“India must clearly convey it is not part of the problem, but position itself as a problem solver.”
That is the advice offered by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, head of the US Climate Change Science Programme and one of the world’s premier climatologists, as the last chance to save a historic 12-year-old global agreement — and the Earth from overheating — begins on Monday amid new hope in the Danish capital.
With a confusing, unprecedented mandate that stretches from saving humanity to keeping national interest paramount, some Indian climate change negotiators had last-day jitters environment minister Jairam Ramesh had to smooth over.
The Indian delegation of 35 officials, four MPs, four children and Ramesh himself joined delegates from 192 countries as hope grows — where there was none until last week — for at least a tentative agreement at COP 15, the official term for the Copenhagen meeting, the 15th conference of parties to negotiate a new global climate treaty to replace or extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012.
Over the last week, three of the world’s four top polluters — China, India and the US — announced emission targets.
If you thought India's last-minute change of stance was radical, consider that elsewhere too die-hard opponents to change are changing.
In the US, thus far prime naysayer to a global agreement, Republican senators are starting to back President Barack Obama, who will join 100 other heads of states, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at the close of the 12-day summit.
"To deny the mounting evidence of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand," wrote Senator Robert Byrd, a 92-year-old coal industry backer and the longest serving member of the Congress (50 years in the Senate alone) in his local newspaper two days ago, surprising everyone who thought he was a guaranteed 'no' vote to Obama's efforts to push through a climate and clean energy bill next year.
A total 34,000 people have sought entry into Copenhagen, a city of 2 million that ran out of its 17,600 hotel rooms more than three weeks ago and is now selling tickets of the inaugural ceremony to even accredited media, hoping to restrict numbers.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and head of The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi, was one of three speakers (Denmark's prime minister and Copenhagen's mayor being the other two) at Sunday's opening ceremony at the Bella Centre convention hall in Copenhagen.
Press accreditation - 5,000 journalists have registered - was suspended eight days ago, "due to the huge amount of accreditation requests received that exceeded the capacity of the conference centre (15,000)," said a notice issued by the United Nations. Another 34,000-odd NGOs have also sought accreditation, prompting the UN to announce a quota system.
The options for those who can't get in: daily podcasts on YouTube; Facebook, Twitter and Flickr links; royalty-free photographs and special websites for iPods, mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants.)
Aside from COP15, there are several sideshows by special-interest groups, business, NGOs and more. The largest is Klimaforum, the "peoples climate summit", which will feature groups from Ghana to Ghaziabad, Denmark to Dharmasala, Nagpur to Nigeria. One of the keynote speakers is Indian eco-warrior Vandana Shiva.
With Western companies expected to play the major role in translating any agreement, Copenhagen is also proving to be an unparalleled business opportunity. It's also one reason why the host country is leading an aggressive stand that will push India and China to accept emission cuts.
Last year, in the midst of the financial crisis, Danish energy technology exports rose by 13 per cent, twice as much as other exports. A UK government estimate puts the value of the global market for green technologies at $4.9 trillion (Rs 225 lakh crore).
"We are in Copenhagen primarily to tell decision makers what kind of policies are needed to facilitate these kinds of solutions," said Leticia Labre, a strategy consultant for the Carbon markets and Investors Association, a global trade association whose members accounted for 75 per cent of the global carbon market in 2008, valued at $126 billion (Rs 5.8 lakh crore)
Tens of Indian companies (there's no accurate count) are sending executives. The lucky ones will pay $300 (Rs 13,800) a night for a hotel room; others are asking friends to persuade their friends to spare a bed.
Back in the Indian delegation, they are preparing for long, hard negotiations with a fresh, new approach.
"India must listen more and speak less in negotiations, or else we will be treated with disfavour and derision by developed countries and resented by small island states and other highly vulnerable countries," advised Ramesh in an October 13 letter to the PM, the misquoted version of which started the public debate over what is now India's flexible new stand.
As Ramanathan argued, India may not be a part of the problem, "but given its population and its current growth rates - and given its great vulnerability to climate change - it has to be part of the solution".
"Never in 17 years of climate negotiations have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together," said UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer.
"Negotiators now have the clearest signal ever from world leaders to craft solid proposals to implement rapid action."