A close look at the history of climate change negotiations reveals some alarmingly reckless traits in Indian policymaking

Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

ever wondered how India's position at international environmental treaties is decided? Turn to India's Position on Climate Change from Rio to Kyoto: A Policy Analysis -- a first-of-its-kind analysis of what makes the Government of India tick at international environmental conventions.

Sussanne Jakobsen, author of the report, which was published recently (November 1998) by the Centre for Development Research, Denmark, reveals that, in the past, Indian policymakers have had a rather reckless method of deciding their positions at international conventions.

The vicious cycle of policymaking went something like this: voters did not have an opinion on climate change in India because bureaucrats did not believe in keeping them informed. Because the voters did not have an opinion, politicians were not interested in international environmental negotiations, and decisions were left to the bureaucratic level. More precisely, they were left to the technocratic level of the ministry of environment and forests ( mef ), with inputs from the ministry for external affairs to make sure they toe the line of the country's foreign policy. Even more precisely, a "wait-and-see" philosophy left the attending delegates taking decisions at the very last minute.

Just how uninformed all but the mef bureaucracy is of the Indian position was amply illustrated by former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral. In 1997, when the Indian delegation was leading the g -77 war against us attempts to get developing countries to commit to greenhouse gas ( ghg ) reductions, Gujral signed a communiqu at the Commonwealth meeting stating that, after the next round of climate negotiations, all countries will need to play their part by pursuing policies that would result in significant reductions of ghg emissions if we are to solve a global problem that would affect us all . Gujral obviously had not been briefed by the mef .

When the treaty was being negotiated, Indian officials hung on to the coat-tails of the better informed non-government organisations ( ngo s), and used them not only to brief them on the international situation, but also to help them sort out the issues at stake for India. Post-Rio, they became more self-reliant: willing to listen to information, but unwilling to exchange views.

Jakobsen writes that in the climate negotiations, at least two large organisations -- the Centre for Science and Environment ( cse ) and the Tata Energy Research Institute ( teri ) -- have had an impact on India's policymaking.

Both organisations have a markedly different style of functioning. While cse works by commenting on political aspects of national interest, going public in its critique against the government, teri avoids criticising the government openly. The two ngo s hold opposite views on some critical climate issues.

For example, while teri is eager to push Joint Implementation ( ji ), where developed countries reduce emissions in developing countries instead of their own, cse opposes it. While cse argues that ji will not generate the necessary pressure on the North to change its consumption patterns , and is unacceptable unless the issue of per capita entitlements to the atmosphere is settled, teri sees ji as yet another mechanism to obtain crucial foreign financing for its research into alternative energy sources .

Jakobsen points out the dangerous trend in India's policymaking: the research agenda on climate change is directed by foreign rather than domestic priorities. Funding is low, but for the research communities which speak the language of the North-dominated international community, it is possible to obtain funds for research that responds to the Northern agenda.

Government concern for climate change was roused when cse published a report proving American scientists, who were holding developing countries responsible for ghg emissions as the industrialised countries, wrong. There is no place for work like the cse counter-report in a North-dominated research agenda but the report underlined the need for research from the South to ensure transparency in climate science.

Jakobsen concludes that the lack of domestic research, ad hoc style of functioning of the Indian bureaucracy, and its tendency to rely on a scientific community which caters to foreign concerns leave India responding to the agendas of the North, rather than setting out their own.

There is a ray of hope, however. Things have changed slightly since Jakobsen carried out her research, and delegations to the climate convention, at least, have been receptive to ideas from civil society, and held consultations. The results of these consultations are obvious: the g -77 has started to look towards India for leadership in the issues of equity.

But Jakobsen's research on climate applies to other international conventions as well, and our policymakers would benefit from reading it, and realising how their short-sightedness may be costing Indians their future.

Anju Sharma is a researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment

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