UN body asks India, developing nations to reduce emissions

UN body asks India, developing nations to reduce emissions

New Delhi: India and other developing countries will have to commit to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases after 2012 for any international agreement on climate change to succeed, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

This is the first time any United Nations body has spoken of developing nations making commitments on reducing emissions. The focus thus far has been on developed nations such as the US and those in Western Europe reducing emissions.

The UN’s position, articulated by Kevin Watkins, director, UN’s Human Development Report Office and lead author of the Human Development Report (HDR) 2007, comes in the run-up to the UN’s climate talks in Bali scheduled for December. The talks will try and find a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The protocol, which asks for emission reduction commitments from developed countries, has largely been a failure because of the US’ refusal to sign it.

The US is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, with per capita emissions of 20 tonnes of CO2 (the corresponding figure for India is 1 tonne).

At international negotiations, India has declined to accept any commitments. “Why should India take up commitments? We are not a major emitter or even close if we are compared to US emission levels. We don’t even figure (in the list of major emitters of greenhouse gases)," said a senior government official, who did not wish to be identified.

India and other developing countries have argued they cannot commit to reducing emissions because this could constrain their manufacturing capacities and crimp economic growth. China and India are among the two fastest growing major economies in the world and are the focus of most negotiations on a new climate change agreement.

“It is just not possible for developing nations such as India to reduce emissions to that level without compromising growth of the economy," the government official said.

Watkins also disclosed that the HDR report recommends that by 2050, “rich nations" should agree to cut at least 80% of their carbon dioxide emissions, and developing nations, 20%. “The reductions targets will have to be binding and mandatory with associated penalties," he added.

Watkins also said the new agreement would need to talk about carbon taxation and a much higher price for trading of carbon credits. Carbon credits are generated by projects which reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Although the EU (European Union) emission trading scheme is held up.... as a great contribution, it is actually just a farce. A market cannot and will not deliver if the emission limit is set above current emission levels and that is exactly what has happened here," added Watkins. This means that since emission limits for developed countries are higher than their current levels of emissions in most cases, there will be little demand for carbon credits and the market for these will remain undeveloped.

Watkins’ statements come on the heels of similar remarks by Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank and former economic adviser to the UK, in New Delhi last week. Watkins also recommended the creation of a mechanism to help countries such as India and China improve their energy efficiency.

“There has to be an international fund, which will cover the incremental cost of technology when processes move from high carbon to low carbon status," he added.

Watkins also said there should be an international facility to buy out technology from the private sector for other (developing) countries, to avoid disputes over intellectual property rights.