People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 41

October 11, 2009

INDIAN CLIMATE POLICY

 

Delhi Seminar Towards An Alternative Position

 

Raghu

 

AS we go to press, yet another fortnight-long international climate negotiation meeting, the last before the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009 which is to decide on global arrangements for the post-2012 period, is about half way through in Bangkok. There is little forward movement from where we were a few months ago. Indeed, if anything, the global talks seem to have slid backwards in many important ways. The much hyped goal, announced at the Major Economies Forum meet of G8 and G5 developing countries in July, of restricting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C by 2050 has vanished into thin air. The main culprits, the advanced industrialised countries of the global North, are becoming more recalcitrant by the day. And as usual, India is not making any news despite recent gestures and claims by the government of wanting to be a “deal-maker” rather than a “deal breaker” which it is projecting as a serious Western accusation against it.

All this has been predictable and indeed was predicted by speakers at a recent Seminar held in Constitution Club in Delhi on September 18, 2009, organised by Delhi Science Forum (DSF), All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN) and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.

 

SEMINAR BACKGROUND

AND STRUCTURE     

The seminar was part of a year-long collaborative exercise by the Peoples Science Movement (PSM) and TISS, initiated at a brainstorming workshop in Mumbai in May 2008. Considerable amount of further research and study, publication of material and grassroots campaign by AIPSN constituent organisations then followed, leading up to a joint workshop in Mumbai in July this year. The Mumbai workshop, where papers were presented by PSM organisations, professional groups, think-tanks, academics, NGOs, planners and media personnel, drew up a statement towards an alternative indian climate policy and decided to initiate a campaign.

The Delhi seminar sought to focus on these specific policy and action proposals, and to widen the support around the statement. With this in mind, the organisers had also invited political parties and mass organisations to participate. The seminar was attended by over 50 expert, NGO and academic participants. A special session saw interactions with CPI(M) Politbureau member and Rajya Sabha MP, Sitaram Yechury, CPI National Council member and Rajya Sabha MP D Raja and All India Kisan Sabha joint secretary N K Shukla all of whom addressed the participants on the issue of climate change.

Four inter-linked “lead presentations” were made at the seminar on the salient features of the alternative policy platform contained in the Mumbai statement. Dr Navroz Dubash of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, presented an overview of the current state of play in the global negotiations. Dr T Jayaraman of the Centre for Science, Technology and Development, TISS, Mumbai presented the results of a rigorous mathematical modeling exercise by TISS and DSF researchers that brought out the possible outcomes in terms of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and hence climate change, that would result from different emission reduction scenarios adopted by developed and developing countries (see DSF website www.delhiscienceforum.net for the full article and the text of the statement). D Raghunandan of Delhi Science Forum then put forward recommendations for an alternative Indian policy stance on climate change at both the international and domestic levels. Finally, Dr Sharachchandra Lele of the Asoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, spoke about the alternative developmental paths that these policies would call for, especially within India. Without going into details of individual presentations, the thrust of the arguments were as follows.

 

CURRENT

STATUS   

A clearer idea of trends in the global negotiations is emerging, and it does not make a pretty picture. Leading industrialised countries (ICs), including the “green” Europeans, have been backtracking for several months now on earlier commitments to undertake deep emission cuts. Compared to its earlier offer of 40-50 per cent cuts from 1990 levels, broadly as called for by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the EU offer is now a mere 20 per cent and that too with offsets, i.e. measures that allow ICs to substitute emission reductions in their own nations by supposedly equivalent actions in developing countries (DCs), such as planting trees.  Such offsets will not only bring down actual emission reductions by almost half, but will also shift the burden of mitigation to DCs. The US is yet to commit itself to entering any global treaty arrangement and even the newly adopted bill only promises a meager 3 per cent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020.

The transfer of funds and technology by ICs to DCs, as compensation for historical emissions and consequent environmental damage, is simply not being addressed seriously by the ICs. Along with other moves, notably pressure by the US on large DCs such as China and India to also accept binding emissions cuts, these positions of the ICs amount to not merely diluting the Kyoto Protocol principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” but actually abandoning it in favour of a totally new arrangement clearly more in favour of the ICs. The US stance is likely to become the de facto IC global position driving the negotiations.

India’s international stance has been extremely weak even as it formally reiterates the treaty principles emphasising equity and the use of per capita emissions as a yardstick.  The principle of compensatory funding and technology transfer by the ICs is correct, and many least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS) simply cannot cope with or survive climate change without them. But for India, which now sits on the international high table of the MEF and G-20, to continually harp on the need for money and technology before it can do anything sounds quite incongruous. Indeed, conferences of SIDS and LDCs covering over 82 countries, while continuing to put the onus of the climate crisis on historical emissions by the ICs, are now bracketing large DCs with the ICs as part of the problem. While official India appears to be overly sensitive to US charges that it is not doing enough, it appears unresponsive to this growing perception among much smaller and techno-economically weaker developing countries. 

The modeling exercises presented at the seminar brought out clearly that even if the ICs achieve the substantial cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, the future atmospheric GHG concentrations and hence the prospects of irreversible climate change will depend substantially on emissions from large DCs. China’s emissions already exceed those of the US and emissions growth rates in India and China are 4-6 per cent per year. The models showed that emissions of large DCs, the so-called “emerging economies” must peak and start declining not later than 2030 if the IPCC’s stabilisation target of atmospheric GHG concentration levels of 450 ppmv is to be achieved. Even on a per capita basis, Indian emissions are likely to surpass those of the ICs sometime in the 2030s notwithstanding the prime ministers’s much-touted promise of Indian per capita emissions never exceeding that of the ICs!

 

ALTERNATIVE

INDIAN POLICY                 

The Mumbai statement, strongly reiterated in the Delhi seminar, therefore argues for a new negotiating position by India that would respond to the science of the climate crisis, as well as to the politics of the global negotiations while also harmonising with India’s own developmental priorities.

Suggestion is that India (and hopefully other large DCs including China) offer to reduce its projected emissions in 2030 by 25 per cent, but conditional upon the developed countries adhering to the IPCC targets of 40 per cent reduction by 2020 and 90 per cent reduction by 2050, both compared to 1990 levels. To further demarcate the “differentiated responsibility” of even the large DCs from those of the ICs, India’s targets need not be binding like those of the ICs but could be incorporated into its National Communications that it is obliged to submit periodically to the UNFCCC.

Such a stance would impart a new dynamic to the international negotiations. India and other large DCs no longer need to be constantly on the back foot, defending against accusations by the ICs but can go on the offensive and put the onus fully on the ICs where it belongs. This position acknowledges the hitherto mostly ignored IPCC call for developing countries to also bring about “deviations below the baseline” in their future emissions and for countries to take actions according to their “national capacities”. It is also not a response to US or other IC pressure, nor a compromise with them, but a recognition of the depth of the crisis and of the capability of India (and other large DCs) to take effective mitigation action.

It is noteworthy that Mexico has placed a similar offer on the table and, as we go to press, so has Indonesia.

Importantly, it also answers to domestic developmental needs. India’s per capita emissions are low because almost 50 per cent of households have no access to modern energy such as electricity. If their energy consumption is to go up, and it badly needs to, then emissions will rise sharply unless energy consumption by some relatively high-consumption sectors of the economy or sections of society is moderated, and this is essential too. One cannot have the same kind of differential within India as exists internationally between the developed and developing countries. Therefore policies and strict monitoring of regulations are required for mandatory and targeted improvement of power generation efficiencies, efficiencies of vehicles and energy-consuming appliances, new building codes to reduce cooling requirements, shift to renewable energy sources. Longer term measures would also be required for promotion of public transport, inter-modal shift from road to rail transportation of passengers and goods, urban planning etc. Whereas a few aspects of these are being addressed to a limited extent by some of the Missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, this is inadequate in terms of quantitative targets, mandatory regulations for important industrial and corporate sectors and, perhaps most important, for bringing about greater distributive justice in energy and development.

The seminar decided to launch a Campaign for Progressive Climate Action and Policy in India to build up support for the above position within the broad perspective as spelled out in the Mumbai statement.

 

POLITICAL PARTIES &

MASS ORGANISATIONS   

N K Shukla of AIKS addressing the participants emphasised that  farmers in India were already experiencing the impact of climate change. He noted that farmers need to be assisted by experts and PSM groups to address their problems mostly related to adaptation in three aspects viz. (a) actions that farmers could undertake on their own (b) activities by research organisations and (c) effective and expeditious action by governmental agencies. Unfortunately farmers were today being largely left to their own devices in responding to climate change with little or no guidance or assistance. He  called upon the Campaign Committee to take up this effort and assured full participation of AIKS in these activities.

D Raja appreciated the views emanating from the seminar. He said that the government was taking many steps, and these need to be carefully studied, especially watching out for compromises on Indian sovereignty. He noted that some discussions on India’s positions and actions on climate change were likely in parliament in the coming session and assured participants that the Left Parties would meaningfully intervene in these debates and would welcome inputs in this regard.

Sitaram Yechury welcomed the broad conclusions of the seminar. He strongly felt that while India should not succumb to pressures of US-led imperialism or compromise with it, it was important that India should take a principled and independent stand on this global crisis caused by capitalism. He strongly felt that, in the name of resisting pressures from advanced countries, the Indian corporate sector should not be given free reign to pursue environmentally destructive forms of industrialisation, or focus only on profits to the detriment of the health and well-being of the people, or to continue in a business-as-usual mode with regard to energy conservation and emissions. He also asserted that Left Parties and other progressive forces should see to it that such development policies are adopted which promote equity and social justice within the country. He welcomed the launch of the campaign and assured it of support in the months ahead.