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FTN: India selling out to the West on climate change?

India will never agree to the elimination of the distinction between developed and developing countries as far as binding commitments on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are concerned, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said on Tuesday.

In a written statement, Ramesh reiterated his commitment to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 2007 Bali Action Plan, but was silent on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, which India has been trying hard to save.

Under attack from the Opposition and isolated in his own party following a report that he was trying to turn around India's long-held position on climate change, Ramesh clarified his position and said he has not advocated the abandoning of "the fundamental tenets of the Kyoto Protocol". However, he did not specify his stance on the future of the protocol that puts the onus of reducing emissions on the developed world.

The Opposition has accused the Minister of selling out India to the US.

Is India giving in to pressure from the US? And what does this mean for the upcoming global summit on climate change in Copenhagen? That was the question asked on CNN-IBN show Face The Nation: Is India in danger of selling out to the West on climate change?

On the panel of experts to try and answer the question were Director of Center for Science and Environment Sunita Narain; General Secretary of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Amit Mitra; President of International Federation of Environmental Journalists Darryl D'monte and President of Liberty Institute Barun Mitra.

At the beginning of the debate, 70 per cent agreed that India was in fact in danger of selling out to the West on climate change, while 30 per cent disagreed.

The climate change debate

Ramesh has been receiving a lot of flak from the Opposition, accusing him of selling out India to the US but India has been receiving flak internationally as well accusing it of being narrowly nationalistic and of not being a responsible world leader.

Narain kick-started the debate by saying that India needed a leadership position and needed to speak on behalf of the G77 and to make sure the world has an effective climate treaty. She said an effective climate regime means that the US has to reduce its emission.

"An effective climate treaty means that the industrialised countries have to take on emission reduction, whereas the US has increased its emissions by 20 per cent in the last 10 years," she said.

Mitra stated that a change had been expected with US President Barack Obama's election but the US administration has moved in a direction, which is not very palatable to many in India.

"It is politically impossible to sell the idea of carbon cuts in India. Apart from selling out to the Western government, politically it is impossible to sell this deal in this manner to the Indian population," he said.

D'monte said one could think of accepting cuts provided the polluting countries put their own house in order so they would have to take these cuts by 2020.

"If developing countries like India haven't caused the problem in the first place how can we in any negotiation accept cuts? It's meaningless," he said.

India's role at Copenhagen

Jairam Ramesh wants India to be a dealmaker at Copenhagen. But unless the developed countries cut down emissions first it is not plausible to expect developing countries like India to make cuts.

Amit stood strong on India's current stand on carbon emissions and said it would be unacceptable to not stand by it. He clarified that US emissions stood at 20 tonnes per capita while Indian emissions were merely 1.2 tonnes per capita. Europe polluted 15 times more than India and Japan 13 times more.
"US is creating 16 per cent of the pollution in the world while India is creating just 4 per cent. 1,300 clean development mechanism projects have been initiated in India in 40 sectors. The historical process of accumulated carbon in the air is due to 150 years of pollution but India is still one fourth the level of US as far as pollution is concerned," he said.

Narain interrupted saying, "Obama needs to work for the premature Nobel Prize he received as US is offering very little and Obama needs to be a leader in climate change, which means the US must cut emissions."

Development or climate change

Mitra said it was only through development that India will enjoy a cleaner, greener environment. All the countries, which have industrialised in the last 150 years enjoy a much cleaner environment.

"Our main problem is poverty. Before thinking of a climate problem, we need to first think about our poverty problem," he said.

Narain disagreed with Mitra saying, "You are completely missing the point. The poor lived in the open and it needs to be improved for them to survive in it too."

"Why should India have this debate between environment and development? The fact is we can have development which would be sustainable and would cost us money but it's a challenge we need to leap for," she added.

"I am not saying India needs to choose between development or environment. India can get a better environmental quality only if it develops," Mitra clarified.

D'monte agreed with Barun that India needed to improve its standard of living which would require more energy. But he also agreed with Narain that there were different ways of getting that energy.

"The countries which have caused the problem in the first place should put their money where their mouths are," he said.
Accept emission cuts

Amit put forth that the solution to the problem wasn't a difficult one. "The solution has to be of a scientific and technological one. We cannot be given the intellectual properties away as we need the resources," he said.

Narain added here that societies would judge in the future whether the moves we make now are right or wrong. "The best of evidence the world has suggests that climate change is real and something needs to be done about it. We cannot keep waiting for 100 years to find out if the decision taken was correct or not. It's enough to say we need to do something and for that we need action from industrialised countries," she said.

Mitra agreed with Narain that action was the need of the hour but first people and poverty needed to be thought of.

Amit concluded the debate saying it is transfer of resources is the need of the hour.

Final results of the SMS/Web poll: Is India in danger of selling out to the West on climate change?

Yes: 67 per cent

No: 33 per cent