Tuesday, December 09, 2008

India and climate change - why emission limits for developing countries will not work

In this blog we have often gone through the arguments for why the West should not and cannot preach to the newly developing countries on emission limits.

The Indian position and the fundamental problem with coming to a new multinational agreement is summarised in this recent Guardian article.

This single quote gets to the very heart of the problem. It is hard to disagree.

"In India I need to give electricity for lightbulbs to half a billion. In the west you want to drive your Mercedes as fast as you want. We have 'survival' emissions, you have lifestyle emissions.

It is difficult to argue against any of the points raised in this article. The West needs to take the lead that much is clear. China could justifiably repeat all the points below.

The problem for India is that it is one of the countries that will be hit hardest by climate change so sitting back and doing nothing is not really an option. This is a game of chicken with potentially very serious consequences.

India won't accept emissions limits, says climate envoy [Guardian]

India is not a "major emitter" of greenhouse gases and will not volunteer to take on responsibilities that would see it accept legally binding limits, the country's special envoy on climate change has told the Guardian.

Shyam Saran, India's top negotiator at the UN climate conference which begins in Poznan today, said capping the country's emissions would threaten the country's growth and prevent it from alleviating "energy poverty" which sees 500 million people live in darkness.

"In India I need to give electricity for lightbulbs to half a billion. In the west you want to drive your Mercedes as fast as you want. We have 'survival' emissions, you have lifestyle emissions.

"You cannot put them on the same basis. I am trying to give a minimal commercial energy service. Whereas you are not prepared to give up any part of your affluent lifestyle or give up consumption patterns."

The diplomat, who was appointed earlier this year after successfully negotiating a key nuclear deal with Washington, said that Barack Obama's election in the United States was a "hopeful sign" and that the president-elect had already written to the Indian prime minister saying that he wants to work with India on climate change.

Saran said the US position in recent years had been one where the negotiators will not accept "any kind of restraint".

He said: "The US says in talks that until 2025 they will not accept any emissions reduction target … They are willing to accept a vague political target by 2050 but nothing in the interim.

"The current position is that. That may undergo a change [with Barack Obama] but we will wait and see."

India also had concerns that the global financial crisis will see climate change fall off the political agenda – and expressed surprise at the ease at which money has been found to cope with the slowdown.

"What we are saying is that if in a compelling crisis governments are able to find the resources amounting to hundreds of billion of dollars then what about climate change?

"So you able to mobilise hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with an economic crisis bust not able to mobilise part of that to meet a planetary crisis?"

The Indian government has repeatedly pointed out that developed countries promised under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro that poor countries would get cash and know-how to deal with climate change. Yet little has arrived.

"The commitment was to transfer technology and commitment to transfer adequate financial resources. It is not charity. It is not overseas development assistance. It is a a legal commitment to climate change. Since 1992 what is the record on the technology transfer and capital? Nothing."

Instead the Indian government suspects that rich nations have been using "trade threats" to withhold such funds and technology.

"What the west is saying is open up your markets and give us a congenial investment climate and capital and technology with come in. My government will not commit on these terms. These are simply trade threats."

Saran also pointed out that rich nations had failed to meet their own targets made under the Kyoto protocol – and instead are attempting to scapegoat China and India.

"[Developed nations] have not met their targets. Emissions have increased not decreased. Then [developed nations] say there is something wrong with this agreement and the problem is not us. You India and China, you really are the problem. This simply is not true."

Saran said that calls for "extra" commitments for countries like India ignore the fact that their per capita emissions - around one tonne - are much lower than those in developed economies. An equal emissions entitlement per person is, in his view, the minimum requirement for fairness.

"You have a little more than 20 tonnes per capita of carbon dixoide in the US … most of the Europeans have 10 to 12 and even China has little more than six tonnes. By no stretch of the imagination could India be included as a major emitter."

The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has said that India would be willing to undertake to keep its per capita emissions below those of industrialised countries, thus giving the latter a strong incentive to reduce their emissions as quickly as possible.

"India is willing to accept a limitation but giving you a challenge. It is you that needs to be ambitious. Not tomorrow. Not the day after. It is about long-term convergence to lower per capita levels."

India is already being affected by climate change. The frequency of catastrophic weather events such as flash flooding, say Indian meteorologists, is increasing. Clouds of brown soot cover the skies above the Indian Ocean for months each year.

Agricultural scientists in the subcontinent note rising temperatures caused wheat yields to drop by 10% in recent years. Saran says the cost for mitigation and adaptation already tops $20bn (£13bn).

"We estimate about 2%-2.5% of India's GDP already being spent [because of climate change] for which we are not responsible. That cost will only increase.

"Because even if tomorrow go for zero emissions climate change will continue to take place. Not because of current emission but because of cumulative emissions of 200 years."


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