A MATTER OF INTENSITY
After a great deal of huffing and puffing that led to needless controversies, suspicions and allegations, the Government has finally done the sensible thing. In his statement in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, the Minister for Environment, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, whose hidden talent as an orator shone through with considerable clarity, said India would not accept legally binding emission cuts but that it would legally binding emission cuts but that it would any way cut emissions on its own. The underlying logic of this position is straightforward: if it is in your self-interest, then do it without getting bogged down in finger-pointing and debates about who should cut their emissions first and by how much. Mr. Ramesh made a point that appears to have escaped many in India – that if the climate is indeed changing, India will be affected in many ways: from greater unpredictability in the monsoon, through melting glaciers and because of deforestation. So, one way or the other, if global temperatures do rise by the two degrees expected, India cannot escape the adverse consequences. In any case, said the Minister, it is better to have a cleaner environment than a dirtier one.
Towards this end, he told everyone who is going to Copenhagen for the climate change conference that starts on Tuesday, that India would cut its carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, from the level obtaining in 2005 by 20-25% by 2020. He went on to add some would say gratuitously that “if we have a successful, equitable agreement (at Copenhagen), we are prepared to do more”. Mr. Ramesh also laid to rest apprehensions that India might accept the idea that big emitters should accept a peaking year for emission, after which their emissions would start to decline. And then, in a nice little touch, he said India would accept international verification of the reductions if the international community was financing technology transfer. “When mitigation action is unsupported, we will not want it to be subject to the same kind of scrutiny”, he said. Perhaps the most important consequence of this would be on India’s negotiating strategy, which was thus far based on the notion of per capita emissions. Rightly dismissing that as an accident of history which makes India so populous, the Minister said that it was total, and not per capita, emissions that fouled up the climate.
With this, India has demonstrated its maturity and the fact that it is ready to join the Club of Seniors. Regardless of what Copenhagen yields – and the consensus is that it will yield very little - India now has something to negotiate with, and about. That is worth appreciating and endorsing.
Business Line Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009