India Ups Ante with Offer for Binding Targets

Posted on 09 December 2010 by admin

By Darryl D’Monte

CANCÚN, Dec 9, 2010, (IPS/TerraViva) – A rough yardstick for identifying which Asian countries make the biggest ripples in Cancún is the number of journalists who crowd around the spokesperson immediately after a press conference.

India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh (right). Credit: UN Photo/Aliza Eliazarov

Top Chinese negotiator Xie Zhenhua does attract a fair crowd, but his popularity is constrained by the fact that he requires an interpreter, which does not allow for repartee or off-the-cuff remarks when there is a volley of questions by journalists thrusting their microphones at him.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has certainly come into his own on this score. As the spokesperson for the BASIC group of countries, which includes Brazil, South Africa and China, he is articulate, well-informed and witty. Journalists swarm around him after a press conference, eager to get him make a scathing remark about another country or group of countries.

This was very evident at a BASIC media meet where he listed, among three “non-negotiables”, the need for fast-start financing. “It hasn’t been fast, hasn’t even started and there is hardly any finance,” he quipped.

Ramesh expressed deep concern about the U.S. offer to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, which worked out to a four percent reduction from the 1990 levels used as a baseline by Kyoto Protocol parties.

He argued that without domestic legislation, executive action could only achieve 14 percent reduction from 2020 on 2005 levels, which translates to zero percent reduction of carbon emissions from 1990 levels.

“By any standards, the U.S. offer on emission reduction for 2020 is deeply disappointing,” he said. “It’s one thing being ambitious for 2050 when all of us will be dead but the real issue is… are you going to be held accountable for 2020? Mid-term targets are very essential.” The U.S. plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.

“We would certainly expect the United States to better its emission reduction commitments as well as its offer on fast-start finance,” Ramesh said, pointing out that the lag “did no justice to the world’s pre-eminent economic power”.

He articulated the criticism of the U.S that very many delegates have been saying in the Cancún corridors but not on an open platform. The irony is that Ramesh had been seen, in the build-up to the Copenhagen talks last December, as a politician too close to the U.S.

He wrote a confidential letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, arguing that India voluntarily should accept cuts in emissions, as the U.S. has been asking China and India to do. Opposition political parties pounced on this leaked letter and he had to disown it.

With his present penchant for battling the U.S. and any other opponents of equitable agreements in Cancún, Ramesh has reinvented himself as the representative not only of South Asian negotiators but probably all of Asia. In fact, there is a sense of déjà vu, since India played this role to the hilt at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

It is not only style that Ramesh has been amply demonstrating in Cancún, but substance as well. In November, he wrote to Todd Stern, U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy on climate change, to present a compromise on the contentious issues of developing countries having to monitor, report and verify (MRV) their climate control actions in return for funding, along with international consultation and analysis (ICA).

He proposed that ICA should take place every two or three years for countries whose emissions exceeded one percent of the total. The regime for developed countries would be far more rigorous. Every country would have to submit these to a Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). There would be full transparency on all these reports. At Ramesh’s press conference specifically to explain India’s role on climate issues, copies of India’s inventory of emissions were distributed.

In his press meet, Stern referred approvingly to Ramesh’s draft. He thought that his proposal that developing countries prepare a report which updates the data of their national commissions and includes information on inventories, mitigation actions, pledges and critical assumptions on reducing emissions, and how these were different from business as usual, would be welcome.

However, he referred to how some of these were “very variable concepts”. For instance, China and India had each stated targets by which they would reduce the carbon intensity of their economies, as a percentage of their GDPs, but each country had its own method for calculating their GDP, which presented problems.

But Ramesh, always regarded as a maverick in the staid Indian political class, may be playing a game of his own. On Wednesday, he did a volte face by declaring that India was ready to accept binding emissions cuts, which changes a 27-year-old official position.

This might explain his histrionics regarding the U.S., while actually capitulating to its pressure, along with that of other small island states and fellow South Asian countries, which are in a hurry to receive fast-start financing.

He claimed he was being flexible and wanted to be proactive in breaking the impasse in Cancún. Whether this tactic will work, or will rebound on India, the next few days will tell.

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