"India's position on climate change at Kyoto"

Mr. I.K.Gujral,
Prime Minister,
Prime Ministers’ Office,
South Block,
New Delhi.

Subject: "India’s position on climate change at Kyoto"

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

We wish to register a strong protest against your endorsement of the recent statement of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh. The environment section of the communiqué shows that the position of developing countries in climate change negotiations has been totally compromised. We sincerely hope that this is not the position of the Government of India. The communiqué states 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 (emphasis ours)." This compromise, coming close to the crucial negotiations leading up to the Third Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change at Kyoto, will damage the position of the entire South and will force them to mortgage their present and future using such sham words as of "our common interest". We call upon you to reject this statement and ask you to instruct the Indian delegation to go to Kyoto with a firm commitment to secure our per capita entitlements to a common global resource, in this case, the atmosphere. Anything less would be unacceptable and would grievously harm the future economic and environmental interests of Indians and of all people living in the developing world.  

We are presenting below some crucial facts which would help you understand our concern.





Firstly, the history. In 1995, at the first Conference of Parties held in Berlin, it was agreed that industrialised countries would commit to a legally binding schedule to cut carbon dioxide emissions. The Ad hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate was set up to negotiate the timetable for reductions. After two years the group is nowhere close to agreement. Two countries, the US and Australia, have refused to take firm action which is needed to cut emissions, solely in the interests of their own economies.

The various proposals are as follows;
  • The European Union has proposed a 15 per cent legally binding cut in emissions below 1990 levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by 2010;
  • The G-77 and China have endorsed the European Union’s target to reduce greenhouse gases;
  • Japan proposes a 5 per cent legally binding cut in emissions below 1990 levels by 2008-2012 but with flexible individual timetables for each country;
  • US has only suggested stabilising its emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2008-2012. It has not agreed to any reductions.

In addition, the US president, Bill Clinton, has clearly stated that his country will not agree to "binding obligations unless key developing countries meaningfully participate in this effort" (emphasis ours). According to him "developing countries also must be engaged". The US stand shows total disregard for the principle of "shared but differentiated responsibility" which was agreed at Rio and which the US endorsed. This principle itself was a concession made by developing countries which did not press for the "Polluter Pays Principle."

The US position is driven by domestic compulsions. In July, the US Senate passed an unprecedented 95-0 non-binding resolution that it will not ratify any treaty which would cause serious economic damage to the US. It called for the involvement of the growing competitors of the US, namely, China, South Korea and India in any agreement on climate change. An industry-trade union alliance has launched an advertising blitz, full of falsehoods, to convince the public that the result of a strong treaty on climate would be that, on one hand, the prices of everything from oil to eggs will skyrocket in the US and, on the other hand, developing countries like India, China and South Korea will get a free-ride while US consumers foot the bill. Trade unions argue that companies in the US which emit high levels of carbon dioxide will move to countries like India, which have no targets and this could lead to a job loss of as much as 600,000. This paranoia of a country which believes its "lifestyle is not negotiable" is clearly fueling its position and seeking our involvement in the new guise of "common interests and common responsibility of us all". 

Your endorsement of the Commonwealth Communiqué clearly supports the US position. And weakens the position of the South. The respected British magazine, Nature has reported in its most recent issue (October 30, 1997) that the British government brokered a deal between Australia and developing countries at the recent summit. But it also reports that while India and other member developing countries have jeopardised their own interests in agreeing to the statement, Australia for whom the "deal" was made remains ambiguous about its commitments. Its Prime Minister, John Howard, has appeared on television claiming that the document amounted for a "triumph for Australia as it did not imply a commitment to legally binding emissions reductions."  

You, on the other hand, have reportedly told the press that "India has been able to safeguard the interests of developing world a great deal" (Outlook, November 10, 1997). You may also please note that the Commonwealth Communiqué is in complete contradiction with the position of the G-77 and China at the recently held meeting of the Ad-hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate, in which it rejected any move to commit developing countries to climate reduction targets.

  • Secondly, please note the emerging politics. While the recently concluded meeting of the Ad-hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) which ended on (October 31, 1997) has reached virtually no agreement it is broadly understood that the compromise at Kyoto could be as follows:
  • A weak agreement on binding targets for emissions from industrialised countries. The European’s will probably give in -- as they did in Rio -- because without the US, there can be no agreement worth the name. Their industries will fear becoming uncompetitive if the US is not included. Only Germany has shown some desire to take unilateral action where as the UK is totally against it.
  • Whatever the agreement, it will be seen as a major concession by the US and Australia. They will then demand that commitments of developing countries are included in a separate Kyoto declaration and that negotiations to bring the South on board begin immediately;
    The Commonwealth Communiqué will considerably weaken the position of any Southern country which opposes this move.
  • The North will demand that the South participates in joint implementation programmes and tradeable emission programmes. Please note that at the very last meeting of the AGBM, the chairman’s draft included -- allegedly at the insistence of the US -- two new sections; one on defining methods for joint implementation and the other on tradeable emissions. The present wording of the draft chairman’s report on these issues is absolutely disastrous. The draft sets out conditions for these activities which would virtually take away all entitlements of the South to the resource. It benefits only the big polluters and seeks to buy emissions cheaply while allowing them easy ways to keep polluting.
  • Though the chairman’s draft suggests that these measures -- joint implementation and tradeable emissions -- would be used between the Northern countries and the participation of Southern countries would be voluntary, it is clear that with right inducements in the form of some aid the South could be bought over. Also, if there is an agreement to bind the South to commitments, as you have agreed in Edinburgh, then it would be logical that these same rules of the game -- however unfair and distorted they maybe -- will be used to bind the South.
  • We are delighted to note that the G-77 and China have rejected this section of the Chairman’s draft. We support their position that "until the subject of emission rights or entitlements has been discussed and addressed equitably, emission trading cannot be discussed."
  • Thirdly, let us go into the merits of the US position. To justify the need to include developing countries, the US is doing the usual "they will catch up and negate our good work" jig of the pre-Rio days. In his October 22 address to the nation on climate change, the US President has argued that "if the entire industrialised world reduces emissions over the next several decades, but emissions from the developing world continue to grow at their current pace, concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to climb." The US government holds the view that by the year 2035 the emissions from the South will be equal to those from the North.

This argument should be condemned strongly. In 1991, the Centre for Science and Environment, had said that these statements were "both irresponsible and highly partisan." We repeat it now. They constitute the worst form of preaching the world has even seen. What happens to our quota of the atmosphere? Whose future generations are we seeking to protect?

The US statistics need to be put in perspective. All that this means is that the current emissions from the North are so disproportionately large (the US with less than 5 per cent of the world’s people contributes over 25 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions according to the US president himself) that it would take as much as 40 years for the South to catch up.

Secondly, and more importantly, even then, 85 per cent of the world’s people -- which is what the South will represent then -- will produce only 50 per cent of the current emissions while 15 per cent of the population living in the North would be producing the remaining 50 per cent.

If emissions are synonymous with economic growth -- as the US itself seems to believe -- then as a commentator from the North has asked, "the concern for the South is not that they will be emitting so much in 2035, but that they would be still emitting so little."

And thirdly, this is only half the answer. 

The most important element in greenhouse gas emissions are ‘historical emissions’. These are the past emissions of countries which are still present in the atmosphere and which are inducing climate change today. A US scientist has calculated this "natural debt" of nations -- just as nations take on a financial debt over years to grow faster they also take on a natural debt in which they borrow against the assimilative capacity of the environment by releasing waste gases faster than they can be removed naturally. According to his calculations, if annual per capita emissions in the US were to remain at 1990 levels and India was to grow at its present rate, India would reach the level of 1 tonne/year in the year 2024 -- a level that was surpassed by the US before 1900.  

Let us also be very clear that in spite of the Framework Convention and the commitment of industrialised countries to stabilise greenhouse gas emission at 1990 levels, very little has actually happened. According to the calculations of the World Energy Council, carbon dioxide emissions from the OECD countries have risen by 7.8 per cent since 1990. In the US, emissions are expected to increase by over 13 per cent by the end of the century over 1990 levels. Only two countries -- Germany and United Kingdom are expected to meet the target. But both for incidental reasons -- Germany because of the closure of industries in East Germany which got added to its account and the UK, because of the switch from coal to gas. But already, the UK is showing that in 1996, carbon dioxide emissions went up after a decline since 1991 and it is possible that UK may not meet its target either.

  • Therefore, even while there are deep divisions on this issue within the industrialised countries, leaders of developing countries are bowing to pressure and saying we are prepared to hit our own economy without any concern. Please recall that when the Framework Convention for Climate Change was being negotiated, the South made a very major concession to the North. Global warming was clearly a problem created by a few. But instead of adopting the polluter pays principle and demanding that the North should be held responsible for its liability, they adopted the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. The Commonwealth Communiqué goes against this principle. You are now saying in order to save the world there is now a common responsibility on all. We would urge you as a leader of an important Southern nation not to be swept by this ‘one-worldism’ and not to sell out the interests of the future generations of the South. This is a discussion about the rights of the people of the world to a global resource like the atmosphere. It is extremely important for us to recognise that what we are dealing with in Kyoto is how we are going to manage the world’s global resources like the atmosphere or the oceans, and what rules and property rights are we establishing for the entitlements of the present and future generations of the rich and the poor to this resource.

We expect the Prime Minister of India to take a firm position in this intensely political situation and not succumb to the diplomatic designs of a few countries.

  • It is sad that all these decisions are being taken with extremely little understanding within the public or within the government of the issues concerned. With your personal interest in foreign affairs we are sure you will recognise that even though environmental concerns range from global warming to international trade, there is absolutely no coordinated mechanism within the government to deal with these issues. We would strongly urge you that India must take a very firm, imaginative and bold stand at the forthcoming Kyoto conference. We are convinced such a position would be in the best economic and ecological interest of the Indian people.