What should be India's position at the fourth round of negotiations on Climate Change in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from November 2-13 ?

As the globe warms up, politics is getting the better of climate science The rich want deals, swaps and flexible mechanisms to be able to emit more The poor nations want their rightful entitlements What should be India’s position at the forthcoming round of negotiations on Climate Change in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from November 2-13 ?

India’s leading environmental NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has urged the government to go to the forthcoming climate meet in Buenos Aires with a pro-active strategy to protect the rights of the poor nations over their economic and environmental space. Representatives of South Asian NGOs – from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh -- today expressed "full support" to the CSE position of ensuring equity and ecological effectiveness in any regime negotiated to implement the objectives of the climate convention.

The climate convention was signed at the Rio Conference in 1992 and its key purpose is to prevent global warming which is taking place because of the accumulation of "greenhouse gases" produced by burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Representatives of 167 nations are meeting at Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, from November 2-13 for the fourth round of climate negotiations.

Participants at the NGO consultation noted that climate change is the biggest environmental threat to the world’s ecosystems. But very little information is available on its impact, especially to the South Asian region. Experts warn about possible melting of the Himalayan glaciers, erratic monsoons, cyclones, crop losses, submergence of coastal areas and small islands due to rise in sea level in the South Asian region.

CSE has urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to ensure that the Indian delegation goes to Buenos Aires armed with a good brief from the Cabinet. "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," CSE director Anil Agarwal said.

Equal entitlement means that the each individual of the world has an equal right over the atmosphere. Nations that have per capita emissions that are above the agreed ‘entitlement’ must reduce their emissions to come down to an agreed level. And nations that have per capita emissions that are below the agreed ‘entitlement’ can increase their emissions to the level of "convergence."

This concept ensures equity. The developed nations emit much less on a per capita basis because they consume less and use up less resources. As Anil Agarwal points out, on an average, the amount of greenhouse gases caused by a US citizen is equal to that caused by 25 Indians, 33 Pakistanis, 42 Maldivians, 85 Sri Lankans, 125 Bangladeshis, 250 Bhutanese or 500 Nepalese citizens.

At the recently-concluded NAM summit held at South Africa, member countries endorsed the concept of equal entitlement. The European Parliament has also seconded the proposal.

The US government has clearly stated that it will not send the Kyoto Protocol -- the first climate protocol signed in December 1997 which sets legally binding emissions reduction targets for industrialised countries -- for ratification to the Congress unless India and China also participate "meaningfully" in reducing emissions. The US Senate has already passed a resolution to this effect. "A global problem must have a global solution," say the US Senators.

In a new move, Australia has also said that it will not sign the treaty unless the US does so. CSE has pointed out that the US will continue to pressurise developing countries, especially India and China, to commit themselves to emission reduction targets. Meanwhile, the US oil and automobile companies are arguing that it is meaningless for the US to cut back on its emissions if India and China increase theirs.

India and China are very likely to be painted as the key countries stopping global action on this vital issue before the world community. The stage has been set to tighten the noose on developing countries. The North is insisting that they also set emission reduction targets. "The South must define how it wants to participate ‘meaningfully," said Anil Agarwal.

In a nutshell, India should:

  1. Not succumb to the pressure from industrialised countries to accept mechanisms like the Clean Development Mechanism which only provides cheap cost options to the industrialised countries for meeting their reduction targets by setting up projects in developing countries.
  2. Provide leadership to all countries by arguing that North-South co-operation must be built on equal entitlements.
  3. Demand that, at the minimum, countries should agree at Buenos Aires to the principle that all countries will converge to the same per capita emissions.
  4. Participate actively in the negotiations to insist that any proposal for emissions trading be built on the principle of equitable entitlements.