The new dirty deal

By Sunita Narain
Published: Thursday 15 September 2005

Did India play into the dirty hands of the us in signing on a joint agreement with it and Australia on climate change? The Asia Pacific Partnership for clean development and climate change has been signed by India, China, South Korea and Japan -- all signatories to the multilateral Kyoto Protocol -- with two protocol-renegade nations, Australia and the us. The partnership is about doing 'things' together, so that the world can be saved from future devastating impacts of climate change.

How innocuous. The us and Australia rejected the Kyoto Protocol because it sets legally binding targets for their emissions. They rejected it because it does not set such targets for China, India or South Korea, because -- let us remember; this was agreed upon -- these countries need economic, and ecological, space to grow. The two renegades want to create bilateral instruments, showcasing them as more effective in combating climate change. Their style of global cooperation, built on utilitarian self-interest -- they wish to showcase -- is better than the Kyoto Protocol.

This is not new. The us has a time-tested negotiation strategy. First, it undercuts a convention from within by ensuring all effective clauses are weakened. Then, once the agreement itself becomes full of loopholes (that its negotiators put there), and is pusillanimous -- because it made it so -- the us delegation walks out. The next stage is to bury a multilateral process by formulating an alternative based not on globally accepted principles of equity and justice, but sheer mutual self-interest.

This partnership, therefore, is about an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. The partnership does not require the world's biggest polluter, the us, to take on legally binding commitments to reduce emissions that are destabilising the world's climate. Indeed, the us is let off the hook: it can voluntarily take on 'certain' action, and 'engage' with the two targeted polluters, India and China, to bring down their emissions. This partnership has done the impossible: build an alliance, which adds up to 50 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emitters and includes the two countries because of which, George Bush has said, global action is fundamentally flawed.

What is not said here? This agreement brings into the fold of climate negotiations two large developing countries that have argued for their right to development, and have supported climate regimes in which polluters must first take action. And then, it leaves the world's largest polluter out of its ambit.

Why did India acquiesce? We know we are vulnerable. This country's majority subsists at the margin of survival; any variation in climate, or any extreme event, can throw them -- and India -- off that edge. The Mumbai cloudburst, which led to devastating floods, loss of life and economic damage, may or may not be an effect of changing climate patterns. But it is certainly about dealing with extreme weather events, which climate change bolsters. India therefore, unlike the us, needs an effective climate convention.

Why have our political leaders agreed to this pact? The Union ministry of environment and forests, which has been aggressively wooed by the us over the last four years, will tell you -- rather naively -- that this partnership will only assist climate negotiations. Engaging with the us means, it will tell you, financial and technological options to combat climate change, fdi in energy efficiency and the futuristic hydrogen fuel economy. Its playing the big game, it will tell you.

No one is deceived. Let us be clear, this partnership is dangerous.

This is not to say the international process is working. The Kyoto Protocol was designed to curtail the emission trajectory of the industrial North, and to assist the developing world in buying more efficient processes of energy use by providing it funds and technology transfer, through instruments like the clean development mechanism (cdm).

However, this has hardly happened. On the one hand, most developed countries are finding it difficult to achieve even the small cuts in emissions they agreed to. On the other hand, cdm has become a complicated development mechanism. It brings in little money for carbon-emitting technologies, in return for highly bureaucratic project clearances and monitoring. This global process has been deliberately emasculated: by its very proponents, the multilaterists, the European Union, and others.

The question is: what should countries like India do? We clearly need an effective climate regime. We need effective action by the industrialised world to curtail emissions, to take on deep cuts. We need funds and technology to leapfrog beyond the inefficiencies of current fossil fuel use, which is crippling our economies. But we will not achieve this by undermining a multilateral process. We will definitely not achieve this by engaging with the us in a meaningless partnership.

India must, therefore, get proactive in climate negotiations. It has to insist the next round of Kyoto must belong to the world's biggest renegade polluters, Australia and the us. It must insist: engagement will not come at the cost of economic growth; it is prepared to cut emissions, in its own interest. But it can only do this if there is a regime of equal per capita entitlements to the global atmosphere. This sharing of the global commons will provide incentives to countries that are under-utilising their quota of atmospheric emissions to reinvent their energy trajectories, by investing in clean development. It will provide funds for emission trading at the global level, built on entitlements of each nation and each individual to an equal right to development.

But India cannot do this if it plays into the hands of the us. There may be morality in dirty politics. But there is no morality in doing business with Earth's dirtiest polluter.

-- Sunita Narain

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