Post-Durban Climate Summit: What should be India’s Strategy?

The article presents a synopsis of the discussions at the Durban COP, the potential implications for India’s position on climate change and stresses on the need for India to step up as a leader to safeguard the growth needs of the developing world.

Today, climate change is understood as a major non-traditional security threat owing to its global implications. The only global legal framework to address this global challenge- the Kyoto protocol- has its first commitment period ending in December 2012. Therefore, the Durban climate summit, held in December 2011, was expected to lead to a new framework or a second commitment period inclusive of every party’s interest. Instead, the summit ended with the ‘Durban Package’ which talks largely of a ‘roadmap’ which would lead to an ‘outcome with a legal force’ by 2015 to become effective by 2020. Still, forming an inclusive agreement by 2015 will not be an easy task. In such a scenario, what should be India’s position post-Durban?

The summit, in a major development, saw all parties to the convention, including India and China, positively inclined towards legal commitments for curbing their carbon emissions. Significantly US also acceded to EU’s demand. The summit also agreed to set up a green fund with $100 billion. However, the issues of ‘Equity’ and ‘Transfer Technology’ along with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), deemed so necessary to developing world, failed to gather central attention in the climate negotiations. Moreover, the established fund does not mention the source and the transfer mechanism of the money.

Indian delegation headed by Jayanthi Natarajan could not acquire anything convincing to its end. Its stand on the climate issue was characterised by the principle of Equity and CDRRC (Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capability). This requires the developed world to make larger contributions to combat climate change - they being historically responsible for the current carbon stock in the atmosphere. India thus rightly pointed out its ‘Right to Growth’. It also raised the key element of technology transfer to mitigate climate change. Same views were echoed by the Chinese minister Xie Zhenhua. They along with other BASIC group members were fiercely against any kind of legal specifications. India particularly was adamant in its stand till the very last. But the west ganged against India as it did against China and through last minute negotiations, India along with China succumbed to the West led by the European Union.

End result-India yet again being made a scapegoat in climate negotiations and India yet again compromising on its climate stance. It would be interesting to see how India moves from now on. It is true that post-Durban climate negotiations would be even tougher as countries are firm on their respective climate positions. But this does not require India to every time give in to  demands made by the west. Instead, it is imperative that India sticks to its stand and in fact be more assertive about it. India’s seriousness is unquestionable in climate change issue as can be gauged by sincere and meaningful contributions it has made to tackle the challenge which includes its specific Action Plan on climate change. However, owing to its technical and financial constraints, it cannot contribute beyond a limit. And given the fact that India is a growing economy, it cannot compromise on its growth, even if that implies increasing its carbon emissions for a certain phase. This ‘Right to Growth’ must be emphasised even more firmly. Very recently, India was right in voicing its opinion against aviation tax invoked by the European Union.

Secondly, the time is ripe for India to take up the leadership of the developing world in pushing the west to formalise an equitable and just climate treaty of which the issues of equity and CDRRC are the core. This is important because a united stand will help a great extent in pursuing a common agenda. India should also put pressure on the west for them to adopt an action-oriented stand on climate change, not mere pledges and plans. For this, it must engage developing countries with special focus on BASIC group comprising Brazil and South Africa and China. This engagement must be bilateral and multilateral as well. 

Finally, India must play a crucial role in propagating the scientific fact that climate change is a global challenge- its irreversible damage will adversely affect the everyone-including the rich western countries. This notion needs general and wide spread acceptance for a serious and urgent public opinion on climate change.

It is increasingly being recognized that climate change has the maximum ability to de-stabilise regions, displace populations, cause ethnic violence and topple regimes. As in other parts, climate change will have serious impact on south Asian countries also. India with its geographical position and demographic reality is most prone to climate change disasters. Already, impacts of climate change have begun to show in our lifestyles and agriculture patterns. India badly needs technology to mitigate climate change. Post-Durban, India should be more firm and uncompromising in its demands. It cannot keep conceding to west’s agenda. With India’s growth rate and rising political clout, it is important to the world. Its stand cannot be ignored. It should therefore unitedly, along with other BASIC members, fight for justice in climate issue. India’s pivotal role is must for an inclusive climate deal.

The author Vijeta Rattani is a Doctoral Research Scholar with the Centre for European Studies at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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Author: Vijeta Rattani