Voices Friday, August 14, 2015 - 05:30


Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has dismissed a note written by the Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian advising India to stop asking western nations to underwrite poor countries’ financial needs to combat climate change. ‘

“I don’t agree with his note and neither does Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley – the views in note are the CEA’s own,” Javadekar told The News Minute (TNM). “We will be discussing this in the coming days, but this is certainly not India’s position,” he added.

In his note to Javadekar, Jaitley and the Prime Minister (first viewed by Business Standard) Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian proposes that India make common cause with coal-rich countries like China, Australia, Poland and the United States (US). He says India should stop complaining about what he calls the inevitable threats of climate change and act domestically to reduce emissions. He also asks New Delhi to move on from its calls of differentiating between rich and poor countries outlined in the annexures of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Shorn of verbiage, the CEA’s proposal is this – India should do as developed countries say in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation. The entire logic of polluter pays goes out of the window.

At the UN talks in Paris in December this year, the world hopes to strike a deal to stop global heating at two degrees centigrade (3.6 Fahrenheit) from its current climb beyond which experts say we are heading inexorably towards perdition leaving deserts where lakes once existed and icebergs on roads. While some of this is in the realm of doomsday, the fact that countries need to pull back on their carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions is not in doubt.

The negotiations will come down to how three countries – US, China and India, the world’s three largest emitters of CO2- will navigate the talks. The last time countries tried to strike a deal was in Copenhagen (Denmark, 2009) where negotiating positions were at daggers drawn. The embarrassment for India then was complete as the Indian government and Indian environment agencies spoke at cross-purposes in public. In the run-up to the December, observers say Washington and Beijing have closed a deal and all eyes are peeled on New Delhi.

As Paris comes into focus, in addition to the two degree centigrade target, countries will be expected to place their INDCs or Intended Nationally Defined Contributions on the table. This is a national policy- setting tool where countries pledge to hitch their policies to a global framework to work towards common goals. Speaking to TNM earlier this year Javadekar said India is as ambitious as the rest of the world to make Paris a success and the INDCs would be addressed in their proper context that will speaks to India’s needs and its global responsibilities.  Read our earlier piece here.

What the CEA now proposes stands India’s long stated position on its head. He is also illogical. The European Union (EU) negotiates for countries in its group that includes Poland so there is no question of Poland and India striking a bilateral deal. Historically, Poland will not do anything that is not approved by the US. Pointing to some seriously muddled thinking the CEA says India cannot trust China but at the same time proposes an alignment with BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.  What he also appears to overlook is that BRICS is not a negotiating bloc and each country in that club has its own position on the climate talks.

In a remarkable display – real or feigned – of a lack of understanding of realpolitik, the CEA writes that India’s new position will give the much-needed fillip to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership role globally including the quest for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).  Just this week Russia, China and the US blocked India’s overtures for that coveted place at the high table.

The CEA’s note parallels that of former Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh (Copenhagen 2009) with the only difference being that Ramesh had not insisted on India dropping all of its demands. But, he too had suggested that a radically new position would bolster India’s chances of a permanent UNSC seat.

The CEA does not explain in any detail what India stands to gain by taking the route he has proposed. Since both the Javadekar and Jaitley have distanced themselves from the CEA’s note, the obvious question is – is it a red herring? If so, where and who are the masters?

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