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Climate change: Environment ministry, Subramanian at odds

Subramanian had suggested to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley that India should stop insisting on retaining the way of differentiating in the UNFCCC between rich and developing countries and stop seeking finance from rich countries. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/MintPremium
Subramanian had suggested to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley that India should stop insisting on retaining the way of differentiating in the UNFCCC between rich and developing countries and stop seeking finance from rich countries. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Ministry says it does not agree with chief economic advisor's view that India should align with coal-rich countries

New Delhi: The environment ministry does not support the proposed change in the country’s stand on climate change suggested by Arvind Subramanian, India’s chief economic advisor, the ministry told the Prime Minister’s office (PMO).

In what is being viewed as a turf war brewing between the two sides, the ministry has said it does not agree with Subramanian’s view that India should align with coal-rich countries and distance itself from poor and developing countries. Subramanian’s stand was first reported by the Business Standard newspaper on 12 August.

In a break from India’s carefully built position of common but differentiated responsibilities, Subramanian had suggested to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley that India should stop insisting on retaining the way of differentiating in the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) between rich and developing countries and stop seeking finance from rich countries.

This comes in the backdrop of expectations of a meaningful climate change pact at the UN climate conference in Paris in December. The summit is expected to finalize a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. India’s intended nationally determined contributions to tackle climate change, which will form the basis for negotiations at Paris, are expected to be submitted to the UN shortly.

“Our stand on climate change remains the same. We do not support or entertain the suggestions (of Arvind Subramanian). Those views are completely against our stand… What has been suggested in that (chief economic advisor’s note) is not out position," an environment ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

Last month, environment minister Prakash Javadekar, while speaking at informal ministerial consultations in Paris, had said the concept of differentiation is cardinal to the UNFCCC mandate and should not be diluted.

Queries emailed to Subramanian, the PMO and the ministry remained unanswered.

India’s position has been the opposite to what Subramanian had suggested. It has maintained that rich nations will have to take responsibility for environmental degradation and pay appropriately more for their dominant role in climate change over 200 years of industrial development. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) set up to provide developing nations $100 billion annually by 2020 to counter climate change has seen a lukewarm response.

Even though India is under no pressure to act on climate change, it is taking steps to voluntarily cut carbon emissions and diversify its energy mix, with a heavy focus on renewable energy. Unlike other nations, India has taken significant steps to eliminate oil subsidies and gone beyond to impose taxes on petroleum products, taking it from a carbon subsidization regime to one of carbon taxation. India has substantially revised an earlier solar energy target of achieving 20,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity by 2022 to 100,000MW. It plans to put in place 60,000MW of wind power capacity by then. The Indian government is expecting an investment of $200 billion in green energy projects.

Subramanian, however, found support from an unexpected quarter.

“He is articulating views that I had championed when I was (environment) minister," former environment minister Jairam Ramesh said adding that India should change its long-standing position.

Ramesh during his tenure as environment minister in the second term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had batted for India to become flexible on climate change during international negotiations.

Interestingly, the Economic Survey authored by Arvind Subramanian earlier this year said: “As we put our acts together towards a post-2015 agreement on climate change, it is absolutely critical to ensure that the new agreement is comprehensive, balanced, equitable and pragmatic."

“It should address the genuine requirements of developing countries like India by providing them equitable carbon and development space to achieve sustainable development and eradicate poverty," the survey added.

India, the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, created a National Clean Energy Fund in Budget 2010-11 with contribution from the clean energy cess on coal mined in India or imported.

It’s among the few countries in the world to have introduced a carbon tax. The country’s National Action Plan on Climate Change recommends that the nation generate 10% of its power from solar, wind, hydropower and other renewable sources by 2015 and 15% by 2020.

“On the whole, the move to substantial carbon taxation combined with India’s ambitious solar power programme suggests that India can make substantial contributions to the forthcoming Paris negotiations on climate change," the survey said.

Meanwhile, Javadekar said at a media briefing that the rich world could not wish away its responsibility for man-made global warming and urged developed nations to do more to help India deal with the impact of climate change.

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