Just a week after Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told a climate change conference in Copenhagen that India is not “obligated” to take on legally binding emission reduction targets, comes news that he has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advocating a shift in India’s long-standing position on the issue. Mr Ramesh, according to a report, has written to the PM that New Delhi should junk the Kyoto Protocol, de-link itself from the 131-member bloc of developing nations and take on emission reduction targets minus any counter-guarantees from the developed world on the finances needed for clean-up and technology. A global summit in Copenhagen in December will try to agree on a climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Mr Ramesh has consistently said that India would go to Copenhagen as an “interested party” and a “deal maker, not a deal breaker”. He has also talked about being “pragmatic” and “realistic” on reaching a deal there. But whether being “realistic” and “pragmatic” means giving up India’s long-held positions is debatable. If the only justification for changing India’s stand is to get the US into the mainstream on the climate issue, one wonders whether it will achieve anything. At this stage, any position India takes that lets the developed countries off the hook will not be seen kindly by many, including the countries India is leading. Strategic goals can only be achieved from positions of strength and the Kyoto Protocol provides that. Abandoning it can only weaken India. A robust climate deal is in India’s interest, in the interest of the country’s poor. For India, unlike the US, emissions are not a luxury but a question of survival. Any shift in position that does not take into account these issues will not be in India’s interest. And, if that is done, the government must explain what prompted this shift in stance.
India’s offer of setting up “nationally accountable mitigation outcomes,” which Mr Ramesh described as domestic legislation mandating fuel efficiency standards, stricter building codes and clean coal technology, are forward- looking steps. But moving away from the ‘polluter pays principle’ and accepting emission curbs cannot be an option. The polluter pays principle has political acceptance now. So getting away from it must be accompanied by similar political consensus. There’s a growing demand among parliamentarians that a US-style scrutiny of multilateral agreements must be put into place in India as well. With the climate deal becoming one of today’s most hotly contested issues, such a change in procedures will be a welcome move and put an end to controversies like the current one.