• Thursday, June 04, 2015 - 05:30
  A good year before legally-binding commitments are expected from countries in treaty negotiations, entire texts go into brackets and numbers are a mirage. There is a lot of talk about money, but not much on the table. Developing countries are asked to make more concessions with the promise of aid and assistance or technology transfer which comes at a price, often clashing with national priorities. Everything is notional, as is now the case with in the preparations for United Nation’s climate talks where  politics and horse-trading have taken over and will rule the roost down the wire till December when the ten day negotiations begin in Paris (November 30-December 11, 2015). India will be on the anvil as the world’s third largest emitter of carbon-dioxide (C02), the other two being the USA and China. Here is a representative anecdote. During a recent visit to New Delhi, I was privy to a private conversation. “We have no idea how badly we are going to get it at the Climate talks in Paris – China is now the good boy and India the bad one,” a colleague said. I took notes. A few weeks later at a meeting in Geneva, I hear that strain several times – from civil society groups, diplomats, doctors, private companies and even colleagues in the media. “After Lima, China has now made the right noises and adjustments, so we are all looking to India,” a senior European diplomat close to the climate talks told The News Minute (TNM). “Three countries will matter in Paris – the United States, China and India,” he added. More than a dozen western diplomats this writer has spoken to paraphrase UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon who pitched the ambition thus - there is no plan B and neither is there a planet B. Before a preparatory meeting in Lima (Peru, November 2014) Beijing was the world’s most polluted city in the world. Banner headlines and images of chocking skylines were everywhere. Now Beijing has got a breather before UNFCCC 2015 to be replaced by New Delhi.The data-spew from Delhi about its polluting air is not new. They were known to the alerted public at least three years ago in 2012. Did the penny just drop? At the UNFCCC later this year, the world hopes to strike a deal at 2 degrees centigrade (3.6 Fahrenheit) beyond which experts say we are heading inexorably towards perdition leaving deserts where lakes once existed and iceberg on roads. “Geneva will be ice,” warned a UN health expert. Not a day passes without some expert or scientific body including oil companies taking to the global rostrum announcing doomsday if Paris is not successful. Some are calling it the drum-beat, others the death-knell. The reality is less dramatic. Last time countries tried to strike one such deal was in Copenhagen (Denmark, 2009) where negotiating positions were at daggers drawn.  The embarrassment for India was complete as the government and Indian environment agencies spoke at cross purposes in public. The December talks in Paris will bring new chills. In Lima both the Americans and the Chinese announced they had struck a bilateral deal with each agreeing to cut their C02 levels more than ever before. Together, both countries account for some 45 percent of the global total (China with 29 percent and the US with 16 percent). “If there is a major obstacle remaining, it is the third biggest emitter, India, currently with 8 percent of the total and rising,” a former European UNFCCC negotiator told TNM. Christiana Figueres, the United Nations’ (UN) top climate change official remains reasonably optimistic.“You don’t run a marathon with one step,” she has been reported as saying. Neither can you run one with both your legs tied which is where India may find itself being pushed towards.  Officials meeting in the German city of Bonn this week remain hopeful that 2C is within reach. As Paris comes into sharper focus in addition to 2C, there will be a lot of talk about INDCs or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. This is a national policy-setting tool where countries pledge to hitch their policies to a global framework to work towards common goals. That is par for the course. So far, developed countries have treated the earth’s treasures – oil and water for example – as a common good.  Ambition too is defined by an eclectic grouping of largely developed countries keen to pass the buck on to developing countries so the world’s lungs do not choke. This is the crux of the matter. This is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi probably meant when he said recently that India would play a leadership role in the Paris talks in saving the planet and also ensuring that India’s plans for equitable development are not derailed.  What is India’s game plan is a question on everyone’s mind. Tempers in Paris will not be cool. That is because countries are preparing for Paris in an accusative and aggressive manner expecting India to submerge its national economical and developmental interests towards success in Paris. By all accounts, that is not going to happen and neither is India planning to walk out as some doomsayers suggest. The European Union (EU), the United States (US), Russia and Mexico have submitted their INDCs but it remains unclear if these are mere negotiating positions.  India is expected to submit its plan in Bonn this week, but officials have already warned that such an exercise cannot be completed under duress or speed especially when there is no template of what comprises INDCs. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has 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 speak to India’s needs and its global responsibilities. As December nears expect more drumbeats. India has no need to be defensive or aggressive. Simply put, an American on an average is responsible for 12 times as much carbon emissions as an India. It is a fact that India is the world’s third largest emitter of C02, but it is a nation with an ambition of lifting some 600 million people out of poverty and creating 13 million jobs year-on-year, just to begin with. It only has to state its case with equanimity and conviction. The numbers and the politics in this case are on the same page.