India has entered the debate on legally binding climate treaty that has hogged the Durban climate conference with a set of questions and a firm no to accepting any emission cuts.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan was willing to discuss the issue provided rich nations accept India's concerns on equity, commitment for finance and technology, intellectual property rights issues and unilateral carbon tax imposed on aviation sector.
She also wanted to know the nature of legally binding climate treaty vis-a-vis rich and developing countries and whether mitigation targets would be similar for all.
"I have come to Durban with an open mind," Natarajan said and added that projection of legally binding agreement as panacea for climate change was "completely off the mark"
Natarajan said seeking legally binding agreement confuses implementation with ambition and was a bid of rich nations to foresake their international obligations under the UN climate convention.
Her statement earned immediate backing from Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and NGO Centre for Science and Environment. "India should not accept any emission cuts till its average carbon footprint is at the level of the rich nations," said Arun Bharat Ram, former chief of CII. Agreeing withRam, Sunita Narain, director-general CSE, added, emission cuts can impede India's efforts to eradicate poverty and develop to the level of rich nations.
China, which announced conditional emission cuts after 2020 on Monday, agreed with India. "On legally binding agreement, I endorse her (Natarajan's) statement," said China vice chairperson of National Development Commission Xie Zhengua.
But two other partners in the Basic group -- South Africa and Brazil, however differed. "We agree to rule based legally binding agreement," said Brazilian climate negotiator Ambassador Andre Correa do Lago.
Natarajan by taking the stand had re-affirmed what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told US president Barack Obama recently. "We cannot take any legally binding emissioncuts at this stage of our development," Singh had said.
To counter pressure on India from rich and least developed nations to accept legally binding treaty, Natarajan said, the poor cannot be expected to be legally bound to reduce emissions when they have nothing to emit. "Development is the best healer for environment," she said.
Throwing the ball in the court of rich nations on behalf of the developing world, Natarajan wanted to know how the ratification process of Kyoto Protocol would be resolved, if there is agreement on a legally binding treaty. The debate over extending Kyoto Protocol for second commitment period beyond 2012 is stuck, a concern for India.
She also wanted to know whether the legally binding nature will mean commitment of rich nations on finance and technology. "What will happen to equity?" she asked.