India & climate change: The way forward

Ajith Vijay Kumar

The winter is long gone, so has the chill that was evident at the Copenhagen Summit; the 194-nation jamboree assembled to protect the future of our world.

Now summer is upon us – India is witnessing its hottest April in 52 years – and the glacier ice is melting but the biggest stakeholders in the climate debate are almost where they were that chilly December evening when it became apparent that it will take some time - many seasons- before the world ‘walks the talk’. .

Copenhagen Accord Commitments:


The Copenhagen Accord aims to limit the increase in global temperature to below two degrees. More than 100 countries were against the 2 degree cap – they wanted it lower at 1.5 degrees – but probably decided to go along so as to take a step forward.

Emissions cuts

India promised to enforce a 25% cut in its carbon intensity by 2020, while China has agreed to put a curb of 40-45% by then.

While, the US has promised a 14-17% reduction on 2005 levels; for the EU it would be a 20-30% on 1990 levels; for Japan, 25% and Russia 15-25% on 1990 levels.

Effectively meaning that most developed and developing countries have quietly buried the Kyoto Protocol; the world starts the climate debate afresh.

Peak date for carbon emissions

The accord vaguely describes the cut off date by when emissions should fall. It says, “We should co-operate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognising that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries.”

The developed and the fast developing countries like India are comfortable with the “as soon as possible” line, but not the poor and vulnerable countries who are pitching for stringent deadlines.


By setting up the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund which entails a collective commitment by developed countries to provide an additional $30bn for 2010-12 and promises $100bn a year by 2020, the rich bought over the sceptics- at least for now.

India’s role

India’s was termed as deal-maker by some, while others believe that India, along with its friend-for-the-cause China, was the biggest roadblock in reaching a meaningful deal at the all important summit.

But let’s get the record straight. India, along with three other countries Brazil, South Africa and China, had indeed played a crucial role in brokering a non-binding agreement with the US which has since been "endorsed" by more than 112 countries.

The two Asian giants have since written to the UN confirming they could be "listed" in the agreement. However, the listing is short of complete "association" with the accord, highlighting the gulf between the US which is happy with whatever it has got the developing countries to agree to and the other key nations on how to deliver a global deal to combat climate change.

And as matters stand, China and India’s support for the Copenhagen Accord is highly conditional. They, by agreeing to voluntarily cut the intensity of their carbon emission sans any legal binding – to say the least-, have kept their options open.

For the record, there are two riders to India’s commitment. One, it wishes to keep the Accord separate from the continued international negotiations. Secondly, while getting itself ‘listed’ it has reiterated that the Accord is non-binding.

The specific pointing to the grey areas does point to the direction India would take in climate negations in the future.

The new plan

Strengthened by the support of the dragon, India is also trying to push for a greater say in the climate negotiations.

As an important step towards the direction, New Delhi has nominated Environment Secretary Vijay Sharma to be the next chief of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Secondly, with the special envoy on climate change Shyam Saran out of the way, Environment minister Jairam Ramesh is trying to chart a radically different path for India as it prepares itself for the Cancun Summit later this year.

Referred as “per capita plus”, the new approach seeks to update India’s long-standing stand that per capita emissions be taken as the bench mark while calculating the emission to define burden-sharing between developed and developing nations.

As per the new plan, being strongly pitched forward by Ramesh, the emphasis will be on making everybody ‘understand’ their responsibilities and their role in saving the planet.

It calls for India to assume more domestic responsibilities on emission cuts, besides enforcing a law-bound system of giving incentives for emission cuts and renewable energy.

The new approach surely would surely be welcomed by the rich as, finally, India, along with it China, appear to be waking up to the reality to curb carbon emission, despite the historical excesses committed by the West.

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