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Security Council seat could tempt India into UN climate action

Government’s unwillingness to accept emission cuts is damaging country’s image as a global leader, says study

(Pic: UN Photos)

(Pic: UN Photos)

By Ed King

India’s aspirations for a seat on the UN Security Council could see it change tack and play a more progressive role at international climate negotiations.

That’s one of the conclusions in a study published in the journal Climatic Change, which analyses the political signals on global warming from the world’s third largest greenhouse gas polluter.

The authors say India’s refusal to agree to any binding emission reductions has angered many developing countries, who see it as an impediment to a tough global climate deal.

“India is increasingly facing criticism, and isolation, from its traditional developing and under developed partner countries, such as the group of Least Developed Countries,” they say, adding that this could affect its “ambitions for global leadership”.

The report is likely to make uncomfortable reading for Indian officials attending next week’s UN climate talks in Bonn.

Based on interviews with business leaders, politicians and policy experts, it says the country has neglected to develop detailed plans to cut emissions, and has adopted a tough blocking stance at international talks.

“The Indian government has consistently maintained that expecting India to do more to reduce emissions will limit its ability to address more pressing domestic development needs,” they say, adding “there has been a shift back to emphasize sharp distinctions between developing and developed countries.”

The study is also critical of the country’s efforts to lower its emissions through renewables and energy efficiency programmes, saying they “are being implemented at a slow pace,” and claims India is likely to meet its commitment to reduce carbon intensity by 20–25% by accident rather than by design.

The research highlights the huge challenge facing diplomats trying to pull together a global emissions reduction treaty. Without a clear commitment from India to address its rising greenhouse gas levels it remains unclear how that agreement could work.

China and the US, the world’s largest emitters, have both indicated their willingness to work towards a deal that would see all countries make some cuts, but India has been less forthcoming.

At the main UN climate summit in 2013 Environment Minister Jayanti Natarajan repeated her concern that that expecting India to do more to reduce emissions would limit its ability to address more pressing domestic development needs.

She told a press conference: “We think every country should take pledges depending on their national capacity and capability, and take nationally appropriate actions. Whatever the gap that remains to meet the 2C goal should be made up by mitigation in developed countries.”

India also stands accused of blocking 2013 talks in Bangkok under the Montreal Protocol on cutting the output of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent set of greenhouse gases released by fridges.

The country’s representatives at those talks said they were concerned about the costs of switching over to new coolants, and wanted clarity on what financial support they would get.

Development challenge

The country’s tough international stance reflects an increasingly bitter domestic debate over how the country can best provide energy and basic facilities to its vast population.

Millions of India’s 1.2 billion residents live below the poverty line, many in rural villages without access to electricity.

Compared to Europe or the US its citizens have a tiny carbon footprint, but steady growth over the past two decades is turning it into a greenhouse gas superpower.

The country is now the world’s third largest importer and consumer of coal, which releases more carbon dioxide when burnt than other fossil fuels.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister’s Office was accused of scrapping regulations governing forest clearances to allow industrial projects were ‘fast-tracked’.

A 2012 letter obtained by the Hindu newspaper revealed requirements for environmental clearance on projects worth up to $82 million should be scrapped, and also said mining projects could be expanded 25% without any public hearing.

Green groups recently expressed outrage when MV Moily, the Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas, was also given the portfolio of Environment & Forests, and tasked with boosting the country’s economy months ahead of this year’s General Election.

Campaigners say arrival has seen a marked increase in the number of authorisations for forest clearances, ignoring biodiversity concerns and the land rights of tribal peoples.

Samit Aich, Greenpeace India’s Executive Director told RTCC there is a clear conflict of interest at the top of India’s government: “Even banana republics don’t have those arrangements,” he said.

Greenpeace recently launched a countrywide campaign against the use of the Mahan forests in  Madhya Pradesh for coal mining, targeting Moily and multinational Essar in protests.

Aich says several species of biodiversity and local elephant and tiger corridors are under threat, but warns that the protests are simply highlighting one of what he believes are many threats to the country’s environment.

“Mahan is an example of the larger malaise in the system,” he said.

**RTCC has contacted India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests for a comment

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