Letter to the Prime Minister, India

Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee,
Prime Minister of India
South Block,
New Delhi-110001

Subject: India’s position at the forthcoming conference of parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to draw your attention to the forthcoming Conference of Parties on the Framework Convention on Climate Change which is to be held in Buenos Aires from November 2-14, 1998. India and China will come under considerable pressure in Buenos Aires to commit themselves to action against the biggest environmental disaster facing humankind which threatens to heat up the Earth.

This convention was signed at the Rio Conference in 1992 and its key purpose is to prevent global warming which is largely taking place because of the accumulation of gases that are produced by burning fuels like oil and coal in the atmosphere. As industrialised countries have been the largest contributors to the build-up of these gases (particularly carbon dioxide), the Convention states that the industrialised countries must take the first steps in cutting back on the emissions of these gases.

In December 1997, the Kyoto Protocol set the first targets for industrialised countries to reduce their emissions by the year 2010. The Kyoto Protocol does not set any targets for developing countries, as expected under the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But the US government has clearly stated that it will not send the Kyoto Protocol for ratification to the US Congress unless India and China also "participate meaningfully" in reducing emissions. The US Senate has already passed a resolution saying that it will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol unless the US government secures the meaningful participation of India and China. The US Senate has been stoked by an extremely vocal coalition of oil and automobile companies who argue that it is meaningless for USA to cut back on its emissions if India and China are going to increase theirs. This coalition has taken out full-page advertisements in US newspapers and spots on television. In any case, these companies say that they will become uncompetitive as compared to Indian and Chinese companies if India and China are not forced to join. Other US critics of the Kyoto Protocol, especially Republican politicians, have pointed out that the cost of cutting emissions in the US will be quite high and will increase the price of almost all daily consumer items. In turn, the US government is putting pressure on India, China and other developing countries to join. US Senators have argued that a ‘global problem must have a global solution.’

The news emerging from across the world clearly shows a two-pronged strategy to ensure that India and China give into US demands in Buenos Aires:

One element of this strategy is to increase the pressure on India and China and make them look as the key countries stopping global action on this vital issue before the world community. In other words, the objective would be to paint these recalcitrant countries ‘black’.

The other element of this strategy is to isolate India and China by destroying the solidarity of the developing world. India and China have the world’s largest number of poor people and, therefore, need the maximum opportunity to increase their energy consumption in the future. And they have the maximum stake in ensuring equity in sharing the burden of commitments to reduce emissions together with many other African and South Asian countries. But there are numerous other developing countries that are much more economically advanced who would see very little advantage in arguing for equity in the emissions reduction commitments. These countries are quite likely to follow the US. (For further details on the emerging politics of Buenos Aires, please see Annnexure 1.)

Thus, a well thought-out political strategy is being put into place by the US to get ‘meaningful commitments’ from developing countries even though international law, as agreed upon till date, does not expect them to do so.

It is, therefore, vital that India goes to Buenos Aires well prepared and with a clear brief from the Cabinet so that, like USA, India protects the current and future economic rights of its people and at the same time, unlike USA, presents a strategy that protects the global ecology. It is in India’s interest to do both.

Why do we say this?
We say this, firstly, because India cannot forsake the right of its current and future generations to grow economically by accepting undue constraints on the use of energy. If India has to accept certain constraints to save the world from global warming, then it is obvious that those constraints be equitably shared by all nations and peoples on Earth.

We say this, secondly, because global warming could have serious ecological, economic and political consequences for India. (For details on the possible effects of global warming on India, please see Annexure 2.)

So what should India do in Buenos Aires?
India should go to Buenos Aires with a pro-active strategy to engage the US government and its supporters in order to protect the global ecology and the economic rights of both its current and future generations. A reactive strategy that simply says India will not join and developed countries must take the first step, according to the convention agreed upon in Rio in 1992, will increasingly be used to show up India as a major stumbling block towards global action. India should seize the bull by the horns and put forward its concept of equity in dealing with the climate change problem. India has already done so in the post-Kyoto negotiations by putting forward the idea of ‘equal entitlements’ to emissions for all people on Earth. In other words, each person has the right to emit the same amount of each gas that causes global warming. We are personally delighted that India has put forward this position and that it was also endorsed by the Non-Aligned Nations in their recent meeting in South Africa because it was the Centre for Science and Environment which had first put forward this idea in 1991.

Let us explain this idea in numbers. What it means is that the world community must agree on an amount of emissions that each individual is entitled to. Then nations that have per capita emissions that are above the agreed ‘entitlement’ must reduce their emissions to come down to the agreed level. And nations that have per capita emissions that are below the agreed ‘entitlement’ can increase their emissions to the level of their entitlement. For example, let us assume that the entire world agrees to an entitlement of 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per person per year. This then means that Indian citizens who had per capita emissions of 0.8 tonnes in 1990 could slowly increase theirs to 3 tonnes while US citizens who had per capita emissions of 19.6 tonnes would have to slowly bring theirs down to 3 tonnes.

This entitlement would also be a source of money to help India and other developing countries invest in energy-efficiency measures and promotion of solar, wind and hydroelectric energy so that their energy consumption can grow without high increases in emissions. For example, if India emits only 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person and it is entitled to 3.0 tonnes, then the remaining emissions (that is, 1.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide) can be traded with an industrialised country that is struggling to reduce its emissions and meet its carbon dioxide reduction targets.

Our request to you is that having put forward the idea of ‘equal entitlements’, India must not use it as a delaying tactic but insist that it should be accepted immediately. And India can then use the money it earns from the trade in its unused emissions to move towards sources of energy that do not generate carbon dioxide. India can then chart an energy path different from that of the industrialised countries. And India can also use this money to promote afforestation and watershed development programmes that will help to clean some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It is important to move now because with China moving fast economically, within a decade or so China will lose interest in equitable solutions. China is currently showing a strong interest in ‘equitable solutions’ and, as in Kyoto, it is keen to work together with India on this issue.

But if India has to take a pro-active issue on ‘equal entitlements’ then the Cabinet must clear this policy. (For details on how ‘equal entitlements’ can be defined, please see Annexure 3.)

At the time of the Rio Conference in 1992, the Cabinet used to clear the government’s brief for the negotiations. And because of the enormous interest in this subject, political leaders like Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl and Tony Blair personally approve the negotiating strategies. In any case, global warming is the most serious environmental threat facing humankind, which could also pose a serious threat to India’s future economic development. Therefore, we urge you to review this issue personally and take appropriate decisions.

If India does not move ahead with a strong position in favour of ‘equal entitlements’ now, it will slowly come under increasing Western pressure to take steps even at a low level of emissions and when a large part of its population is still poor. According to the US position, India should accept the Clean Development Mechanism right away. This mechanism proposed in Kyoto is one in which India will take measures to improve its energy efficiency with the help of money from Western nations but the credit for saving emissions resulting from such programmes will go to the nation giving the money. The scheme sounds alluring but there are numerous and very serious problems with it. India must not sell the economic rights of its future generations for a few dollars today. (For details of the problems with the Clean Development Mechanism, please see Annexure 5.)

It must also be noted that under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries have ingeniously allocated themselves the right to trade emissions amongst themselves -- without the assignment of any entitlements on the basis on equity. It is, therefore, imperative that your government reject the notion that trading in emissions can be allowed without a clear enunciation of rights and entitlements of developed and developing countries to the common atmospheric space. The Kyoto Protocol did not define the principles for trading emissions and left it for further negotiations. We are delighted that the G-77 has taken cognizance of this issue and has argued in its position paper that it is "important to examine how the emission rights and entitlements of developed countries will be determined and created for trading emissions. Will this be consistent with the principle of equity keeping in view the historical and current responsibility of developed countries to climate change and the ultimate objective of the convention?"

Therefore, let us summarise the position that India should take in Buenos Aires:

  • India must not succumb to pressure from the industrialised countries and refuse to accept the Clean Development Mechanism without ‘equal entitlements’.
  • India must have a proactive position to argue for ‘equal entitlements’ and provide leadership to all countries by arguing that North-South cooperation built on ‘equal entitlements’ will not only be equitous and socially just but also effective in minimising the threat of global warming. There is already growing support for the ‘equal entitlements’ concept with the endorsement it has received in recent months in the Non-Aligned Nations meeting in South Africa and in the European Parliament Resolution of September 1998.
  • Even if ‘equal entitlements’ are not agreed upon in Buenos Aires, India must demand that at the minimum Buenos Aires should agree to the principle that all nations will ‘converge’ to the same per capita emissions even if it is left to future negotiations what should be these per capita emissions and how should they be defined.
  • India should participate actively in the negotiations defining the principles of ‘emissions trading’ and insist on trading being built on the principle of ‘equitable entitlements’.

It is our fervent hope that you will take a personal interest in this matter and ensure that the Indian delegation goes armed with a good brief from the Cabinet. We also hope that you will find our comments useful in formulating the policy of the government.

With our very best wishes, 

Yours cordially, 


Deputy Director