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Jairam tempers climate surprise

india Updated: Dec 11, 2010 10:22 IST

When is a carbon commitment not a commitment? When it is announced by Jairam Ramesh and spin doctored by New Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh downplayed Ramesh’s surprise call in Cancun for all countries to accept binding climate change commitments, saying: “Don’t read too much into it.”

The BJP and the Left parties joined hands in denouncing the supposed “deviation” from India’s climate policy.

At the Cancun climate conference in Mexico, Environment Minister Ramesh had on Wednesday called on all countries to accept binding commitments under “an appropriate legal form.”

As criticism began building up in India, the government argued that this did not mark a change from India’s long-standing refusal to accept binding carbon emission limits.

What are the implications of Ramesh’s remark? Certainly the commitment for developing nations would be less stringent than for developed countries.However, the developed world's commitments would be limited to the voluntary mitigation actions they have already announced.

This effectively sets India’s earlier voluntary commitment to reduce energy intensity by 20-25 % by 2020 in stone. New Delhi stressed that binding emission cuts would be solely a commitment by the developed world.

Ramesh later said such commitments were all in the future. India would wait to see the shape of a future agreement “because we don’t know the content,” including whether countries would face penalties for non-compliance. “So let’s wait. Let us talk about it,” he said. In India, Ramesh’s Cancun statement received red, saffron and green criticism. Rajya Sabha Opposition Leader Arun Jaitley accused the minister of deviating from India’s refusal to accept binding emission commitments.

“The stand the minister has taken is contrary to parliamentary mandate. It is contrary to India’s position over the last several years,” he said.

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat called the statement a “sell out.” Environmentalists like Sunita Narain also criticised Ramesh, saying it allowed the developed world to evade its historical responsibility for almost all man-made carbon emissions.

Negotiators in the Mexican resort city worked through Friday night to try and finalise a Cancun climate statement as the 194-nation conference struggled to find a consensus and avoid a repeat of the disastrous Copenhagen climate summit.

Negotiators were finding even ancillary agreements, like a shared vision for long-term climate change strategy and defining a peaking year for emissions, difficult. India has publicly ruled out the idea of a peaking year for emissions.

“We cannot accept peaking with over 30 per cent of Indians still below the poverty line,” said an official.

There was also disagreements on how to manage a $ 100 billion annual fund for developing countries threatened by global warming and how a reforestation agreement might affect indigenous community rights. Off the agenda was any proposal for rich nations to improve on the modest emission-reduction pledges they made in Copenhagen.

Volte face | Cancun vs Copenhagen | Possible agreements