People's Democracy

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


No. 43

October 25, 2009


Rethinking Climate Change or Creating the Climate for an About Turn?

Prabir Purkayastha

THE minister of environment and forestry, Jairam Ramesh has circulated a discussion note on climate change which is a significant departure from India�s basic positions on this issue and aligning it with that advocated by the US. A careful reading of his discussion note makes clear that this is not �some flexibility in India�s stance� as he has argued in his press statement on this issue within India�s national consensus but an about turn. If the Indian government takes this position, it will not only be a complete betrayal of the people of this country but indeed of the entire developing world.

The argument that India should be with the G20 and not G77 has nothing to do with climate change negotiations � India emits only 1.2 tons carbon dioxide per capita as against the figures of the US 21 and 10 tons for the EU. India is not on the same side as the club of the rich and any attempts to side with the rich countries will not signify any independent position but a capitulation to their continuing grab of the global carbon space. Even if India cuts all its emissions in the future, it will make no difference � its emissions are less than 5 per cent of total global emissions with 17 per cent of the world's population. Contrast this with the US --  22 per cent of all global emissions with about 4 per cent of the world's population.






 The past record of the rich countries has shown that without concerted global pressure, they will refuse to take binding cuts and continue to endanger the globe. Yes, the emerging countries have some role in the solution to the global climate crisis even though they have not created the problem. But breaking the unity of the developing countries before Copenhagen will rank with India's about-turn accepting that Intellectual Property be introduced into the GATT negotiations of 1989. The consequence has been the imposition of TRIPS and the iniquitous WTO order with its enormous adverse impact on the global poor. The climate change negotiations is not just about the environment but about India and the developing countries right to development. This is what is at stake here.


Let us look at what Jairam Ramesh suggests. His major points are that India should take a per capita plus approach and give up per capita convergence principle. It is important here to understand the difference between the continued emission of countries � the flow of emissions -- and the historically accumulated emissions of countries or the existing stock of emissions. As CO2 decays very slowly, it is the stock of emissions emitted by the rich industrialised countries that today constitutes the major problem of the developing countries for their development. If we want to limit the rise of temperature to 2 degrees C with a 50 per cent probability, then out of the total 640 Gigatonnes (GtC) of the carbon budget available from 1800 till 2050, already  330 GtC been emitted and the rest 310 GtC will also be spent within the next 20-25 years at the current rate of emissions. Out of this, the Annex 1 countries  or the rich industrialised countries have already grabbed more than 77 per cent of the current stock of greenhouse gases, with a share of population that is less than 15 per cent of the world. The rest, including India and China have more than 85 per cent of the global population and have contributed only 23 per cent to the existing stock of GHG gases.   If we accept a per capita plus and not a even a per capita convergence approach, it means not only forgetting that the rich countries have already hogged most of the carbon budget, but also allowing them to grab the major part of what is left as well: allowing them a much higher carbon space from the future share of the developing countries.

If we want to take a more conservative figure, reducing the risk of a 2 deg C change to be within 75 per cent probability, our carbon budget for the future is only 190 GtC instead of 310 GtC taken above and we will run out of this very quickly indeed. The issue of future carbon space would become even more critical then.




What is the implication of asking everybody to reduce and not taking a per capita convergence approach? It simply means that while the rich countries continue on a high carbon path to meet their luxury consumption, we will have to immediately go in for a low carbon emitting path to meet even our subsistence needs. If they do not vacate some carbon space by drastically reducing their emissions, every developing country will have to pay a very heavy price to save the globe.

Just to put some numbers. A coal based plant can be put up for Rs 5 crore per MW and will produce electricity with a 80 per cent plant load factor. Using a low carbon --solar route -- the capital cost will be around Rs 20-25 crore per MW. But that is not all. Since the PLF is about 25 per cent for solar plants, we will have to install about 3-4 times as much � the capital cost for producing the same amount of electricity is about 12-15 times that using the coal route or a high carbon route! So choosing a low carbon per capita plus approach that allows the rich countries to continue with higher emissions will impose huge costs on the developing countries. That is why the fight for every bit of carbon space in the global negotiations.

Though the minister has now clarified that India�s per capita plus approach should be achieved through domestic legislation, arguing for accepting the Australian proposal of putting such domestic undertakings in a schedule is nothing but bringing binding obligations on both the developed and the developing countries. It is moving away from the Annexe 1 and Non-Annex 1 countries distinction and would effectively dilute the Kyoto and Bali consensus. It is obvious that this is a move to placate the US, the only hold out amongst the rich countries from Kyoto. We cannot abandon positions agreed after decades of global negotiations merely to please the US. The argument in this context given in Jairam Ramesh�s discussions note that India should sign a climate change agreement with the US during the prime minister�s November visit and before Copenhagen will be a completely  wrong message to the global community. The world will see this for what it is � India�s shift from a leader of the non-aligned movement and the G77 to a subordinate ally of the US.

Based on per capita entitlements, the rich countries owe the developing countries a huge carbon debt. This is not just a notional figure, but the actual additional burden that they will have to shoulder because of a lack of carbon space and the rich countries already hogging most of it. The demand that the rich countries make financial and technology transfers to developing countries is only a small reparation for this huge carbon debt. Unfortunately, Jairam�s discussion note�s argument for a more �nuanced position� on this may only end up by allowing the rich countries to renege on this debt.

We have no quarrel with the minister�s argument that India should work out a comprehensive climate mitigation plan and enact domestic legislation for this. The minister's advocacy of domestic action without linking it to the global negotiations would have some merit if all his suggestions were not in line with what the rich countries have been demanding from India � cut your emissions and take binding commitments. The one domestic initiative that India can and should take does not figure in his list. This is enacting domestic legislation that any technology, which helps climate change mitigation can be compulsorily licensed similar to the provision for life saving drugs. This would make India (and the developing countries) transition to a low carbon path easier and would remove the double burden that the developing countries are being asked to pay. On one hand, we have to adopt high cost technologies for reducing emissions, on the other we have to pay monopoly prices to global MNC's to buy such technologies.





The problem with India's climate change negotiations is on par with its other negotiations � keep people in the dark and make major moves without transparency. Major decisions have been taken which already constitute a departure from the national consensus. The prime minister in Heiligendamm had agreed that India's per capita emissions will never be more than that of the industrialised countries. This means that we will adjust our future flows only to their future flows and without any reference to their already very large stock in the atmosphere. In Aquila, again,  India in the G20 discussions agreed that it will remove all fossil fuel subsidies. Kerosene subsidy, the issue in question, is for a section of the population that produces hardly any emission. All this have been done without any national discussion. The minister's letter therefore should not be seen in isolation but as a part of a continuing strategy that India is following in its foreign policy � a steady drift towards the US.

The US has offered no concessions as yet in the global negotiations. They are arguing that the world must tear up all its previous agreements and simply accept what the US wants to do. In this scheme, there is no global compact called Kyoto, no common but differentiated responsibility and no historical emissions. They have the lions' share of current stock of emissions and must continue to retain this share as the world cuts down future global emissions. Bringing the US into global negotiations on these terms would be nothing but an abject surrender to the US.

The minister's note also implies that since climate change will affect India more, we should take unilateral action. The experience of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty shows that one sided agreements generate no pressure on the rich and the powerful. Unless the world stands up and says that the US and the club of the rich cut their emissions drastically, the world cannot be saved. Unilateral action by India with its low level of emissions without linking it to binding emission cuts for developed countries would in no way solve the problem. Even a Nick Stern has talked of India and developing countries putting conditionalities on the developed world and forcing them to change their ways. A Jeffry Sachs talks about the need to lift all Intellectual Property Rights for climate mitigation technologies. It is indeed strange Indian ministers and officials speak in a completely different voice.

India�s climate policy must be founded on the development needs of the majority of its population and the needs of India�s future development. The minister's proposals in their current form are only a thinly veiled proposal to barter India�s energy and developmental future for a seat at the high table curtsy the US. This we must reject.