India's Best Shot at Going Green

BlogHer Original Post

The general assumption in the climate change circles has been that there can be no substantial outcome at Copenhagen unless the U.S., India and China -- among the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters -- agree to binding norms. Given the current state of the U.S. economy, that will be a tough sell for President Obama and his negotiators, since India and China are unlikely to give in to mandatory targets or trade barriers; they are pushing for developed countries (accused of being prime polluters) to bear the heavier financial burden of keeping Earth from heating over two degrees Celsius, a debt the U.S. has stoutly denied that it owes developing nations. However, both India and China seem to be aware of how crucial it is for them to develop at a fast clip, but sustainably.

The grounds for maximum impact are fertile. If the seeds of change need to be laid, now is a good time.

After all, their historic role in global warming notwithstanding, the two countries are among global warming's prime victims and potential contributors. Even as they unilaterally develop domestic targets, China and India signed a bi-lateral deal in October to cut emissions, exchange technology and provide green help to poorer countries. While the International Energy Agency says China could lead the world in emissions cuts if it meets its own targets, India followed suit by setting its own agenda.
As we discussed in earlier posts, India is already suffering and is likely to suffer even more at the hands of a changing climate. Irrespective of who caused it, we have a stake in mitigating the problem. Or as India's "controversial" Forests and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, was reported to have said:

"India, of all the 192 countries in the world, owes a responsibility not to the world but to itself to take climate change seriously."

Accordig to this Wall Street Journal report, India is targeting 20-25 percent cuts in emission intensity (CO2 emissions per unit  of GDP) by 2020 -- that includes mandatory emission norms for vehicles, clean coal, building codes, etc -- but has refused to set a peak year date, or a year after which each signatory country must begin reducing emissions, or any legally binding targets.

In Jairam Ramesh, the world has its best shot at pushing India to go green (we have a different minister for renewable energy, but he seems to be curiously out of the picture). I gather from the blanket news coverage and blogs -- here, here, here and more -- that unlike the U.S., India is not acutely conflicted about the contribution of humans to global warming or the need to shift to sustainable growth. There has been some debate about how catastrophic the situation really is, but there is a common sense that we need to protect our resources. The chief argument seems to be how much of our growth rate are we willing to give away and for what. There seems to be a growing sense that India is planning to give away a lot for very little in return from the bigger climate culprits.

And Jairam Ramesh had to face a good deal of flak for arguing that India needed to take climate change seriously for its own good. He has been accused of "betraying" India's traditional stand on the issue. Despite Ramesh's stern talk to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to India earlier this year that there was little case for India, whose per capita emissions were so low, to be obligated to cut emissions, his domestic, "unilateral" push for a more environmentally responsible country has led to several debates. And Ramesh is not the quiet, politically correct type. He has argued that while India does not need to be answerable to developed countries, it needs to fix its house for its own good and it can grow without polluting.

Things came to such a head domestically that two of India's top climate negotiators at one point said they wouldn't go to Copenhagen until the Minister clarified India's stand about reporting to a foreign body and allowing it to verify results of domestic environment efforts. That crisis is over now and the negotiators are on their way.

In short, India's stand looks something like this:

  • The world needs to keep temperatures from climbing over two degrees Celsius. (Now, even that is being termed by poorer, climate-affected countries as too high.
  • India will not commit to any biding deadlines or cuts but will have a domestic policy to do the same
  • It will not agree to a peak year after which it will be required to record emission reductions
  • India expects financing and green technology transfer from developed nations
  • Projects/efforts that it finances on its own will be reported to the UN but will not be verifiable by the international body

India's stand may look aggressively protective to some, but I see this as the best we've had. We are developing an actual domestic policy with set targets and goals; if not international scrutiny, a few Right to Information Act requests by the home crowd should keep the government on its toes.

More on environment and climate change at:
Elle Seymour's ProActive
Narayani Ganesh, Treasure Hunt, The Times of India
John Elliott on Jairam Ramesh at Riding the Elephant
Nita at A Wide Angle View of India; "Global warming and India"
Jyoti Kothari on Copenhagen and India's stand
The world as we know it

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