A change in India's stand on climate change policy would be against national consensus, members of the negotiating team at the climate talks and NGOs said on Monday following reports of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh advocating a softening of the country's position.
A report in media saying that Ramesh had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggesting that India ditch the Kyoto Protocol in order to bring the US into the global fight against climate change and that India would be better off in the G20 group of nations rather than with G77 and China -- with which it has been aligned in climate talks -- set the proverbial cat among the pigeons.
A senior member of the Indian government's negotiating team who has been at the talks for well over a decade told IANS: "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."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the veteran negotiator said: "The minister's step is against the country's interests. It will hobble India's growth.
"Even in Bangkok, while we were articulating the position India has had for nearly 20 years under various governments, the American negotiators were telling us the minister was saying something different. And now we have proof that the minister is going against the national consensus."
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 willingneess 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 reported letter is over the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol -- the current global treaty to fight climate change -- beyond 2012, when its current "commitment period" expires.
In this 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.
Capping their emissions now would hobble the growth of developing countries by not allowing them to use fossil fuels that have been responsible for the growth of industrialised countries for well over two centuries.
Advocates of the developed country position, however, point out that in the long run, developing countries will be better off by moving their economies to a low-carbon path rather than having to backtrack later, a point reportedly made by Ramesh in his letter to the prime minister.
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.