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Climate Change and India’s Position

P. K. Gautam was a Consultant at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • December 05, 2007

    For the last one year regular installments of reports and analyses have appeared in the media on the challenges countries would face as a result of climate change and its mitigation and adaptation has been on the top of the agenda. The most recent one is the release of the Human Development Report 2007/2008, Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world or HDR. In carbon dioxide terms, the HDR shows that with 2004 as base year, the per capita carbon dioxide emission of India is 1.2 ton and its global share is 4.6 per cent, whereas that of the US is 20.9 ton and 20.6 per cent and China 3.8 ton and 17.3 per cent. A few years ago, sceptics of the human-induced climate change were in large strength. But now barring a few, like the President of the Czech Republic who denied the phenomenon due to human interference in a BBC Hard Talk programme, there is a general agreement on the seriousness of the issue. Temperatures have already registered a 0.7 degree C increase since the age of industrialization. With business-as-usual, the threshold of crossing 2 degree C must be prevented or else there will be dangerous climate change within a decade.

    The HDR released a week prior to UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference at Nusa Dua, Bali of the Thirteenth Session of Conference Parties (COP13) and Third Session of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 3) from 3 to 14 December 2007 is indeed significance (it needs to be noted that the USA is now the only non- signatory to the Kyoto Protocol). The most important issue at the Bali conference will be the post-Kyoto Protocol regime when it comes to an end in 2012. By bringing out an issue of the HDR devoted to fighting climate change the agenda has been firmly placed on the international table.

    According to the an high ranking official of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the developing projects India has undertaken to reduce impacts of climate change is already cutting into its gross domestic product(GDP). In 2006-07 India used 2.17 per cent of its GDP on projects to reduce vulnerability to climate change. This evidence does not support the Stern Report which states that taking action to reduce climate change would not hurt growing economies. The extreme vulnerability of India to impacts are well known. Economic losses due to natural disasters have eroded 2 per cent of country’s GDP during 1996-2001 and consumed 12 per cent of government revenue. With climate induced floods, droughts and sea storms predicted at regular intervals the impact will be far serious. Studies by Indian economists have concluded that emission reduction imposes costs in terms of lower GDP and higher poverty. If India is to reduce emissions, it should be compensated for the loss.

    It is, therefore, on this account that the HDR was described as fundamentally misconceived and not based on “equity” by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. The stipulation of the report – of developed countries reducing emission by 80 per cent and developing countries by 20 per cent by 2050 – looked egalitarian but, in fact it was nowhere near it.

    Besides the above, each year since 2002 ( just before the World Summit on Sustainable Development) the print media invariably displays a front page a photograph (mostly from NASA) indicating a brown cloud over India/Asia (earlier referred to as the Asian Brown Cloud but now renamed as the Atmospheric Brown Cloud) due to a faulty and unregulated biomass burning and soot as aerosols. The report argued that the brown haze is a glaring testimony to the perils of global warming and its negative impact on even the retreat of Himalayan glaciers. It is evident that the ABC has been consistently propagated by the developed countries to shift the blame on global warming to the developing countries.

    India is fast adapting to climate change even though the road is arduous and cooperation minimum from the developed world. Cereal output has dropped and some small islands in the Sundarbans are under water. As sea-level rises, Bangladeshis have nowhere else to go but India. Extreme weather events and changing monsoon patterns already have threatened our farmers. Suicides are the norm. In such conditions it is difficult for any leader to plan for mitigation. The industrialized countries have a moral obligation to take the leadership role and work in tandem with the developing countries. After all this is the only world we have.