Environment and Climate

India’s Actions Provide More Hope for Copenhagen Climate Talks

By Jacob Scherr

At the United Nations Summit on Climate Change this morning, President Obama spoke about the importance of assisting developing countries on adaptation and technology.  He also reiterated the need for developing countries with rapidly growing emissions to "commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own."  Over the last several days, one of those nations – India – has made a number of dramatic moves in that direction.

India recently announced it would quantify the emissions cuts it will make under its ambitious National Action Plan on Climate Change (see my colleague Anjali Jaiswal’s blog.).  Last Friday, India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh explained in a talk at Columbia University that: "I am telling the world, because climate change is important for me… I am prepared to take on, voluntarily, unilaterally, mitigation actions as part of a domestic legislative agenda."     

Minister Ramesh made another less noticed, but equally important declaration last week.  He made public plans to create a National Environmental Protection Authority, which would be like the U.S. EPA.  The new authority would provide India for the first time the institutional capacity to set and enforce standards and regulations throughout the country.  This is an important component in making sure that the emissions reductions India wants to make are in fact achieved and reported.

We are also encouraged by India’s apparent new optimism about reaching an agreement at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.  Minister Ramesh last night said that, "There are building blocks of an agreement in Copenhagen on which there is already substantial international consensus."   There is growing acceptance of the notion of moving beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to treaty-making to recognize nationally appropriate actions, as evident at last week’s meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.   As special envoy Stern testified recently before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, rather than a narrow focus on caps, commitments to nationally appropriate actions are part of what the US wants from rapidly growing developing countries like India.

There is now greater opportunity then ever for Indo-US cooperation on the climate change.  However, there are still many in India who would prefer the previous, more confrontational finger-pointing approach.  Reflective of this view are recent articles in the Economic Times and Daily India reporting on Ramesh’s Columbia talk.  Both articles chose to portray Ramesh’s remarks as pessimistic when in fact he appeared rather upbeat in his assessment of the potential for collaboration and progress.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama will be together in Pittsburgh this week at the G20 meetings and then in Washington, DC in late November.   Let’s hope that they use these opportunities to agree upon a shared course of action to reach an agreement, as the President said at the UN today, not simply to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but one instead to allow "all nations to grow and raise living standards without endangering the planet."

(The author thanks Michael Thompson for his assistance in preparing this post.)