Industrialised countries must make deep cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions and this must be verifiable internationally for a global climate deal in Copenhagen this December, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in New Delhi on Monday, hours after being charged by Indian government negotiators and civil society groups of turning the country's climate policy around.
The minister faced flak for writing a letter to the prime minister in which he suggested that in order to be seen as a deal-maker rather than a deal-breaker in Copenhagen, India give up its insistence on saving the Kyoto Protocol - the current global treaty to fight climate change.
Ramesh told a select group of journalists here that the media report about his letter was a gross distortion. He said there had been no change in his position on the basic issues of what developed and developing countries should do to fight climate change, but everything else was negotiable.
However, a senior member of the Indian government's negotiating team was not mollified. A change in India's stand on climate change policy would be against national consensus, he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the veteran negotiator said: "This is a strange thing. I don't know what's going on.
"We had a written brief for the last round of (climate) talks in Bangkok which said very clearly that the Kyoto Protocol must be protected at all costs. The minister had cleared the brief himself. Now I don't know how he can go behind our backs and say this."
Director of the think tank Centre for Science and Environment Sunita Narain said: "The idea of changing India's position to bring the US on board is completely retrograde and immature.
"The US is not only the world's biggest polluter, but has shown no willingness to do anything concrete about it. New climate convert President Obama's administration has been no different from that of president Bush."
The controversy rekindled by Ramesh's letter is over the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012, when its current "commitment period" expires.
In the current period, industrialised countries have committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions -- which are causing global warming -- by over five percent from 1990 levels. But the US has not ratified the protocol.
At this month's talks in Bangkok in preparation for the climate summit in Copenhagen this December, the European Union and Australia proposed ditching the Kyoto Protocol and coming up with a new global treaty so that the US would come on board.
This was strongly opposed by developing countries -- led by India and China. India's chief negotiator Shyam Saran said the protocol could not be ditched "in such a cavalier manner", while China's top negotiator Yu Qingtai accused the rich countries of trying to "sabotage" climate talks.
Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer had also told IANS that the Kyoto Protocol should stay.
Instead, Ramesh has reportedly supported a proposal made by Australia at the Bangkok talks, under which all countries -- developed and developing -- will have to reduce or cap their greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries have been opposing such a stance for many years, pointing out that almost all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere now has been put there by industrialised countries.
Caused by an excess of greenhouse gases -- mainly carbon dioxide -- in the atmosphere, climate change is already lowering farm output, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe and raising the sea level. India is among countries bearing the brunt of the change.
Opposition parties also came out against the minister's new stance. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned Ramesh's reported effort to "alter and change" India's negotiating position on climate change.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley said: "This change in India's position completely breaks the unity of the developing countries, which form a large group of 131 nations and are popularly referred to as G77."
"It will undermine India's credibility as a leader of the developing nations even in the WTO talks on the Doha round which are currently under way," said Jaitley, who is the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha.
The direct and inevitable consequence of this altered position would be that India would be undertaking commitments and paying the price for pollution caused by the developed countries, he said.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is reportedly planning to start an agitation against the minister.