Cancun/New Delhi, Dec 9 (IANS) In a radical departure in stance, India has proposed a 'binding commitment under appropriate legal form' to tackle climate change. But Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's offer in Cancun met with furious response back home, with activists saying Thursday that this willingness to accept legal binding emission cuts would remove the distinction between developing and developed countries.
In what is widely believed to be a furtherance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's view that India should be seen as a deal maker and not a deal breaker, Ramesh made the offer in an attempt to break the deadlock at the Nov 29-Dec 10 UN climate summit in Cancun and, as he put it, 'to improve India's image around the world as an honest broker'.
Speaking at the high level segment of the annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference, Ramesh said Wednesday evening (local time) that 'all countries must take binding commitments under appropriate legal form' to control their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) - mainly carbon dioxide - which are causing climate change.
This is a major departure in the 17-year climate talks, as India had thus far led developing countries in the stance that global warming was a problem caused by rich countries and it was up to rich countries to reduce their GHG emissions.
Industrialised or developed countries have a historical responsibility to cut emissions since they have been emitting for several years. The developing world, on the other hand, needs the right to develop. This is the key premise that differentiates the two blocs from each other.
Ramesh admitted the move came in response to pressure from industrialised countries, applied through the poorest of the developing countries and those most vulnerable to climate change effects. Officially, he was reacting to a proposal made by Grenada on behalf of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) that asked all countries to sign up to a legally binding treaty to control their GHG emissions.
India's move came with three riders, however.
Ramesh told the media that 'there must be clarity on the content (of the agreement), on penalties for non-compliance and on a system of monitoring and enforcement, or we won't even discuss it'.
Ramesh's speech created a huge buzz among the thousands of delegates gathered here, who had gone mostly quiet as they stared at the failure of yet another climate summit.
A senior delegate from host country Mexico told IANS: 'Now there is hope that we can salvage something from this summit.'
Asked to explain his position after his speech, Ramesh told journalists: 'India is not against (the agreement having a) legal form. It is against a legally binding agreement. That is the red line.'
Ramesh said there was 'clearly a move to put pressure on India and China to agree to a legally binding agreement. This was coming from the rich countries, through AOSIS, Africa and the LDCs (least developed countries).'
He admitted that the BASIC group - Brazil, South Africa, India and China - was divided. 'South Africa and Brazil are supportive of a legally binding agreement.'
Who had specifically asked him to commit to a legally binding agreement? Ramesh named four South Asian countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal - plus the two BASIC countries, Africa, AOSIS and the LDCs.
All these are members of the Group of 77 that negotiates as a bloc in the climate talks. Did this show a crack on the bloc's unity?
'It shows there are divergent views within G77,' Ramesh replied. 'At this stage, India's strategy is to keep the door open. The door was being closed on us.'
The initiative in Cancun led to widespread criticism from environment groups.
Calling it unfortunate, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said the minister's statement opens the door for internationalising India's domestic commitments.
According to CSE, the minister's official printed speech did not contain this statement and he reportedly added it extempore as he delivered his speech.
'India has always maintained that its domestic mitigation actions (reduction in emissions intensity by 20-25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020) are voluntary in nature and not binding international commitments,' said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director, CSE.
In a pre-CoP (Conference of the Parties) meeting in Mexico, Ramesh had taken a first step towards internationalising India's domestic commitments by agreeing on International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) of domestic actions.
'Now he has moved a step forward and, as his statement suggests, opened the doors for converting India's domestic actions into international commitments. It is the beginning of the process which will lead to removal of distinctions between developing and developed countries, which is the cornerstone of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),' Bhushan pointed out.
Prodipto Ghosh, former environment secretary and distinguished fellow at The Energy Research Institute (TERI), added that the minister's statement was a departure from India's previous stand that it won't accept legally binding emission cuts.
'European Union and the US have been pressing for a legally binding agreement for India and China,' said Ghosh, who was member of India's core negotiating group on climate change at Copenhagen last year.