Jairam Ramesh is perhaps the most intelligent and energetic environment minister India has had. He has brought a new sense of purpose to his ministry, outlined an ambitious domestic agenda, introduced greater transparency, and dramatically altered India’s negotiating stance in the global talks on climate change. Here, for the first time, Ramesh speaks to Business Standard on what he has done so far and his future agenda. In the first of a three-part interview Ramesh speaks about the meaning of the Copenhagen Accord. Subsequent instalments will deal with the domestic policy agenda.
In Copenhagen, did you let the rich countries off the hook? What did you gain by allowing Annex I countries to dilute the Kyoto protocol?
They have not diluted Kyoto. The two largest emitters are not part of Kyoto. Let’s understand that 45 per cent of the world’s emissions are accounted for by two countries (China and the US), who are not part of Kyoto.
One outcome of Copenhagen was that negotiations under Kyoto will continue for the second commitment period. But the fact is, Kyoto is in intensive care. Most countries want to get out of Kyoto. The desire of the international community is to bring China into an international agreement on controlling greenhouse gas emissions. What the Europeans are saying is, we will not take commitments under Kyoto because the Americans are not doing it; and the Americans are saying we will not take commitments because the Chinese are doing it. To that extent, we are in a bit of a quandary. We have not killed Kyoto. We have bought time.
Let’s assume it is dead…
It’s facing a grave crisis. No question about it. The second commitment period is under question because of structural reasons, because of questions being raised on the US, and in the US questions being raised on China. What we got in Copenhagen was the mandate to continue the negotiations on that. Then we got the Copenhagen accord. Twenty-nine countries negotiated this accord.
What did India gain by aligning with China?
The criticism is that, after Copenhagen, the 2 degree limit on global warming is impossible to achieve. It will go well beyond that limit. And since India is among the world’s most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change, basically, you’ve killed yourself.
It’s a no-win situation. There was pressure on us to agree to a 1.5 degree limit — Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan — all wanted that. We cannot agree to that. That will further constrict our development space. Even the 2 degrees — today we are 380 parts per million, it goes to 450. How much is going to be attributable to growth from India? We don’t know. There is no international framework for sharing.
What you are saying is that the 2 degree cap will not work?
No, what we are saying is we’ve agreed to a 2 degree cap by 2050. That was not at Copenhagen.
By killing Kyoto, you knocked out the 2 degree limit. If you are going to be one of the early victims of global warming, it will be a disservice to India to have let Annex I countries off the hook.
The best service to India is to agree to a 1.5 degree limit. But India has multiple objectives. India has its objective of ensuring its vulnerability gets minimised. Its objective is to preserve its development space for 9 per cent growth. If I had gone with purely environmental objectives, I would have perhaps taken a different stance. I did not go with a pure environmental objective.
How will we keep development space if we come under international scrutiny?
This is a bogus argument. India has been under international scrutiny for the last 55 to 60 years. We are quite adept at handling ourselves internationally. We do Article IV consultations with the IMF. We do trade policy discussions with the WTO. In fact, our trade liberalisation autonomously has been far more aggressive than what we have committed to under WTO. The IMF comes and produces a fiscal and monetary policy assessment. Has our sovereignty been eroded? Just because we have consultation and analysis (that’s the word, not scrutiny)?
I have said from day one that we have nothing to hide. We are quite willing to have consultations, I’m quite willing to put up every year a climate policy statement of the Government of India. I’ll discuss it with whoever you want. How will sovereignty get eroded because of that?
What did we get in return for shifting our negotiating position?
First, we did not shift, we negotiated our position. On the global goal, we got what we wanted. We went to Copenhagen with the express objective of having a global goal in terms of an increase limited to 2 degrees Celsius. Nothing more.
We didn’t want a 50 per cent cut in global emissions. We didn’t want a PPM (parts per million) goal. We wanted a temperature goal. We got that. We didn’t want the Copenhagen accord to be a legally binding treaty. We got that.
It is an operational document, so it is binding, de facto.
It is not a legally binding document. The Americans themselves don’t want a legally binding document. It is an operational document.
You set out to change the agenda before you went to Copenhagen. The picture the government presented in the run-up to the meeting was of speaking in different languages, then the negotiators were on strike.
We are an argumentative society. We allow a multiplicity of opinions. We are a democracy at work. We have diversity at work. Ultimately, what is it that the PM wants.
Since you are leading the effort, did you not discuss and get a consensus before you took a formal position?
If Dr Manmohan Singh had gone for consensus in 1991, would we have got economic reforms?
So, you did not get a consensus?
But I did not do anything by stealth. I said whatever I had to say in Parliament. I said, when I was asked, ‘Have you shifted from the position,’ I said yes. I had said we would have our domestic obligations subject to international information. I said it had changed to international consultation and analysis. Yes, it’s changed. There is no big loss to national sovereignty.
You also took the position that we don’t need the money, whereas under Kyoto the money was supposed to come?
Who will give us public money? Nobody will. We are the world’s fourth largest economy, the second fastest growing economy, and the world will give us money? Let us be realistic.
There was supposed to be a transfer of technology, too.
Who is going to transfer technology? Why would they transfer technology? That was under UNFCCC (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) in 1992, when China was nowhere on the horizon as a greenhouse gas emitter, and India’s 8 per cent growth was a dream. Things have changed. We are not junking UNFCCC. In Copenhagen, after a long time, India was seen to be pro-solution in the debate.