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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

4-word principle India’s big green victory at Rio

New Delhi sees its greatest success at the Rio + 20 summit to be the embedding of an obscure four-word principle throughout the final outcome document. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri reports.

world Updated: Jun 21, 2012 22:47 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times

New Delhi sees its greatest success at the Rio + 20 summit to be the embedding of an obscure four-word principle throughout the final outcome document. This principle, “common but differentiated responsibilities,” (CBDR) say Indian officials, will be the country’s principal negotiating weapon in the years to come.

“One significant development has been the restoration of the centrality of the principle of CBDR in the environmental discourse,” said environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.

CBDR, in effect, is an escape clause for poor countries in any multilateral green negotiations. Its origins lie in the 1992 Rio Declaration and were added to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first climate change agreement. CBDR basically says that developing countries cannot be expected to fulfill the same environmental obligations of rich countries.

A senior Indian official explained, “We can use this to fend off almost any demand from the West.” This will matter as India, at least in the medium-term, will still need to burn fossil fuels, deplete its green cover and use technologies like genetic modification to maintain a high economic growth rate.

Noted Natarajan, “CBDR is of significance to developing countries, not least in the climate change context.”

This is of particular importance at the present Rio + 20 summit for three reasons.

One, with the world economy in doldrums, there is no stomach for genuine action on the environment as this always carries a price tag. The focus , say Indian negotiators, is on “principles and processes” that will determine negotiations in the future.

Two, the European Union in particular has led a campaign arguing that emerging economies like India and China are too wealthy to be allowed to have a “differentiated” approach. The developed countries who have pushed this argument have won over some African states. Thus CBDR was watered down at the last earth summit in Durban after the host government, South Africa, bought some of the EU’s arguments.

Three, New Delhi believes the European states have an environmental agenda that is all about saving their commercial interests and not saving the planet. In a pre-summit note to the cabinet, the ministry argued that the “EU sees the Rio + 20 as a way of blunting the competitive edge of the developing economies and improve its competitiveness in a climate where the EU is facing a serious economic and financial crisis.” Climate change talks, similarly, boil down to little more than energy.

This summit’s final outcome document will see CBDR strewn all over the text, including it is hoped the preamble. Indian officials praised the role of the hosts, Brazil, who had a similar interest in preserving the CBDR principle for its own economic interests. “We have clawed back a lot of what we lost,” said one Indian official.

(With inputs from Chetan Chauhan, New Delhi)

First Published: Jun 21, 2012 20:30 IST

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