Yielding ground

Print edition : March 26, 2010

MINISTER OF STATE for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh (right) with R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit on February 5.-MANISH SWARUP/AP MINISTER OF STATE for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh (right) with R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit on February 5.

ONCE again, barely a month and a half after the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP-15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Indian governments propensity to shift its stance in the global climate change negotiations came into evidence. This time around, however, the flexible approach towards constructive negotiations that the Minister of State for Environment and Forests (MoEF), Jairam Ramesh, has sought to adopt during the past six months (Frontline, November 20 and December 18, 2009, and January 29, 2010) struck at one of the core principles of what has been Indias negotiating position all these years namely, equity in any international climate agreement means equal access for all the people of the world to the global atmospheric commons.

Equity based on an equal per capita entitlement has been the basis of Indias position in climate change negotiations ever since 1990 when they first began. India, in fact, was the first country to suggest officially the equal per capita entitlements approach at UNFCCC/COP-1 in 1995. At COP-3 in Kyoto, where the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated and adopted, the then MoEF, Saifuddin Soz, said: Per capita basis is the most important criterion for deciding the rights to environmental space. This is a direct measure of human welfare. Since the atmosphere is a common heritage of humankind, equity has to be the fundamental basis for its management.

In the paradigm of development that the world has hitherto known and adopted, growth is directly correlated to energy consumption which, in turn, gives rise to carbon emissions. So the above principle translates to equal entitlement of per capita carbon emissions. The enormous disparity between the developed and developing countries is reflected in the current per capita emissions (PCE) of nations. For example, compared to Indias PCE of 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), the PCE of the United States is about 19 tCO2e. Compared to the world average of about 4 tCO2e, the average PCE of developed countries is around 10 tCO2e.

Given that the impending climate change is essentially the result of profligate energy consumption and associated carbon emissions by industrialised countries since industrialisation began in the mid-19th century, the UNFCCC incorporates the following fundamental principle that reflects this historical responsibility: The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) has originated in developed countries[the] per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and[the] share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs. Low-carbon economy-led growth is something to aspire for, certainly, but it does not seem feasible at this stage of technological advances without an attendant heavy cost burden.

While developed countries are responsible for nearly three-fourths of the historical stock of emissions, they, with less than a fifth of the world population, still account for over half of the current emissions. The United States alone, with just 4.5 per cent of the population, is the worlds largest emitter, accounting for over 21 per cent of the current CO2 emissions. Towards achieving equity, the UNFCCC mandates the parties to take actions on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and thus calls upon developed countries to take the lead in combating climate change and adverse effects thereof (Article 3.1). Accordingly, under the Kyoto Protocol, a quantified reduction target is set only for developed, or Annex-1 countries, the first phase of which ends in 2012. This implies that the PCEs of developed countries should decline even as those of developing countries rise to meet the needs of their socio-economic growth. And equity implies (i) a convergence of the declining PCEs of developed countries and the rising PCEs of developing countries at a future time; and (ii) appropriate compensation by developed countries to developing countries for the excess atmospheric space they have historically occupied through the accumulated stock of carbon emissions. To implement the latter, the UNFCCC requires (through its burden sharing principle, Article 4.7) that industrialised countries pay for the incremental costs of mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries through technology transfer and finance. In doing so, developed countries will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country parties.

India had, in fact, gone a step further in demonstrating its commitment to take mitigation actions. At the Heiligendamm G8 Summit in 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed that Indias PCE will never exceed that of developed countries and will converge ultimately with the latter (which should decline over time) to a universal value the Singh Convergence Principle. This is more than what the basic premise of equity alone demands because, under all reasonable scenarios of development and economic growth (for instance, the model developed by researchers of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and the Delhi Science Forum or the one by the German Advisory Council on Climate Change; Frontline, November 20, 2009), the average PCE of emerging economies such as India and China would overshoot those of industrialised countries in the medium-term (around 2030) before declining and converging to the universal PCE value. Manmohan Singhs proposal, in fact, puts a severe constraint on Indias developmental path to keep its PCE level below that of developed countries, but the sanctity of the per capita argument for equity is preserved.

Now Jairam Ramesh has sought to abandon the per capita principle altogether. Speaking to the media at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit in early February, he said: Per capita is one option [to achieve equity]We have a good formula for the past stock of emissions. When it comes to the flow of emissions however, in terms of present and future emissions, it is yet to be determined how the principle of common but differentiated responsibility must be appliedThose who have contributed most to the stock [developed nations] are not those who will contribute most to the flow.... In such a situation, there has to be more than rhetoric about equity; it must be defined in operational terms. The Minister implied that it was emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa that would contribute most to the current and future flow and any agreement should be in terms of measures that seek to reduce the current flow of emissions.

But this is precisely what developed countries have been demanding without undertaking deep emission cuts themselves as required by the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC requires about 90 per cent cut in emissions by developed countries by 2050 and a 25-40 per cent reduction by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels) if global warming is be restricted to under 2oC (equivalent to 450 ppm of CO2e of GHG concentration in the atmosphere, the current levels being already about 430 ppm of CO2e leaving hardly any developmental carbon space for the developing countries). Breaching this 2oC guard rail could lead to catastrophic consequences of climate change.

In fact, the Annex-1 countries have failed to meet even their binding targets set under the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol (of cumulative 5.2 per cent cut in their emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2012). Indeed, there has been a 11.2 per cent increase in emissions since 1990. Moreover, there is an increasing trend in the emissions of Economies in Transition, which until 2000 was masking the increasing emissions of Annex-1 countries. This will no doubt push Annex-1 emissions further up in the near future, unless developed countries accept immediate and drastic cuts. But securing such commitments has proved to be politically difficult as the outcome at Copenhagen has clearly shown.

The Copenhagen Accord which COP-15 did not adopt but only took note of because of a lack of consensus is a framework pushed by developed countries for putting in place a pledge-and-review process that is not legally binding, where individual nations would only make voluntary commitments of emission cuts, which would be verified by some international mechanism to be evolved by the UNFCCC secretariat (Frontline, January 29). As against the objective of setting fresh targets for Annex-1 countries in the second Kyoto phase in accordance with the equity and burden-sharing premise of the Convention and the Protocol, the watered-down Accord emerged as a compromise formula ironed out by the U.S. and the group of emerging economies called BASIC Four (India, China, Brazil and South Africa).

The BASIC Four have no doubt yielded some ground in order to arrive at a compromise accord, but in doing so the twin-track negotiations established at Bali under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol have been preserved. Indeed, the next round of negotiations under these two tracks is scheduled for April. The Joint Statement issued by the BASIC Four following the Second Ministerial Meeting in New Delhi on January 24 also reiterated the primacy of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

The inherent weakness of such a pledge-and-review mechanism became apparent at Copenhagen itself when an internal assessment by the UNFCCC of the pledges by various countries leaked out. As per the current pledges, the UNFCCC secretariat estimated that developing countries would cut double the amount of emissions than what developed countries would do by 2020. Compared to the pledges of Annex-1 countries, which amount to emission reductions of only 2.1 gigatonne (Gt) CO2e by 2020, voluntary emission reductions undertaken by developing countries amount to 3.7 GtCO2e. In addition, by restraining deforestation in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, forest-based emission reductions would add another 1.5 GtCO2e by 2020.

This is indicative of the erosion of the equity principle with the burden of transition to low-carbon economy being unjustly shifted to the developing world. By treating emerging economies and Annex-1 countries on the same footing, the Copenhagen Accord has breached the distinction between Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 countries and has succeeded in undermining the PCE-based equity principle. It thus essentially perpetuates the prevalent disparity between developed and developing nations. Giving up the per capita-based equity principle amounts to playing the developed countries game, exemplified by the legally non-binding pledge-and-review-based Copenhagen Accord, in the forthcoming negotiations.

The first casualty of this apparent shift in the Indian climate change policy was Shyam Saran, the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister on Climate Change (SEPM), who has sought to be relieved of his duties. He will demit office on March 14, according to a statement from the Prime Ministers Office. Authoritative sources have said that no one is likely to replace Saran and the post itself might be discontinued and the entire charge of articulating Indias climate change policy and the negotiating strategy would be entrusted to the MoEF.

Jairam Ramesh has always pointed out that all the statements he has made with regard to Indias policy on climate change have had the full knowledge and backing of the Prime Minister. This is not the first time that differences between Saran and the Minister have spilled out into the open.

In November 2009, before the Copenhagen Summit, Jairam Ramesh made some pronouncements that were at variance with the stated official negotiating stand. This prompted Saran to write to the Prime Minister, seeking clarification of the matter. Two other members of the Indian negotiating team, Prodipto Ghosh and Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, former officials who have been closely involved in climate change negotiations for long, also questioned the basis of Jairam Rameshs remarks and would have dropped out of the Copenhagen negotiations but for the assurance from the Minister (apparently at the instance of the Prime Minister) that there would be no dilution of the Indian negotiating position.

But post COP-15 there were rumours that Saran was likely to quit owing to differences with the Minister. It was also said that the entire negotiating team was likely to be recast with the Minister as the chief negotiator. Jairam Rameshs pronouncement on the per capita argument seems to have finally pulled the trigger. Saran is supposed to have again sought the Prime Ministers clarification. According to reliable sources, the Prime Minister asked the two to sit down and sort out the issues but the per capita issue being a core Indian negotiating principle, the difference was fundamental and there could be no reconciliation. Saran, it is said, decided to call it quits when he found the Prime Minister to be backing Jairam Ramesh and with that it is quite likely that the negotiating team will also be reconstituted. The implication of this is far more serious than mere pronouncements of the Minister alone that is, there is a fundamental shift in Indias negotiating stance with regard to equity.

By proposing to decapitate the principle of equity, wrote Dasgupta recently, the Minister has already inflicted severe damage to our credibility in the negotiations. Pointing out that the per capita approach had been regularly endorsed by Cabinet decisions over the past two decades, Dasgupta asked if the Minister had consulted the Cabinet before questioning in public the basic foundation of Indias long-standing policy that rested on a national consensus. A major policy reversal such as this cannot be arbitrarily done on a personal whim. Any decision should be approved by Parliament, Dasgupta said. Does the Minister plan to consult Parliament and, if so, when? he asked.

The Minister has also indicated that he has commissioned Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the Centre for Global Development, U.S., a known critic of the per capita approach, to carry out a study for the government on alternative options, which will be completed by April. It is indeed strange that the Minister should turn to a U.S.-based economist to evolve the countrys climate change policy when there are better experts at home to study the issue. Jairam Ramesh also said that the Ministry planned to hold an international workshop in May so that a new approach could be evolved before the climate change negotiations in June at Bonn. Would a national workshop not have been a more appropriate forum to debate the issue than an international gathering? asked Dasgupta pertinently.

A file picture of smoke billowing from a reprocessing factory in Paris. Frances new carbon emission tax, due to have gone into effect on January 1, 2010, has been ruled illegal by the countrys constitutional court as it exempted too many polluters.-JOEL SAGET/AFP

This brings us to the premise Subramanian, along with Nancy Birdsall, has developed in some of his writings on the subject, which has drawn a lot of criticism from Indian analysts. Subramanian and Nancy Birdsall argue that the focus should not be emissions not even emissions per capita but equal access to basic energy-related services for people everywhere. The final implication of their analysis (which itself is subject to criticism), to quote them, is: Any prospect of meeting aggregate global emissions target, consistent with developing countries not sacrificing their energy needs, will require massive revolutionary improvements in technology than seen historically. There is a low-carbon path out of the climate change problem, or there is no path at all. In short, the world needs to go on a war-footing to bring about revolutionary technological change. The U.S. and other rich countries should offer to help [developing countries] obtain those energy-based services as those in rich countries at the lowest possible cost in the greenest possible way. In return, China, India and other developing countries should adoptnational targets for emissions intensity. All countries should be open to international verification of these emission-intensity targets, which could also be the basis for technology transfers from industrial countries.

The argument that developed and developing countries should strive to achieve maximum efficiency in emissions intensity and carbon intensity through the use of new technology has been made before. From the perspective of developing countries, such a premise is heavily predicated upon the availability of technologies and finances to access them. Subramanians approach does not leave anyone wiser as to how in reality this will happen. It is too naive to expect that developed countries will openly offer technologies that will deliver energy in the most efficient way possible. Technology transfer, as we have seen, has been a highly contentious issue in all these years of climate negotiations. Even the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol has hardly resulted in substantive transfer of even existing technologies to developing countries. Transfer of revolutionary developments would be more of a pipe dream.

Their conclusion that India and other developing countries are less energy efficient is, in fact, misplaced, says Surya Sethi, former Principal Energy Adviser and Core Climate Negotiator of the Government of India. Sethi points out that their use of nominal GDP in calculating emissions intensity of production, instead of GDP in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms, is wrong. Subramanian needs to do this to support his key argument that we could become more efficient using technologies from developed countries. If he uses PPP dollars he will find that Indias emissions intensity of production is already among the best, he says.

Even assuming that technologies do become available to improve efficiency and bring down emissions intensity, reductions in emission and energy intensities are no guarantee that total emissions will come down. Indeed, as we have seen in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries emissions have been increasing, notwithstanding the steady decline in their energy and emissions intensities over the years. Even for developing countries, efficiencies have been improving significantly, while emissions have been rising. The difference is that the former is because of continuing profligacy, whereas, the latter is because of developmental needs.

Apart from this basic problem, their work has a number of methodological flaws as well, points out T. Jayaraman of TISS. What is required for development is not just the provision of energy-related services but the provision of energy necessary to ensure all services required for the material well-being of the population, he points out in criticism of the basic premise of replacing PCE with energy-related services. It is the second formulation that captures the difficulty of development in a carbon-constrained world, he adds.

Noting that all emissions stem from consumption and production, the Subramanian-Nancy Birdsall methodology treats consumption and production separately. But it is this separation that seems problematic. Their artificial separation of consumption and production is narrowly designed to put the best possible defence of the interests of developed nations, says Jayaraman. In fact, what their paper advocates is that all nations would attain equalisation only in consumption-related emissions whereas production-related emissions would be vastly disproportionate between developed and developing nations, implying that countries like India would end up with having hardly any industry in their scenario, he adds. In short, Subramanians premise is a gross misunderstanding of what development actually means for the developing world.

Given the premise that rejects equal PCE for all nations, the PCEs in 2050 that his analysis actually comes up with to avoid catastrophic climate change are 7.03 for the U.S., 6.02 for Australia and 5.42 for Canada as compared to 0.38 for India, 0.91 for China and 0.82 for Brazil. From the perspective of PCE-based equity, the Subramanian-Nancy Birdsall solution is clearly highly iniquitous.

India with over 17 per cent of the worlds population has access only to about 3.8 per cent of commercial energy, points out Sethi as an indicator of the persisting inequities between nations. According to him, India will need to, in the least energy-intense scenario of the governments Integrated Energy Policy of 2006, double this share by 2031-32 to maintain an 8 per cent growth.

The ground reality is that the growth in Indias share of global energy supply has been falling and, at the current rate of growth, it will take another 40 years to double its share of energy supplies, he points out. Available commercial energy needs to be used more equitably to deliver a threshold level of development and India today is at 15-20 per cent of that level. And that is why the per capita principle of access to global environmental space is so critical to climate justice.

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