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Lifting the veil

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Author(s): Anil Agarwal
Jan 15, 1998 | From the print edition

The carefully-planned us strategy on climate change negotiations is slowly beginning to become transparent. In a report just published in the International Herald Tribune (iht) (December 15, 1997), a Washington Post correspondent spells out this strategy. Under pressure from the Congress which had bought the hard line of the us automobile and oil industry, the Clinton-Gore Administration had realised that it could not go to Kyoto with strong commitments. It, therefore, had a clear choice. It could either walk out of the negotiations or it could keep itself active in the negotiations even if it brokered a flawed deal. The former choice would leave it with no influence over the negotiations while the latter would help the us to maintain a key role in the negotiations.

A team was set up in the White House to work exclusively on the us position and strategy for the Kyoto negotiations. The iht report quotes Gene Sperling, head of the White House National Economic Council as saying, "It's the difference between being an international leader on climate change with considerable leverage, and being an international outlier who would have had little credibility to keep pushing the process forward." The us clearly chose to be an 'international leader'.

The first element of the strategy was to show interest in the issue, howsoever ridiculous the proposed targets might be. The iht report quotes a senior administration official claiming that this approach was able to increase us leverage on the negotiations substantially. The official points out, "A couple of months ago when a lot of countries doubted we were serious, we couldn't get people to listen to us or talk to us. By Kyoto we were able to be a broker to the agreement, so it's hard to say that showing some commitment doesn't increase your leverage." This leverage helped the us to force the European Union (eu) down to greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets acceptable to the us .

But what about the other conflict with developing countries, especially with senators, companies and trade unions shouting from tree tops that they too must be brought into the picture? Here, too, the us has developed a well-crafted strategy to keep the pressure on. Its first step was to ask for something as vague and undefined as "meaningful participation from developing countries" so that the ball would move to developing countries to say what they could do and, of course, the us could easily dismiss it as "not meaningful enough". If the us had proposed something concrete, it could have easily have got drowned in a volley of criticism. The us avoided all that. And, secondly, it made it clear to all parties concerned that the us would walk out of the Kyoto Protocol unless developing countries proposed actions that the us would consider "meaningful".

The iht report makes it clear that all this was very carefully thought through. The report says, "Another senior official said that the us strategy all along was to see what could be achieved at Kyoto, delay sending the treaty to the Senate for ratification, and attempt to corral the developing countries into the process through later negotiations. "We had in mind this two step process: Get a good agreement in Kyoto, make clear it was a partial solution and not try for ratification immediately, and then try to get agreement from the developing countries," the official said."

This strategy is now being followed to the letter. On December 8, 1997, the day the high-level ministerial segment began in Kyoto, vice-president Al Gore said in a press conference, "Well, we've said from the beginning that, in order to sign an agreement, or in order to send an agreement to the Senate, we must have meaningful participation by key developing countries. How we get that meaningful participation has been one of the principal subjects under discussion here (in Kyoto). We're still working on that." On December 11, the day on which Kyoto ended, the White House issued a press release quoting Gore again,. "And let's be clear, as we said from the very beginning, we will not submit this agreement for ratification until key developing nations participate in this effort." Indeed, the strategy is already working. Within hours after the eu and the us reached a weak compromise on emissions reductions target, the Western media ranging from cnn in the us to Financial Times (ft) in Britain were blaring away that now that the Western world had got its act together, it was now these aliens from India and China that were holding things up. The ft front-paged a report from Kyoto on December 11 headlined "China and India may delay decision on climate treaty". Very soon, in the run-up to the next Conference of Parties to be held in November 1998 in Argentina, a country supportive of the us position, we can see even eu and western environmental groups putting pressure on India and China to accept us terms because everybody knows that without us participation the Kyoto treaty is meaningless as the us is the biggest polluter of greenhouse gases. The us is simultaneously making strong efforts at the highest political level to break the solidarity of the developing world. It is clear that the Clinton-Gore administration has totally given into domestic political and economic interests and is pushing the world into a tight corner even as it wants to portray an image of an administration that is keen to protect the world's environment.

What options do countries like India and China have in such a scenario? The answer lies not in a hidden strategy like the one that the us is pursuing but a transparent strategy. China and India must take a proactive position recognising the success that they had in Berlin with a proactive stand. It was the proactive position that developing countries like India had taken which had lead to the Berlin Mandate and following from that the Kyoto Protocol. China and India must now clearly define what is 'meaningful participation' according to them - one which is clearly based on the sharing of the benefits of the atmosphere on an equitable basis. And make it clear to the world - in full partnership with their environmental Non Governmental Organisations (ngos) - that they will walk out of the Kyoto Protocol unless this principle is accepted, just as the us has threatened to do. Without China and India, everybody knows that future climate change negotiations are meaningless. In this way, China and India should work hard to ensure that a number of western governments and environmental ngos come to their side and, thus, split the west between those who want to play fair and just politics and those who don't want to. This issue is no less important for the survival of the world than the issue of nuclear disarmament. Developing world leaders cannot barter away the rights of their future generations.

Unfortunately, the developing world is still ill-prepared to face this challenge. The ease with which the Government of India could have fallen prey to the us strategy in Kyoto is still a story that has to be written. At the Edinburgh Summit of Commonwealth Heads of Government, Prime Minister Inder Gujral had happily signed a communiqu saying that after Kyoto all countries (which means developing countries too) should accept cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions. After the Centre for Science and Environment (cse) publicly criticised Gujral's agreement to this statement, authoritative sources told cse that Gujral was still supportive of the Edinburgh statement because he was keen that India should work with the us. Fortunately, the ministry of environment and forests decided to follow the positions that it had taken in the past in the climate change negotiations. But when British deputy Prime Minister John Prescott rang up Gujral on the last day of the negotiations in Kyoto to ask India to take a soft line, he actually rang up the Indian delegation to say so. Sources in the delegation said that as the environment minister, Saifuddin Soz, is in no way beholden to Gujral for his political position, he decided to ignore the prime minister's advice and instruct his delegation to take a firm stand.

With the environment minister having contained the us strategy to an extent in Kyoto, its time that the Indian civil society also thought about this global politics and found a befitting reply. Ford and General Motors are two companies that were behind the onslaught on the us administration asking that India and China also be forced to undertake reduction commitments. In this day and age of globalisation, these companies are looking for markets in India and setting up shop to market their wares here. Should Indian ngos not launch a campaign against these companies and force the government of India to ban their entry into India? And if all else fails, at least make the Indian customer who buys their products recognise the duplicitous strategies of these companies? The role of the civil society as a good watchdog has become even more important.

Anil Agarwal

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