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Going up the wrong path

Is the carrot a seat in the Security Council, as jairam Ramesh hints at? This is identical to the Congress government’s Indo-US nuclear deal which a section of the elite favours, but hardly addresses the energy needs of 600 million Indians, writes Darryl D’Monte.

india Updated: Oct 21, 2009 19:58 IST

It would facile to imagine that the reversal of India’s policy on climate change is merely an acute case of foot-in-mouth disease on the part of the outspoken Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh. His leaked letter to the Prime Minister indicates that India should pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, which the US hasn’t ratified. He also proposes that India should undertake voluntary cuts without first demanding funding and technology for such actions, as the protocol specifies.

Although Ramesh has backtracked after a political furore, one can predict, as the New York Times has reported, that in Copenhagen this December, when the UN will renegotiate the protocol, it will be a case of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, because the US is rigid about not adhering to the protocol and will be missing in action.

It refuses to countenance any treaty which excludes commitments for China and India, along with other ‘emerging’ economies, as major polluters in absolute, though by no means per capita, terms. The EU, the most proactive in this regard, is also for a new treaty.

At the G8 meetings in Italy in July, the PM agreed to a 2°C cap on global emissions, beyond which there will be catastrophic climate changes. India’s negotiators were discomfited because this cap would imply that at some stage, India would have to accept cuts on emissions. Is this morally and environmentally correct, in a country where some 450 million don’t have access to electricity?

In September, Ramesh indicated a major shift: that India was ready to quantify its cuts, which it had previously refused to do. He spelt out five carbon spewing sectors in this regard: power, steel and cement, habitat, transport, agriculture and forestry. The EU announced a €3-7 billion ‘start fund’ per year for developing countries to cope with climate change, which would rise to €22-50 billion a year from 2020 as international public finance, plus €40 billion from the carbon market.

It had the temerity to suggest that “advanced developing nations” like China and India would be excluded from any such funding. India has the largest number of poor people in the world and can hardly be expected to fund itself to adapt to climate change when it is not responsible for causing it in the first place.

India’s sights are clearly on entering into bilateral ties with the US, when the PM meets US President Barack Obama at the White House next month, similar to that the US has signed with China in July. This writer noted a softening in the stance of the President’s Special Climate Envoy Jonathan Pershing at this month’s UN negotiations in Bangkok when he questioned him about the US expecting India to undertake cuts when its objective should be to increase the energy consumption of the majority, not reduce it.

Is the carrot a seat in the Security Council, as Ramesh hints at? This is identical to the Congress government’s Indo-US nuclear deal which a section of the elite favours, but hardly addresses the energy needs of 600 million Indians who make do without a commercial source altogether.

Darryl D’Monte is Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India (FEJI)

The views expressed by the author are personal