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Dec 28, 2009 at 10:51am IST

The West didn't get away at Copenhagen: Saran

Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How should we view the Copenhagen accord? As a failure or as a success? Karan Thapar asked this to Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on climate change.

Karan Thapar: Mr Saran, do you view Copenhagen as a small step forward, as a disappointment or something in between?

Shyam Saran: I would say something in between, yes. I don't think it has been a failure, because there are two aspects to the outcome at Copenhagen. One is the so called Copenhagen accord, which with the exception of four or five countries, was endorsed by the entire plenary--

Karan Thapar: Take a note of, not endorsed.

Shyam Saran: No, it was not endorsed--it was taken note of. But the more important decision from my point of view is that a unanimous decision was taken that we would continue negotiations on the two tracks, as it were. One is the Bali Action Plan track and the other is the Kyoto Protocol track.

That means the negotiations which were supposed to end with a Copenhagen outcome and could not succeed, those negotiations will now be continued with the same mandate as before.

Karan Thapar: And yet you describe this only as something as between, not as a small step forward.

Shyam Saran: I would say it is beyond a small step forward. Here you had an accord which touched upon all the major outstanding issues before the negotiations and in a sense represented a very broad consensus of the international community. As I said there were a few countries that did not endorse this particular document.

Karan Thapar: A 190 almost according to Reuters had major differences one way or another. That is not a few.

Shyam Saran: When the time came to take note of the outcome document--that is the Copenhagen Accord--the only countries that stood aside were four or five, mainly Latin American countries.

Karan Thapar: They simply refused to take note even, but others wouldn't go beyond taking note. They simply wouldn't endorse.

Shyam Saran: It couldn't go beyond taking note, precisely because of the position taken by these four or five countries. The UN works by consensus, therefore, it could not be endorsed even if one country had problems with that document.

Karan Thapar: Let us come to the criticisms of Copenhagen that have been voiced in India, particularly in Parliament. To begin with it is said that the Copenhagen accord has created an alternative alignment, which identifies a different and lower set of obligations to those established by the Kyoto Protocol and this will inevitably in due course lead to the abandonment of Kyoto.

Can you deny that?

Shyam Saran: I would like to clarify this by pointing out what I said earlier. On the one hand you have this Copenhagen accord, which was taken note of. If this was the only thing that emerged from Copenhagen then what you are saying is right.

But what has actually emerged from Copenhagen is also a decision, which I believe is a much more important decision because it not just taken note of. It is a decision that we must continue negotiations on all the outstanding issues post Copenhagen.

Karan Thapar: I don't deny that. There are two tracks that have been established and no one can deny that, but when one track is less onerous than the other and therefore more inviting and beguiling particularly to the developed countries, inevitably their pressure will be to take the lesser track. When that happens the more onerous one, which is Kyoto, will over a period of time be forgotten and buried.

Shyam Saran: I don't think that the Kyoto Protocol can be forgotten or buried for the simple reason that it is a valid legal instrument. If there are those who wish to leave the Kyoto Protocol they can denounce the Kyoto Protocol or leave it.

Karan Thapar: If enough people leave the Kyoto Protocol it is buried by effect on its own.

Shyam Saran: Well, let us come to that possibility--

Karan Thapar: You concede it is a possibility.


Shyam Saran: There can be a possibility, but at the moment all countries without exception have agreed that the Kyoto Protocol track must remain and we should continue our negotiations on that track.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to your colleague. Rajni Ranjan Rashmi speaking to 'The Hindu' on December 22--he is a joint director in the Ministry of Environment--and he says the treaty has opened a window for a new legal treaty that may result in the burial of the Kyoto Protocol.

Your own colleagues are fearing this.

Shyam Saran: That it opens a window--and that possibility is there--of course. But that depends on how we take the negotiations forward. What I am trying to point out is that in a sense we have agreed that we will live to fight another day. We have both the tracks, which are very important to us, entirely in place for the post-Copenhagen part.

Karan Thapar: Let us say it is a 50-50 chance. A window opens but we don't know if the window will lead to something. But what is perhaps undeniable is that the Copenhagen Accord has exempted the developed countries from (a) legally binding emission cuts and (b)--many people believe-- even from their original acceptance of historical responsibility. Those are two steps backward.

Shyam Saran: No, I think that is a misunderstanding. What the Copenhagen Accord has done is to endorse the view that the developed countries have a responsibility to engage in absolute emission reductions while the major developing countries have the responsibility of mitigating the rise in their emissions.

Karan Thapar: But your own language gives the game away: have a responsibility to engage in emission reduction cuts, but they are not identified and they are not legally binding at the moment and there is no real reference to historic responsibility.

Shyam Saran: Agreed, but we have also at the same time agreed to carry on with the negotiations on the basis of the Bali Action Plan and the Bali Action Plan first and foremost says it reaffirms the principles UNFCC.

Karan Thapar: In other words once again you are living to fight another day. The battle is by no means won, it is not settled.

Shyam Saran: No, it is not settled. I think it is a very important achievement of the developing countries that they did not allow this particular saga to end at Copenhagen.

Karan Thapar: But they didn't succeed either in enforcing legally binding cuts or enforcing an acceptance of historic responsibility.

Shyam Saran: There was no way that you can force people to do what they do not wish to do.

Karan Thapar: Absolutely, and the West got away with what they didn't want to do.

Shyam Saran: They have not got away with it for the simple reason that they have agreed that this is a matter which must be the subject of continuing negotiations post Copenhagen.

Karan Thapar: Let us come to how this accord affects the developing countries. The developing countries have agreed to what is called international consultations and analysis. I put it to you that is just language that disguises the fact that they have actually agreed to a review.

Reviews were something which they didn't want, now under the disguise of international consultations and analysis that is exactly what they have agreed to.

Shyam Saran: No, I think again there is a misunderstanding. You are looking at only a few phrases without looking at the totality of the sentence. What we have agreed to is consultation and analysis but it also says according to agreed guidelines and it says these agreed guidelines must not in any way violate national sovereignty.

Karan Thapar: Let us take that sentence apart bit by bit. Let us first begin by asking what is the difference between review and analysis. The ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ defines review as a general survey or assessment of a subject. It defines analysis as a detailed examination of elements or structures of something.

Clearly, analysis is more rigorous, onerous and more intrusive than review. You have accepted something that is much more harder and tougher than review.

Shyam Saran: I think we are quibbling with words here. Review and verification--these were the two words which were actually asked for by the Americans and the Western countries.


Karan Thapar: You have granted the review which is a disguise of analysis.

Shyam Saran: No, we have not granted review because what we are saying is that we will consult in terms of whatever we have put forward as information on our actions. If there are any doubts which are raised about, for example statistics we give, any kind of data we give, that is something we are willing to clarify.

Karan Thapar: Mr Saran, can you analyse without reviewing. Clearly you can't, therefore, in the process of analysis a review is inherent. It will take place even if you don't want to describe as one.

Shyam Saran: No. What we were worried about was the kind of review which would look at the adequacy of our mitigation efforts. We have no difficulty in terms of transparency of our efforts.

So whatever we are giving, for example to Parliament, as information on whatever targets we have undertaken, whether we have achieved those targets or not, what is the basis on which such action has been taken, if we are giving statistics what are the assumptions behind those statistics--we have no problem.

Karan Thapar: I am afraid it is much worse than that and I will tell you why. You have agreed also to consultations. The Minister speaking in Parliament justified the use of the word consultations by reference to the consultations the IMF has with its members. But you know, perhaps much better than the Minister, that Article 4 consultations of the IMF happen under the surveillance mandate of the fund.

That is deeply intrusive. By comparing one to the other the Minister has actually, without realising it, given the game away.

Shyam Saran: I think there is no replication of what happens under the IMF in this particular case. There is a certain similarity in terms of what we agree to do here with the kind of consultations we have under the IMF or the WTO. This is what he has said.

Karan Thapar: The Minister in fact went one step further. He tried to criticise and rebuke the position taken by David Axelrod, the American President's advisor, that now countries like India could be challenged.

You have agreed to consultations that creates a process where precisely your findings and presentations will be challenged. It is not just inevitable, it is inescapable . So challenge is built in.

Shyam Saran: No, merely because Axelrod has said something doesn't mean that is the correct interpretation of the language.

Karan Thapar: But in a consultation people have a right to challenge you.

Shyam Saran: Whatever be the consultation or analysis which is to be carried out they have be to subject to agreed guidelines--

Karan Thapar: Which is not agreed yet, and therefore even in reaching that agreement you will have trouble.

Shyam Saran: We have to negotiate on what would be the agreed guidelines for such analysis and such consultation.

Karan Thapar: And do you know what your own colleague Pradipto Ghosh, a former secretary in the Environment Ministry and one of your lead negotiators at Copenhagen, has said about operationlising international consultation and analysis.

He says it will be extremely difficult and contentious for the very reason that I am pointing, that the Americans will insist this is room for review and challenge.

Shyam Saran: I cannot interpret what this particular colleague or that particular colleague is saying. I can only give my interpretation of what the language is.

When I was present at the time when these phrases were agreed upon it was very clear to us what we meant when we agreed to this.

Karan Thapar: But what about what the Americans meant? Is that equally clear?

Shyam Saran: I am not concerned about what the Americans mean, because I have to go by what we meant.

Karan Thapar: But what if your colleague differs with you?

Shyam Saran: If the colleague differs with then let the colleague differ with me.

Karan Thapar: But doesn't that suggest confusion?

Shyam Saran: As far I am concerned there is no confusion whatsoever, because what we were not willing to accept was any kind of verification.


We were not willing to accept any kind of review in the sense that somebody will come to us and say look I am going to scrutinise your strategies for development, your climate change action plans and tell you whether this is adequate or not.

Karan Thapar: I hear what you are saying, the audience hears what you are saying but is not your answer proving the point that Arun Jaitley made in the Rajya Sabha--that the government has been outwitted in the drafting of this agreement. There are so many interpretations in your team as well--

Shyam Saran: That is a very unfair statement to make. We were present when four heads of state representing developing countries had sat together with (US President) Obama; the debate which took place makes it very clear what the four heads of state and governments had in mind when they agreed to this language.

It was very clear that we would not accept any kind of intrusive scrutiny into our policies; what we were prepared to do was be entirely transparent with whatever action we were taking domestically.

Karan Thapar: Isn't this precisely what Arun Jaitley meant when he said that once again we see the Sharm-el-Sheikh syndrome?

What the accord says, what the piece of paper you have agreed to says is different to your interpretation and as a result there is confusion. Now you are trying to justify one by changing position.

Shyam Saran: No, I am not justifying anything. I am only giving you my understanding of what happened at the meeting where these PHRASEOLOGY was agreed upon.

And again I would stress whatever be the basis on which such consultation and analsyis is carried out is also subject to agreed guidelines. That means unless we sit down and negotiate what is the basis on which this analysis is going to be carried out, this consultation is carried out there will be no consultation and analysis.

Karan Thapar: Mr Saran, let us come to the major geo-political implications of the Copenhagen accord. To begin with there was the close cooperation and alliance between the four so-called BASIC countries.

Is this a new grouping or force in international relations or is it just a passing phenomena?

Shyam Saran: Let me give you some background. During the last two years of the negotiations which have been taking place on climate change these four countries have been working very closely together. (They) coordinated their positions and in a sense have also shaped the positions taken by G-77 and China.

This grouping in a sense was also there in these negotiations. What happened at Copenhagen was that the cooperation and the coordination within this group was elevated to the summit level, where the four heads of state and government met together in the morning on December 18 to strategise their positions for the rest of the day and again they met in the evening to review what had happened in the day and to see what is the way in which the four countries could carry this process forward.

Karan Thapar: But is this a group that will continue to coordinate and cooperate in other issues as well, or is this just limited to climate change and Copenhagen?

Shyam Saran: Well, it is a start because the BASIC countries have not collaborated in such effective manner in other fora.

Karan Thapar: So this is a possibility which could continue other realms as well.

Shyam Saran: It could depending or not whether on other issues also, as in this issue, there is a certain convergence of interests.

Karan Thapar: So this is a potential new force in international relations?

Shyam Saran: Yes, it could be.

Karan Thapar: The second thing that emerged at Copenhagen was the close understanding and cooperation, some would say in fact the close united work, between India and China. Given the serious strains in relationships were so apparent three or four months ago, do we now see a new and better understanding between New Delhi and Beijing?

Shyam Saran: I would say certainly the atmosphere of the bilateral relations between the countries has taken a positive turn as a result of the very close and coordinated manner in which we worked together in Copenhagen.


Karan Thapar: So could the working together in Copenhagen can feed back into the bilateral relationship and help ease some of the strain?

Shyam Saran: I certainly hope it could. I would like to convey to you the Prime Minister conveyed to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao when he met him bilaterally. He said that in April 2005, when the two leaders had met, they had agreed to establish a strategic and cooperative partnership between the two countries.

Why? Because they recognised that there was a certain strategic dimension to their bilateral relationship. What was important was that particular strategic dimension should also inform the process of strengthening and taking forward our bilateral relationship.

Karan Thapar: And that strategic partnership, that strategic dimension has gone one step further at Copenhagen?

Shyam Saran: Yes, I have no doubt that it has.

Karan Thapar: A pleasure talking to you, Mr Saran.

Shyam Saran: Thank you very much.