Amidst the preoccupations of realpolitik — Parliament impasse, Bihar election, escalating communal tensions, growing miseries of the people, etc — the significant reneging of India under this BJP government on vital issues such as climate change and environmental destruction are receiving inadequate attention.
The 21st international conference under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to be held in Paris in December. Reports indicate that this government is considerably diluting India’s long-standing positions. This has serious consequences for our commitments to reduce high levels of poverty and associated malaise.
Global summits since 1990 have established that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is approaching levels beyond which irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes in climate could occur.
While these changes will affect all of humanity, the worst affected will be the poor, especially in the developing world. India is likely to suffer with the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, changes in rainfall patterns leading to floods, droughts, rising sea levels and displacement of millions of people.
The urgent need to act in limiting carbon emissions to ensure that global temperatures do not rise beyond two degree Celsius is no longer debatable.
The future of life is irreversibly threatened otherwise. International agencies have reported that in July, average temperatures across the globe, land and ocean surfaces, was 0.81 degree Celsius above the 20th century average.
The arctic sea icebergs melted by 350,000 square miles (9.5%) below the 1981-2010 average.
The world has, in fact, become warmer.
The last two and a half decades of global negotiations were based on the inviolable principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’, underling the fact that the developed countries, having contributed the most to destructive carbon emissions, must undertake greater responsibility in reducing them.
The Kyoto Protocol (1997) set binding targets for the developed countries, while exempting developing countries but calling upon them to take appropriate measures commensurate with their national capabilities.
Developed countries, instead of reducing emissions by 5% compared to 1990, increased their cumulative emissions by 10%, while the US, which refused to ratify the protocol, increased its emissions by 17%.
The US has been mounting international pressure jettisoning the accepted concept of ‘differentiated responsibility’ by imposing an unjust ‘common order’ calling for voluntarily announcements by individual countries, which would be internationally monitored.
Instead of resisting such pressures, this BJP government, under PM Narendra Modi, is preparing a voluntary target of cuts in carbon emissions in what is called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the Paris summit.
Such voluntary action by India without a corresponding commitment from the developed countries and negating the concept of ‘differentiated responsibility’ are precisely what the US wanted. Abandoning the Kyoto Protocol commitments based on the 1990 levels of emissions, the US is now offering to slash emissions up to 20%, the European Union by 40% and Russia by 25% by 2030 from 2005 levels.
During US President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January, the India-US joint statement had a watered-down reference to climate change.
India had then reiterated that the Paris summit would be under the existing UNFCCC. This implied the US following the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ and the principle of equity.
The US refuses to accept per capita emissions as the basis for energy equality, i.e., every human being on this planet having equal access to carbon space. The per capita emissions in the US are close to 20 times greater than those in India.
The US refused to agree as it would have to bear a far greater burden of emission cuts and providing financial and technological support to developing countries for environmental friendly technologies.
The UNFCCC in Article 4 Para 7 unambiguously states that ‘commitments under the convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country parties of their commitments under the convention relating to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country parties.’
The US has clearly reneged from this responsibility. However, India has now succumbed and unilaterally announced its INDCs. This is based on an impossibly ambitious target of achieving a goal of 100 GW under its new policy on renewable energy by vastly enlarging solar energy.
The cost of solar energy has significantly come down internationally. India, however, subsidises the generation of such energy by a whopping 90%.
However, as Chandrasekhar Dasgupta, India’s long-standing climate change negotiator, says, such technology “...is driven by profit. It’s not driven by climate change.” With the developed world reneging on its financial commitments to assist the shift to environmental-friendly technologies by developing countries like India, the access to such technologies will be prohibitive nullifying these targets.
Clearly, this Modi government is reneging. In 2009, Parliament discussed India’s position and drew certain ‘red lines’ that cannot be violated by any government of the day.
These were: (a) India shall neither announce unilateral commitments nor accept binding emission cuts, (b) unless reciprocated by the developed countries, India shall not accept any deadline for peaking emissions and (c) India will insist on the developed world fulfilling its commitments on transfer of finances and technology without intellectual property rights royalty payments to the developing countries for greenhouse technologies.
The Modi government is now crossing these ‘red lines’. This means abandoning our energy requirements so essential for tackling India’s growing poverty and hunger.
Sitaram Yechury is general secretary of the CPI(M) and a Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed are personal