Monday, December 14, 2009
India's important commitment
Writing in this weeks Chinadialogue, Navroz K Dubash reports provides an informative overview of Indian politics on climate change: “For some, the climate negotiations are seen as no more than an economic containment strategy by the west. These “growth-first stonewallers” argue that even if climate change is real, the objective should be to maximise growth, so that India can better handle the impacts. Until then, the country should not compromise. For others, the effort to prioritise environmental sustainability and equity is stronger. These “progressive realists” are growth critics and, although keen to generate action on climate change, they are deeply cynical about the global negotiations. With the belief that these discussions sideline core concerns of equity, they call on India to take aggressive climate measures, but to do so domestically, de-linking these from the global process. Others believe that India should take on ambitious emission reduction measures and throw its weight fully behind a global climate deal. These “progressive internationalists” argue that doing so will help shift the global debate forward and spur matching action in other countries. Since climate impacts will disproportionately affect India's poor, they suggest that a pro-poor approach is also a pro-climate regime approach.” She goes on to report: “For advocates of a global climate deal, the good news is that the influence of growth-first stonewallers has waned in India. The bad news, however, is that the centre of gravity in India lies firmly with the progressive realists, who shy away from engagement in global climate politics, rather than with progressive internationalists, who seek to embrace it.” But that said, the Indian government has held to a long-standing position that deserves more attention – that India will commit to never exceed the per capita carbon output of the Developed World. You might think there is a trick here: that what is meant is that it commits never to exceed the high water mark that the Developed World has reached – about 20 tons per capita. But that is not what is meant. (I know this from direct conversation.) What is meant is that if the Developed World goes down to (say) 2 tons per capita – which is what it needs to do on a fair per capita basis to stabilize at 450 ppm – that is where India will go as well (even as it also makes a serious commitment to limit population growth). It is not a trivial commitment, even if it is based on a bet that the Developed will in fact never reach it. And it is a commitment that India can also afford to make because it is currently so far below that level at 1.2 tons per capita unlike China which is already at 4.6 tons per capita.