Future sold out

November 06, 1997

A potential bargaining tool to challenge the inequitable sharing of global common resources, such as the atmosphere, is slipping out of the hands of the South for good, according to Anil Agarwal, Director, Centre for Science and Environment New Delhi.

He was protesting against India’s Prime Minister, I K Gujral, having endorsed the final Commonwealth Communique on the recent heads of government meeting held in Edinburgh from October 24-27.

According to Anil Agarwal, by endorsing this declaration, the Indian Prime Minister has jeopardised the position of the South. The declaration clearly states that the signatories have agreed to "call on the Kyoto Conference to recognise that, after Kyoto, all countries will need to play their part by pursuing policies that would result in significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, if we are to solve a global problem that affects us all".

The key words in this statement are "all countries" and "significant reductions". These are the very words that the US has been using for so long. When US President Bill Clinton presented the country’s proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he drew flak from many quarters, including industrialised nations. Even a US$ 13 million advertisement campaign by the anti-treaty lobby in the US did not mitigate the flow of criticism of the US plan. However, the advertisement blitz seems to have worked wonders in India.

The endorsement of this document has marked the beginning of the end of the most important principle of global environmental policy -- that the current responsibility for carbon emissions lies with the North as 80 per cent of the emissions come from the industrialised countries, which have only 20 per cent of the world’s population. This principle had been evolved during the discussions at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Negotiations on a protocol at Kyoto are around the corner to fix targets and timetables for the industrialised nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The endorsement of the Commonwealth Economic Declaration by the Indian Prime Minister, made without any prior national consultation, has mortgaged India’s interests.

The Centre For Science and Environment is of the opinion that the atmosphere should be treated as a common property resource to be managed on a regime that is based on per capita entitlements. Any position taken by India at the Kyoto Summit must take into account the historical emissions of the developed countries, which should be treated as their natural debt to the world at large. India and the rest of the South, which are now in the process of strengthening their economies, should not be expected to make the same, or even similar, cuts in emissions as the North. Besides, emissions that are essential to the economic growth of these nations (such as methane from agriculture), should be exempt from restrictions as these cannot be compared with emissions from the burning of fossil fuels used for running cars or refrigerators.

Therefore, the sugesstion should not be that all countries need to play their part. It should be that the North take the initiative in reducing the emission of greenhouse gases through immediate and significant measures.

For the future of the nation, and of the whole of the South, India should go to the Kyoto meet with a definite pro-active stance against the Commonwealth Economic Declaration and similar positions. It should formulate one of its own, and push hard for its adoption, instead of meekly accepting the suggestions of those who are the culprits in the first place.