India found itself alone and the subject of criticism from many sides over the issue of being paid to conserve forests at the UN climate change conference here Tuesday.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has decided to include the fight against deforestation as a part of the fight against climate change after scientists proved that deforestation is leading to 20 percent of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) that lead to global warming.
Developing countries - which have the major forests - have sought payment not to cut trees. While there is no agreement on this yet, funding may well become available for what is being described here as "avoided deforestation".
In this way, the carbon sequestered by the forests that are not being cut can be encashed by developing countries in the carbon market, though the methodologies and the carbon values of trees are yet to be worked out.
The Indian delegation here wanted to add "conservation" to "avoided deforestation". When that point was not included in the draft that appeared Tuesday morning, India objected, and immediately became the subject of criticism from industrialised and other developing countries alike.
Secretary in the ministry of environment and forests Meena Gupta told IANS: "We are not the only country that wants this. India is one of the few developing countries where the forest cover is going up, not down. We should not be penalised for that."
Gupta is leading the negotiating team in the delegation. According to another member, China, Brazil, Indonesia and many countries in Africa were of the same view.
But the other countries backed out. India's Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal, who is the head of the Indian delegation, then spoke to a number of ministers, including the environment minister of host country Indonesia.
There was a report that when the confrontation was brewing Monday night, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon had telephoned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and requested him to ensure that a step taken by India did not become a stumbling block to a successful Bali roadmap.
The report, in circulation among Indian NGOs here, said the prime minister had assured the UN head that India would not do anything to block a successful outcome here as long as the country's economic interests were safeguarded.
The report could not be verified with any member of the Indian government delegation.
When the next draft on fighting deforestation came up Tuesday evening, it said: "positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries will be considered in the context of land use."
It went on to say: "In the context of land use the role of conservation and enhancement of carbon stocks will be considered."
Indian government delegates here described this as vindication of the country's position, though in the morning draft the word used had been "addressed" rather than "considered", which is a weaker word in UN parlance.
Some NGOs from India did not agree with the government's point of view that India should be paid to conserve its forests. "This is like saying Saudi Arabia should be paid for all the oil it has underground," said Srinivas Krishnaswamy of Greenpeace India.
The Indian government became the subject of another rumour campaign in Bali.
By the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that aims to combat global warming, industrialised countries are supposed to reduce their total GHG emissions by five percent compared to 1990.
Though the period for legally binding commitments - 2008-2012 - has not started yet, it is clear that only the European Union is anywhere near that target. GHG emissions have risen markedly since 1990 in all other industrialised countries. It has made 2006 the year with highest GHG emissions so far.
Major industrialised countries such as the US, Canada, Japan and Australia are now very reluctant to commit to deeper GHG emission cuts after 2012, though the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that unless global GHG emissions start going down by 2015 and are reduced by at least 50 percent by 2050, global temperature rise cannot be kept within two degrees Celsius - the dreaded tipping point after which major disasters are forecast.
These four countries were behind the watering down of a major commitment to fight climate change Monday. It had earlier been decided that a GHG emission reduction of 25-40 percent from 1990 levels would be used as a guide to negotiate new commitments over the next two years. But that section was deleted in the next version of the draft.
All four countries were pilloried in the media worldwide. Then Tuesday afternoon, a rumour started going around Bali International Convention Centre that India had been behind the deletion of the target, along with Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.