India: be the party pooper

Friday, October 26, 2007

India: be the party pooper (Editorial)
By Sunita Narain

US President George Bush played host to a party of the top polluters of
the world called to discuss climate change. He exhorted his guests that
the world needed to act and called for a "new approach" to reduce
emissions. But if you think that he has changed his mind about the
science which has established the reality and urgency of climate change,
think again. Or if you think he has changed his position that his
country will not take on commitments to cut emissions because the
American lifestyle is not open to negotiation, think yet again and again.

The Bush meeting was strategic: first, it was an attempt (and a
successful one) to club the rich countries, who have been old and big
polluters, with the emerging countries-China and India. The meeting was
to remove the difference between the two categories-those who need to
make deep cuts in their emissions and those who need the space to grow.
If the Indians (and the Chinese) were looking for a place at this high
table of polluters, they certainly got their wish.

There is nothing new about Bush's position on climate change. In fact, I
would go so far as to say that there is nothing different about his
position from that of the previous Democratic government led by Bill
Clinton and Al Gore.

This is nothing more than recent history repeating itself. It is
predictable and it is dangerous for the climate and for our common future.

What Bush did should not surprise us. The US has been steadfast: it will
take action (whatever that means) only when it includes all big
polluters, including China and India.

I remember clearly the events in Kyoto in 1997, when the emissions
treaty was being finalised to set legally binding targets on
industrialized countries. That week all the stops were pulled out. The
phones buzzed between the White House and the prime minister's office.

The US made it clear that it wanted "meaningful participation" from
India and China. Its intransigence meant that all other governments
(those of the European Union to Japan) had to work hard to play
matchmaker to get the Chinese and Indians to bend so the US could sign
up to the treaty.

But what the Indian government did by accepting the Bush party invite
now should surprise us. I do accept that its position also remained
steadfast at the recent meeting. It did inform its host that the world
needed to act on the basis of historical contributions to the stock of
greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. And that India's per capita
emissions are negligible compared to those of the flatulent US or the
developed European countries. But believe me when I say this is nothing
other than posturing: rhetoric without any substance.

The fact is that we have agreed tacitly to join the membership of the
polluters-only club. In this way we have blurred (if not altogether
removed) the distinction-followed in all global agreements-between
countries which need to take action first and those who need the
ecological space to grow. But this is just one part of a much bigger

We have also asserted our right to development without insisting that
the US should take on deep and obligatory emission targets, for all our
sake. We have agreed to this ultimate marriage of convenience-not to ask
the us to commit so that we can get off the hook. We will all take on
"aspirational" targets, Bush said at the meeting. Let us understand this.

This is the ultimate and deadly bribe to seduce India and China: we will
not allow the Europeans and others to push us into legally binding
targets. This way is better: voluntary commitments and no targets.

Just think. This is a way in which we will all go to hell together. The
fact is that the world needs to act. It needs to act decisively and
urgently. We can already see the repercussions of a mere 0.7°c increase
in global temperatures in terms of melting glaciers and extreme weather
and rain events. Just think what it will be like when the world sees, on
average, an increase of 1.5°c, which is now inevitable because of the
stock of emissions already in the atmosphere, or 2°c, which is the best
we can get if we are responsible. The Bush way is disastrous. It must
not be acceptable.

But we are hypocrites. We laid the foundation stone for this Bush
conclave when we agreed to join the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean
Development and Climate, which was launched by the US administration
just under two years ago. This partnership had just one aim: to break
the multilateral processes built around legally binding commitments by
proving that voluntary action agreed by the major polluting nations
would be effective. Many meetings down the line, the partnership has led
to nothing concrete on the ground. But then who cares?

But we have to care. Climate is too serious a business to be made a joke
out of, as is done by the US president and his administration. We need
to explain to the rich world why it needs to act decisively and cut its
emissions and how it needs to change its lifestyle. We need to show how
we can participate meaningfully in a strategy to avoid future emissions.

We also need to say how this can be done through providing emission
rights for all; effective technology transfer and hard funds to pay for
transition into low-carbon growth options.

We must make it clear that we are not unwilling and reluctant partners
in this climate endgame. We are players and we are serious. Bush's party
is not ours to enjoy.

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