There is now a steady flow of climate change actions by governments as the Copenhagen summit approaches. The US has promised to cut its carbon emissions by 17 per cent. China promised to double the energy efficiency of its economy. The Canadian parliament has now passed a bill calling for carbon emission cuts. And there will certainly be more such actions to come. There is a growing demand inside the country that India follow suit and take “credible” action about cutting carbon emissions.
However, the assumption behind this demand is that what other countries have done is credible. The truth is that very few of these various initiatives stand up to scrutiny. The US offer, if set against the 1990 baseline figure used by Kyoto Protocol signatories, comes to a trivial 4 per cent cut in emissions. By saying it will cut carbon intensity rather than emissions, China is likely to increase its smokestack emissions by 50 to 100 per cent by 2020. All of these announcements have been national commitments, most are non-binding and none allow independent verification.
This does not mean these pronouncements are hot air. There is an acceptance among governments that the world must move to a less sooty pathway. But no one, other than a starry-eyed few, doubts such a shift will carry a large economic price tag. While they may be cloaked in planet-saving language, the fact remains that climate change negotiations will be about which country will bear how much of this price. Which is exactly why all governments, other than the original Kyoto Protocol signatories, are committing only to symbolic or non-binding carbon reductions. No developed country has made any credible offers regarding financial compensation or technology transfer to the emerging economies. Put in this perspective, India is at least being honest by not making any loud proclamations. While New Delhi faces some flak, the truth is most governments and analysts accept that India is a front-runner among emerging economies when it comes to reducing carbon intensity, maintaining global energy standards in manufacturing and in the general trajectory of its carbon emissions. But appearances matter in the run-up to Copenhagen. So India should consider a sweeping statement that is unilateral, non-binding and, unlike some other countries, genuinely reflective of its carbon future.