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Last-minute 'climate change', India drops two-year-old policy

In an effort to break a deadlock in negotiations to save the planet from overheating, Union Minister of State Jairam Ramesh discarded overnight India’s policy of two years on global climate change. Chetan Chauhan reports. Jairam's full interview | Volte face | Cancun vs Copenhagen | Possible agreements

world Updated: Dec 10, 2010 08:28 IST
Chetan Chauhan

In an effort to break a deadlock in negotiations to save the planet from overheating, Union Minister of State Jairam Ramesh discarded overnight India’s policy of two years on global climate change.

It’s a move that will likely win India international acclaim, but Ramesh must now prepare for fierce domestic criticism of his new stand that the country is willing to accept legally binding commitments in place of its oft-repeated policy of only voluntary action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

“All countries must agree to a legally binding commitment under an appropriate legal form,” Ramesh said as he surprised his own negotiators at the 16th global climate summit.

The statement was not part of the minister’s prepared speech, which he read at the plenary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as the summit is officially called.

The UPA had assured Parliament India’s position of refusing any legally binding agreements was non-negotiable. Last week the union cabinet accepted Ramesh’s proposal to drop the non-negotiable bit, allowi-ng him to be flexible in the resort city in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, one of the regions most at threat from climate change.

Like most developing countries, India had consistently said that since global warming was caused by developed nations, it would only offer voluntary cuts of up to 25% — not of overall emissions but in the intensity of emissions, or reducing the carbon in every unit of industrial production.

This offer was made at the non-binding December 2009 Copenhagen Accord, where 140 nations vaguely agreed to a 2-degree Celsius limit, widely deemed inadequate, to global warming by cutting emissions in half by 2050. On Wednesday, Ramesh said India would not accept absolute cuts in overall emissions.

Ramesh’s stand comes on a day when the European Union and island nations — most at risk from disappearing beneath rising oceans — backed by the US proposed the scrapping of the existing climate treaty, the 13-year-old Kyoto Protocol, which enforces emission cuts only on developed nations.

In its place, they proposed a legally binding instrument for all countries from a dialogue process called Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA).

“Why should we have a problem with the LCA text?” the minister asked, though the LCA proposal was opposed by Indian negotiators.

Backed by 70 nations, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Maldives from South Asia, the proposal says that the replacement to the Kyoto Protocol (it ends in 2012) should be agreed at in the next climate summit in Durban, South Africa, in 2011.

“If we don’t agree, we will be isolated,” said Ramesh.

Japan, Australia and Canada have opposed extending the Kyoto Protocol, which was never signed by the world’s largest economy, the US.

A new legally binding treaty with legally binding commitments from the developed world and emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa could pave the way for a truly global agreement, stuck in contentious negotiations over the last two years.

“We have to be flexible and recognise changing realities,” Ramesh said, while ruling out India accepting absolute mitigation cuts.

Ramesh said future discussion on legally binding commitments would depend upon on enforcement, penalties for violations and monitoring systems.

The minister has already proposed an international regime to monitor and enforce these commitments. That is already part of an official UN text.

Jairam's full interview | Cancun vs Copenhagen | Possible agreements