India and climate-change negotiations
What India has to offer in Copenhagen
Poor, hot and politically constrained
A STEELY lot, India’s negotiators for the Copenhagen climate talks, to be held from December 7th, are still afraid of abandonment by China. India’s position looks formidable, so long as the world’s other and mightier billion-strong developing nation shares its demands: for the sanctity of the principles enshrined in the Kyoto protocol (KP), which exempts developing countries from having to curb (or mitigate) their carbon emissions. India’s champions therefore had a fright last week when China said it would undertake to cut the carbon intensity of its economy—or the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP—by 40-45% by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. As The Economist went to press, India was rumoured to be following suit, by announcing its own targets for carbon-intensity cuts.
Indian fears of being left high and dry by China had anyway calmed somewhat on November 28th, at a meeting in Beijing of representatives of China, India, South Africa and Brazil, the “Basic Group” of big developing countries. It concluded with a reiteration of their shared “non-negotiable” demands. They insisted on their freedom from mitigation obligations, except when they are sponsored by industrialised countries to undertake them. They also decried a recent proposal to fix the year by which all nations’ carbon emissions should peak. Denmark suggests this idea, tentatively mooting 2025 as the cut-off year, in a draft agreement that it has promulgated in the absence of any workable draft emerging from the two years of pre-summit negotiations.
After the talks in Beijing, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, expressed confidence that China would not “ditch us”. Should industrialised countries seek to override their “non-negotiables”, he added, the four countries would stage a collective exit from Copenhagen. This week Basic Group representatives in Copenhagen presented their own draft agreement listing their demands to envoys from various industrialised countries.
As a tigerish negotiator, India was bound to seek solidarity with China—just as some developed countries were bound to seek more and comparable anti-warming measures from them both. The world’s most populous countries, they are the world’s biggest and fourth-biggest carbon emitters. As the world’s fastest-growing big economies, moreover, their emissions will continue to grow rapidly. In 1990 their combined emissions accounted for 13% of the world’s total; in 2030 the proportion is expected to reach 34%, of which China will account for 29%. The disparity is even more pronounced today. China’s emissions per head—the benchmark for an equitable global carbon-cutting agreement—are around 5.5 tonnes. India’s are 1.7 tonnes, among the lowest outside Africa.
If this disparity is not widely appreciated, as Indian officials claim, the rigid distinction between developed and non-developed countries in the KP, which they so rigorously endorse, must be partly to blame. Mr Ramesh, who was appointed in May, has already tried to make India’s negotiating position more flexible, partly by stressing the measures the country is voluntarily undertaking to curb its emissions: through a proposed $20 billion investment in solar energy; a plan to return a third of its area to forest; and many energy-efficiency measures. His ministry’s calculations, which predate China’s announcement, allegedly show that such emission-curbing steps could reduce the carbon intensity of India’s economy by around 25% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.
India, however, is unlikely to show more flexibility than this. In a recent leaked letter to the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, Mr Ramesh mulled going further, floating the idea that India should be less bound to its developing-world allies and take bolder mitigation steps. But Indian environmentalists, businessmen and politicians proceeded to slam this notion venomously. The world’s biggest democracy, though already suffering badly from climate change, is in this respect as politically constrained as its richest one. Mr Ramesh, however, seems to have won at least some support for his suggestion that India should appear “pragmatic and constructive, not argumentative and polemical”.
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