19 July 2009

India Stands Firm

The Washington Post has a very interesting article on some public tensions between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh over India's role in climate mitigation (see also the news report from the Times of India in the video above). The article is worth reading in full, however here is an excerpt that I'd like to focus on:
As dozens of cameras recorded the scene, Ramesh declared that India would not commit to a deal that would require it to meet targets to reduce emissions. "It is not true that India is running away from mitigation," he said. But "India's position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets." "No one wants to in any way stall or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions more out of poverty," Clinton countered. "We also believe that there is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainability that will lower significantly the carbon footprint." Both sides appearing to be playing to the Indian audience, with Ramesh taking the opportunity to reinforce India's bottom line. Before the visit, U.S. officials were acutely aware that the Indian government has faced criticism at home for making what they considered relatively modest concessions on reducing greenhouse emissions earlier this month at a meeting of major economies. A leaked e-mail from former Indian negotiator Surya Sethi to other negotiators -- in which he asserted the decision would make India poorer -- generated a firestorm here.

Clinton was prepared to argue that countering climate change could actually lift India's economy, not undermine it. U.S. officials also believe, as one put it, that "developing countries are willing to do more than they are willing to agree to."
Here is where the logic of the US position breaks down: If "countering climate change" (whatever was meant by that phrase) did in fact lead to a "lifting" of India's economy, then there would be no need for India to sign on to targets and timetables for emissions targets, as it would make sense to take those actions anyway, since India has repeatedly and forcefully explained that increasing economic growth is its top priority. But India does not see those actions as "lifting" growth, either because they don't actually lift growth or India does not believe that they do. Either way, signing on to emissions reductions commitments is not in the cards for India.

What has India agreed to do? As explain by Minister Ramesh in the video above, India has committed to the Bali Action Plan of the UN FCCC, which includes this text:
(i) Measurable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions, including quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, by all developed country Parties, while ensuring the comparability of efforts among them, taking into account differences in their national circumstances;

(ii) Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner;
India accepts that they will take "actions" but they will make no "commitments." What is not up for debate is India's desire to achieve economic growth. So what is needed in efforts to slow emissions growth in India is to ensure that India has options available for "action" that can accelerate the decarbonization of its economy as it grows. This means technology. Talk of "commitments" to targets and timetables for emissions reductions is just a waste of time, as it has proven over and over again. Listen particularly to chief US negotiator Todd Stern in the video above and then Minister Ramesh, and you'll see strong evidence for the inescapable impotence of the emissions reduction targets and timetables approach to mitigation.