India may go green in the face insisting that its position in the Durban climate change talks is a progressive one. But truth be told, we have gone back to the drawing board after seemingly moving towards a paradigm shift under former environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh.
The bone of contention, as always, is the Kyoto protocol, the 1997 treaty which sets limits on emissions and which runs out next year. While the developed world wants to renegotiate a new treaty, India and other developing countries want Kyoto to go on. How feasible this is when the US, the world’s second largest polluter, has opted out of the treaty is still a matter of debate.
There is much merit in the argument that India is still a developing country and cannot lock itself into a new treaty in which it will legally bind itself to cutting emissions, much like the developed world has to do. China, the world’s largest polluter, though technically a developing country, feels the same way. India is pushing for unilateral trade measures, intellectual property rights and equitable access to sustainable development to be included in the provisional agenda of the 17th Conference of Parties in Durban. But, here India seems to be suffering from the split personality syndrome. On the one hand, we see ourselves at the high table of the comity of nations, a developing country which has all but arrived. Yet, in the same breath we resort to third worldism to stay out of legally binding international commitments on the environment. Perhaps, it would make sense for us to put our own house in order irrespective of what other countries do.
Or perhaps, it would give us greater leverage if we were more flexible as Mr Ramesh had tried to be. For to stick to Kyoto or nothing could prove counterproductive with all sides locked in a stalemate and yet another climate change meet proving nothing but hot air. The need to move forward acquires greater urgency given that carbon emissions now exceed most predictions of four years ago. While it is no one’s contention that India agrees to any green protectionism on the part of the developed world, it would not harm to at least be open to discussions on legally binding commitments. In the negotiations, surely we can extract concessions while at the same time not be seen as a spoiler, something India has been accused of in the past. Certainly equity has to be at the heart of any climate agreement, but as things stand now, there is no move towards this. In which case, it makes sense to at least work out ways to modify the existing treaty or frame a new one which will take into account the needs of the developing world. Either way, Durban needs to clear the air for the next phase in climate change negotiations.