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Why India Should Go Legal At The UN Climate Talks?

Posted on December 18, 2011 in Environment

By Priti Rajagopalan:

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change got over in Durban, South Africa. India seems to be re-visiting its relentless position of non-inclusion in a legally binding emission reduction treaty. The country’s negotiating position has had two classifications, the Jairam position and the Non-Jairam Position. Mr. Jairam Ramesh, who headed the Indian negotiation team to the talks for two years in a row, had a rather flexible stand on dealing with a legal text but with the change in leadership, the scales have tilted again. But the delegation stood firm on discussing the substance of the legal treaty before promising anything beyond a Voluntary Emission which was called the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). The team at Durban headed by Mrs. Jayanthi Natarajan has reverted to a principled and hardliner stance to as much as a mere discussion of a text let alone provisionally accepting emission cuts, that would guarantee a second commitment period from key players to the Kyoto Protocol.

Foreseeing the danger, India was quick to place on the table the loose ends from the Cancun talks and requested re-opening of the talks on equity, trade and Intellectual Property rights. It has already been known to use poverty and other development issues in its domestic scene for posing inability to participate in any form of legal cuts. But, if India does make the cut, quite literally, how would it change the scene of the talks and global politics?

41.6% of its people fall below the international poverty line and development is an immediate requirement for its people. Everybody understands that and keeping exactly that in mind a Bali mandate was formed that underlined common but differentiated responsibility. Within the current framework, India shares the Non- Annex I space with Kiribati, which is almost being deemed uninhabitable by its government, amongst other countries. If there is negative equity between India and the United States, there is a negative equity between India and so many other Alliance of Small Island states, least developing Nations and Small Island Developing Nations. Does that not deem India differentially responsible?

Inaction would mean dealing with refugee migration especially from Bangladesh and nearby islands. Now, let’s for moments see the glass half full, if India manages to get its 41.6% of people out of poverty, in reality and not by revising its poverty line, and opts for a high carbon growth, what next? Would it revamp its infrastructure to meet the cuts under the Kyoto protocol? This obviously would be a difficult task considering a country plagued with slow infrastructure mobilisation and corruption. The health risk and ecosystem loss of this high carbon growth is a well known fact. And, India must remember this while claiming to put the interest of its people forward.

India’s long favorite argument for a deal has been that of the developed countries historical responsibility. The EU has been fundamental in strengthening the regime and there is a lesson that needs to be learnt. Playing a blame game is not going to help India in the future. Three state governments (Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu) have already passed a mandate to pass the cap and trade mechanism which would include a healthy free-market flexible mechanism with a robust carbon market. The corporate are going to love this just like India loves its corporate. In another fifty years, the emerging nations are going to be responsible for exactly what the developed nations are responsible for but in far greater magnitude but after 20 years of negotiations and the acceptance of science. India already spends thousands of dollars on adaptation and making this cut would only accelerate development.

Much to India’s discomfort, China and India are always clubbed together in the negotiation talks as the emerging economies. The comparison, although, is not completely unjustified. Their growth story started together with abject poverty, negligible infrastructure and an economy that was agrarian. China has increasingly been pressurized on adopting differentiated legal cuts from its developed peers and seems to be keeping its mandate flexible to include debates across the plenary. China’s green market is estimated to reach 15 percent of its GDP by 2015.

India has been trying for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council for years now. Countries have vouched support for its bid if it helps in building a positive climate talk. This is an opportunity India would definitely need to cease as it might be losing its importance on the international political meetings as seen in the recently concluded G20. The visits Indian government missionaries outside India made to the government of its host-country to hold talks on its stand, clearly explains the increasing importance and urgency of the climate talks and solidarity.

Developed nations like United States and Canada have failed us in the past and India is continuing on the same path. We cannot afford being clubbed with them simply because we neither are a superpower nor are we without a moral sense or duty. Before it decides, the content of agreement, penalties of non-compliance and monitoring methods, at least need to be discussed. There has been positive movement on the technology transfer and the green climate fund and to receive it, India would need to pay some price. And like they say, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Will India try to have its cake and eat it too? Only time will tell.