Tuesday, October 20, 2009

India and Climate Change: Is Jairam Ramesh a Sell Out or a Wuss?

This post is written by my friend and guest blogger Karthikeyan Chandran. He blogs at Glocal View

If India is indeed planning to make a radical shift in its Climate Change policy negotiations as reported in Times of India, it calls for some serious debate. India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in a confidential (not anymore) letter to the Prime Minister has called for a changing our long standing policy positions and has basically asked for accepting every demand the US has made of India (and indeed China) without any commitment from the developed countries on financial help or technology transfer to developing and under-developed countries.

There are multiple reasons why the new policy and the reasons put forth for it leave a bad taste in the mouth. Before going in, let us see what is being proposed.

From Times of India:
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, in a confidential letter to the PM, has suggested that India junk the Kyoto Protocol, delink itself from G77 -- the 131-member bloc of developing nations -- and take on greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments under a new deal without any counter guarantee of finances and technology.
The minister has justified the proposed shift of gears by repeating his argument that India need not be seen as a deal-breaker and should try to curb emissions in its own interest. He has also pointed to the advantages -- a permanent seat on the Security Council, for instance -- that it can hope to reap with a changed stance.
n his letter, Ramesh emphasizes his concern about India being seen as a bugbear for the developed countries in the climate negotiations. "India must listen more and speak less in negotiations" as its stance is "disfavoured by the developed countries, small island states and vulnerable countries. It takes away from India's aspirations for permanent membership of the Security Council."
Now Ramesh has said India should "not stick with G77 but be embedded in G20. We should be pragmatic and constructive, not argumentative and polemical." Interestingly, India had recently fought off immense pressure at the G20 talks to dilute its stand and give up its rights to financial compensation.
India, at present emits only 1.2 tonnes per capita of greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to 20 tonnes by the US. Acquiescence in any regime that does not differentiate between the super polluters like the US, on the one hand, and varying levels of developing countries on the other, would, lock the country into an arrangement where its growth options would be restricted.
In a note circulated within the government and to select Members of Parliament, it had said that mitigation action (as the Australia Proposal suggests) would lead to rise in the price of power and a drop in the production, impact the expansion of railways and adversely hit the prices of fertilizers in years to come. It would increase the cost of all goods, especially food items; the government assessed that it would increase unemployment especially in the rural agricultural sector. It had also warned that even if the country were to undertake such actions, it would have no impact on the costs of climate change adaptation that India would have to bear.

Now, is it me or is Jairam Ramesh's position looks like an absolute capitulation in the face of pressure from developed countries. After reading the entire article, which i suggest everyone to do, i couldn't find a single point that would seems to take India's self-interest in consideration.

* Is this going to help us grow faster? - NO
* Is this going to help us leap frog into newer technology, thus cutting down on emissions? - NO. The developed countries don't want to transfer technology to developing countries.
* Is this going to help the most vulnerable in our society or elsewhere across the third world? - NO. Infact, given the new tariffs and emission control regime, without financial assistance or technology transfer, is going to make life difficult for this group.

So, what are the reasons our Minister with all his wisdom propose we give into all these demands?

1) India is seen as obstructionist by the developed world.

Excuse me Minister, but who are you kidding. Didn't US refuse to sign Kyoto though it was the most polluting and the most technologically advanced country comparing itself to India and China. However sloppy the logic there was, one can see how well US fights to protect its self-interest. Maybe our minister should learn something from the developed countries that he so desperately wants to impress.

2) India might get a place in the Security Council.

This must be the joke of this year. First up, there is no way China or Pakistan or any number of other countries including Germany, Japan and Brazil for one reason or the other is going to let that happen anytime soon. Even if it is going to get a permanent slot in the Security council, it is going to be without a veto. Let us not kid ourselves. US is not going to let one more country to get a veto. So, instead of day dreaming of someday sitting in a table in an institution, which with each passing day is losing its relevance, let us focus on the issue at hand here and now. India's self-interest is paramount in our negotiations, not some decorative title that is bestowed. I don't know when we Indians stop running behind stupid titles that has some imagined prestige but chase real power, something the Chinese seem to be pretty adept in.

3) India should dissociate itself from G-77 and be part of G-20.

There is a very apt tamil saying which goes like this = "Arasana Nambhi Purushana vitta kathai". Roughly translated it means you give up your own kin trusting a stranger. Another dumb idea and reason from our minister. It is not like Climate Change is the only issue where India needs other nation's support. We have the CTBT, NPT, WTO talks where we don't want to be pushed to a corner. Moving to G20 line of reasoning atleast makes sense if we are going to gain something out of it. Instead, we want to ditch our friends for some pat in the back from the developed countries which won't think twice before ditching us in any forum.

It is times like these that we want a party at the centre that tempers and keeps the over-zealous ministers in check. Something the Left played for sometime. I hope the article in TOI elicits more debate and we follow policies that is in our self-interest than about some prestigious title.

As for Jairam Ramesh, is he a sellout or is he a wuss?

Update: Congress Party has started distancing itself from Jairam Ramesh on this subject.

(Originally published here.)
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October 20, 2009 4:29 AM  
Anonymous Hari Batti said...

He is a sell out. That is very clear. I'm not sure he won't get his way in the end.

October 20, 2009 7:53 AM  
Blogger Pallavi said...

He is proving himself to be a sell out. He had shown some spine earlier on this matter but that was for such a short time that it is not even worth mentioning. Along with this he is messing many issues including GM food in India, Bhopal gas tragedy and now I am scared on what to expect next.

October 24, 2009 12:26 PM  

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