The Copenhagen summit is undoubtedly the most awaited milestone in the Climate Change debate. With less than two months to go for the 15th Conference of Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to begin, countries are still debating over how to divide the burden of reducing carbon emissions to a sustainable level.
What are the issues for India?
For one, there is pressure on India for a cessation on coal-fired power plants. However, it is extremely difficult as more than half of the 800,000 megawatts of power India plans to produce by 2030 are to come from coal-fired plants. This is mainly because coal is abundant in India and other energy sources are relatively scarce.
Similarly, Obama’s call at the G20 for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies is complicated in India because of the dependence of poor on fossil fuels to heat and light their homes. There may be a case for better monitoring of these subsidies but in the Indian context, there has to be a place for subsidies for poorer sections of society.
India, on its part, has been pushing for agreement of the global community on three areas — forestry for mitigating climate change effects, Clean Development Mechanism and technology cooperation in the Copenhagen UN summit.
In the area of forestry, India has proposed the “REDD Plus” mechanism, which aims to ensure greater fund to developing nations if they conserve forest areas, adopt sustainable environment management programs or plant new trees. India has also offered to report once a year to the United Nations on how successfully the country is curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
A dimension that is often missed is that CO2 emissions account for only about half of the global warming story. Ground-level ozone (from transport and biomass burning), black carbon (from motor vehicles) and methane production (from agriculture, cattle and wood burning) also play roles. And these are much easier to deal with in an overall growth framework using available technologies; indeed, reducing these should be an integral part of the development project because they are also human health hazards.
While the North-South debate is likely to get heated up in the summit, and the need for consolidation of developing countries cannot be overstated, India needs to be alert to its own needs and priorities. For example, it is wrong to club India and China in the same group of carbon emitters. China’s total emission is comparable to that of the US (according to some estimates it has surpassed this level), whereas India’s is only about a fifth of China’s. In terms of per capita emissions, China is close to the world average whereas India’s per capita emissions are less than a quarter of the world average.
It is important therefore for India to clearly strategies its negotiation. As the saying goes- we should never fear to negotiate, but we should never negotiate out of fear.
What should be India’s priorities in the Copenhagen Summit?