments need to evaluate the proposals alongside broader national issues," said a technology and policy analyst, who did not want to be identified. “We should be worried about this."

He explained that in these processes, not only does the needs of smaller countries get diluted, but the back-up and support of the rest of developing nations also disappear.

Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change, disagreed. “There is no reason to believe that major developing countries like India, China, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia find themselves at a disadvantage in more restricted fora like the G8+5 (the G-8 and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) or the G-20. The consideration of climate change in these fora is not a game of numbers but a genuine effort to find common ground," he said.

In the UNFCCC process, India and China are part of group of 35 like-minded countries that negotiate together for its demands on finance and technology.

Rajiv Kumar, director and chief executive, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, said: “Real action is taking place outside the formal governance structure. Earlier it would be G-8, now it is the G-20. We should be much better prepared if we’re going to participate in those."

According to a government official, who did not want to be identified, India has now got a seat at the “high table", which shows up in the form of membership of a forum such as G-20. Unlike a more democratic forum such as the UN, a seat at the high table comes with enhanced responsibility to show results, the official said.

The G-20 is an informal forum to discuss key issues of global economic stability with its members accounting for 90% of global gross national product, 80% of world trade and about two-thirds of the population. It includes the Group of Seven industrialized countries—the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US—and major developing countries—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey—as well as the European Union.

While the G-20 is a different platform, a deal among member countries on climate change financing is expected to mesh with the MEF agreement, which brought together 17 nations.

Any declaration or statement is not legally binding under the non-UN tracks as it would be at the UNFCCC. “It maybe so, but my understanding (is that) when you agree to certain parameters outside the UN, such as the 2-degree agreement, it can constrain your options within the framework convention," the analyst said. He added that the framework convention document is sympathetic to developing countries but the US has been wanting to do things outside the UNFCCC for a long time.

A report by the South Centre, an intergovernmental organization of developing countries established by an international agreement in 1995, says that current developed country actions in relation to climate financing undermine the institutional effectiveness of the UNFCCC. It estimates that climate financing, that is available or may be made available by the developed world in the foreseeable future, is a little over one-tenth of the minimum estimated requirements for climate financing coming from the UNFCCC or the G-77 (a coalition of developing nations) and China.

India and China have also been arguing at the UNFCCC that any funding commitment and flow for climate should be committed under the framework and not externally through bilateral and multilateral agreements. The South Centre report added, “The public financing from developed countries for climate change-related actions that go through non-UNFCCC channels reflect and respond to the donors’ political and economic priorities and interests rather than to the sustainable development priorities of developing countries."

The pace at which negotiations are held and positions crystallized on key issues also pose a challenge to the administrative machinery in India, the same government official said. The existing administrative set-up is not equipped to cope with such rapid decision-making on issues of such far-reaching consequence.

For instance, in April, at a G-20 heads of state meeting in London, the summit media statement made only a passing reference to climate change. But in less than six months, India had signed an MEF declaration, which crystallized a position on capping average temperatures.