It has not been clear in recent weeks as to where exactly the government stood on the climate change negotiations, with different spokesmen pushing different lines of argument. The prime minister has now put all speculation to rest with his statement at the Commonwealth summit, asserting that India wants the Kyoto framework (which places differential responsibilities on rich and poor countries) to be made to work, and linking India’s domestic emissions control plan to the promised transfer of technology and resources from the rich countries. He has also opposed the western move to downgrade the agenda for the forthcoming Copenhagen summit, and made it clear that India has a vital stake in serious emission cuts being achieved internationally. Meanwhile, in Beijing, four leading developing countries have announced that they will act together at Copenhagen, thus making it clear that the rich countries will not be allowed to steamroller the rest. This could well mean that nothing worthwhile will emerge at Copenhagen, but it should be clear to all that the responsibility for this will rest with the rich countries, which have not met the emission reduction targets that they committed to at Kyoto 12 years ago.
What is not clear, however, is what exactly Jairam Ramesh, the environment minister, announced in Beijing with regard to a 20-25 per cent cut in India’s emissions per unit of GDP, though with the caveat that this is a domestic, non-binding goal. Perhaps he felt obliged to respond to the Chinese and American emission reduction targets announced last week. These offers should be understood properly before India responds. The Chinese offer is to cut emissions by 40-45 per cent per unit of GDP, with 2005 as base. Since China’s GDP is likely to grow at 9-10 per cent a year through this period, what this translates into is a doubling of actual emissions by 2020. It is not clear why Mr Ramesh should feel obliged to respond to this, since India’s GDP-intensity of emissions is less than a half of China’s, so India is already ahead of where China promises to be a decade from now. All that Mr Ramesh needed to do was to point this out.
As for the US offer, it is part of the effort by the rich countries to dump the Kyoto Protocol, which is a binding international agreement. Admittedly, the US did not ratify Kyoto, but all other rich countries (barring Australia) did. So, if the US offer of a 17 per cent cut based on 2005 emission levels (and not the 1990 levels stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol) is accepted as a basis for negotiations, it creates room for other rich countries also to shift the goal posts from 1990 to 2005. That would be the end of Kyoto. There is everything to be said for being flexible in negotiations, and for sugar-coating whatever stance the country takes at the Copenhagen meeting next month. But it is important to understand that the Chinese are doing only sugar-coating, and the US is simply changing the goal posts.