Home Conservation News Malini Mehra on Copenhagen

Malini Mehra on Copenhagen

Malini Mehra on Copenhagen

December 5, 2009 Copenhagen Update: Hopenhagen. India’s opening gambit for the Copenhagen climate summit is now clear. Renamed ‘Hopenhagen’ for the duration of the UN climate summit starting next week, the Danish capital will now receive an Indian delegation with a target and a plan.


With a bravura performance in Parliament on Thursday, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, announced that India would take on cuts in emissions intensity of 20 -25 % below 2005 levels by 2020.


Saying that these would be taken on 'voluntarily and unilaterally,' the minister referred to analysis conducted by India's Planning Commission which has estimated that such cuts can realistically be achieved on the basis of past performance and intended policy measures.


Indian planners estimate that the country reduced its emissions intensity – the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP – by 17.6 percent from 1990 - 2005, and that the country is on course for a 20-25% cut by 2020. The figures are consistent with estimates by made a series of greenhouse gas emissions reports released recently by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.


Coming exactly a week after China, the world's largest emitter of carbon pollution, announced its emissions intensity target of between 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, the Indian announcement now completes a set of opening offers made by major economies days before the start of global climate talks in Copenhagen.


India completes the picture


The last off the block, the Indian offer now joins those of the United States, Japan, the European Union, China and other major emerging economies.


Of the leading Annex 1 countries – industrialized nations with legally-binding emissions reductions commitments under the Kyoto Protocol – the most ambitious offers have come from the European Union – 20% emissions cuts at 1990 levels by 2020, or 30% if a high-ambition agreement can be reached. (Within the EU, the United Kingdom has already passed legislation committing it to 34% reductions at 1990 levels by 2020.)


Norway has vowed to make 40% emissions reductions by 2020. Japan's new government has pledged to decrease emissions to 25% below 1990 by 2020, and to 60-80% below 2005 by 2050. (The higher end of the Japanese target being conditional on major developing economies making 'meaningful efforts') The United States – not a party to the Kyoto Protocol – has offered a target "in the range of" 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, pending passage of legislation in the US Congress in Spring 2010. This would mark the first time the US - the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, amounting to 16% of global emissions - 20 times India's per capita emissions - has agreed to limit its emissions.


Targets by other major developing economies


Of the non-Annex 1 countries – the majority of largely developing nations with no obligations to undertake legally binding emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol - most of the major developing economies have now announced their emissions targets. The line-up, in order of announcement, is as follows:


Mexico has a well-developed and detailed national climate action plan with significant actions up to 2020 and ambitious long-term goals.


Indonesia – the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions - announced an emissions reduction target of 26% by 2020 from business-as-usual at the United Nations Climate Summit in September. With international support, Indonesia says it could increase its emissions cuts to 41% by 2020. Indonesia has also set targets for 2030 and 2050 seeking to make it a net 'sink' (absorber) rather than a 'source' (emitter) of carbon dioxide. 


On 11 November, Brazil announced strong emissions reductions targets of 38-42% by 2020, pledging an 80 % reduction in deforestation by 2020. Following on Brazil's heels, South Korea announced its voluntary 2020 emissions reduction target a week later of a 30 percent reduction from business as usual – equivalent to a 4 percent reduction (against 2005 levels). South Korea is now set to lead the world in green investment having committed almost US $100 million in environmental industries as part of its economic recovery package.


Of the major emerging economies, only South Africa is yet to announce a target – one is expected in 2010 – but can boast having undertaken an impressive scientific assessment of the country's climate risk and long-term mitigation scenarios. The government has also indicated its openness to a legally-binding domestic target as part of a comprehensive and equitable international agreement.


India, long seen as a laggard – even among other G5 nations – has now stepped up to the plate. The Indian target now completes the line-up of major economies that have laid their opening bids on the table for negotiation at Copenhagen.


India and China, however, are the only countries that have set their targets in terms of energy intensity instead of net reductions of greenhouse gases. Emissions will go up in these countries, but the rate of growth will be slower and energy use more efficient. Good for energy security, but not necessarily good for the atmosphere if greenhouse gases continue to be emitted.


As today's carbon dioxide emissions will remain in the atmosphere for another thousand years – warming it all the while – these are not insignificant concerns.


Indian vulnerability and the case for leadership


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for Annex 1 countries to cut emissions by 25-40% by 2020 on 1990 levels. Regrettably few nations so far are matching up to this level of ambition. The IPCC also says, however, that non-Annex 1 countries will have to cut their emissions by 15-30% by 2020 compared to business-as-usual.  This is a challenge that more and more G5 countries - well ahead of India - have started to attend to.

While the debate in India to date has been about historic responsibility – the role of industrialized nations in polluting the atmosphere first (the US alone accounts for one-fifth of historic emissions); the reality is that 90% of future emissions will come from developing nations such as India. Even if the developed world stopped emitting tomorrow, we would still be locked into decades of warming melting India's glaciers, raising her sea levels, destabilising her Monsoon, scorching her dry earth, reducing her water tables, burning her forests – in short, condemning her people and natural world to an uncertain and ravaged future.


As the minister emphasized in his statement in Parliament, India is a vulnerable country - indeed he argued India was the most vulnerable country on earth, and that should be the starting point. He said: "India, of all the 192 countries in the world, owes a responsibility not to the world but to itself, to take climate change seriously. We are not doing the world a favour. Please forget Copenhagen; forget the UN. We have to do it in our own self-interest. Our future as a society is dependent on how we respond to the climate change challenge."


Parliamentary endorsement


Perhaps most surprising was the reception that the minister's 65-minute speech received. After four hours of debate on climate change, members of parliament listened with rapt attention to a man charged with having subverted India's negotiating strategy. Confounding his critics, Ramesh won over his audience and successfully defended himself from accusations that he would "sell India down the drain" at the upcoming climate negotiations. He underscored the government's commitment to a constructive and positive approach, saying India's negotiating position would be "strengthened considerably if we go to Copenhagen from a position of leadership."

Responding to concerns about the degree of flexibility he was prepared to offer, he laid out India's non-negotiables, stating categorically that the government would never accept legally-binding emissions reductions targets or agree to a peaking year for its emissions. To all this – as to the targets announced – there was no demur from parliamentarians. This is a turning point for India.


The minister's case was greatly strengthened by interventions made by younger and first-time Indian MPs such as Sandeep Dikshit, Jayant Chaudhary, Supriya Sule, Annu Tandon and Jyoti Mirdha. Reflecting the emerging generational divide, many of these younger MPs mirrored their social peers in a greater level of awareness, concern and willingness to take action on climate change.


A mandate and a target for Copenhagen


The speech was a watershed and marks a major departure from India's climate policy to date. For the first time, the government has set a target and received cross-party support for it. The target may not be ambitious or stretching, but it reflects India's political realities. The most important fact is that it will now be anchored in India's next five year plan – the 12th Five Year Plan – which the minister says will be a 'low-carbon growth plan'.


With the case having been made for a pro-active approach to climate change based on India's vulnerabilities, the minister will next have to make the 'opportunity case' for leadership by India. This did not figure at all in his speech but will need to feature much more strongly in future debates if India is to compete successfully in a carbon-constrained global economy. At present, India is low on the low-carbon competitiveness agenda – ranked 17 out of 19 on a recent survey of G20 economies.


The target announced by the minister – and all the accompanying policy measures – are a welcome first step towards a new climate agenda for India. An agenda guided by responsibility and opportunity, rather than victimhood and entitlement.


While the outcome of Copenhagen remains uncertain, India's new positive attitude and clear offer on the table will certainly help raise the game. It now intensifies the pressure on the US and Annex 1 countries to adopt deep and binding emissions cuts. Ramesh's mandate for 'flexibility' – a word he used throughout his statement before Parliament -means that India can push further if concessions from others are gained as India keeps to her red lines.


A fair, ambitious and binding agreement may yet be possible.


The most immediate result of the Indian announcement has been President Obama's decision today that he has changed his plans and will now join sixty-five other Heads of State at Copenhagen on the final day of negotiations. The White House has made clear that the Indian and Chinese targets were a decisive factor in his decision. Now there is no excuse for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to attend.


Suddenly there is everything to play for again.


Malini Mehra is founder and chief executive of Centre for Social Markets.


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