Paris Climate agreement: India should not have conformed, changed its stance

India signed the Paris Climate treaty last Sunday, on Gandhi Jayanti. Did India do it on its own volition? Was it in national interest to ratify this agreement? If that was so, why was India dragging its feet, all this while earning the opprobrium of the United States of America? Was India browbeaten into signing the accord by President Barack Obama, who wants to go down in history as the architect of the Paris Climate treaty?

Consider the following facts.

The Paris agreement came about last year under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). To be effective, this agreement required the ratification of at least 55 states, representing 55 percent of global emissions. The United States and China, the two biggest polluters, ratified the Paris Treaty during the G-20 summit last month (in early September) and exhorted other nations to follow suit without further delay.

But India had refused to be coerced to accept a deadline. The Prime Minister’s sherpa for G-20, Dr Arvind Panagariya, was categorical that India needed a flexible time scale for the ratification of the Paris deal. "We are not quite ready yet in terms of domestic actions that are required to ratify or at least commit to ratify within 2016," he had said last month.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses a high-level event on the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change during the 71st session of the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses a high-level event on the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change. AP

It is an open secret that India has made it clear to the United States and other Western nations that it would be able to meet its emission reduction targets only if it expands its capacity to produce nuclear energy and that would be difficult to achieve without the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had made it clear in a statement on 19 June this year.

Though the US has formally endorsed India’s claim for NSG membership, China has persistently opposed it. India wanted the US to leverage its influence on China to help India succeed in its mission. India was delaying the ratification of the Paris treaty as a bargaining chip. It was not surprising that once the NSG bid failed, on 24 June, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a formal statement: "An early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement."

As a matter of fact, the India-US joint statement on climate change issued during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit in June this year did not include any commitment to ratify the Paris agreement, latest by the end of 2016. The US insisted on this deadline, but India raised issues of domestic compulsion and deferred the matter.

As late as the first week of September, India had refused to accept the December 2016 deadline, but hardly three weeks later, the Prime Minister announced the decision to ratify the treaty and to submit the documents to the United Nations on 2 October, in just about a week’s time.

What transpired in these three weeks to warrant this change of stance, if not exactly a u-turn, in approving the climate change treaty?

Was it because of the personal intervention of the US president, who considers Paris agreement his legacy and wanted his 'friend' Narendra Modi to support him to make the treaty a reality before he virtually bows out of office in November? And, was it that the Indian prime minister obliged "my friend Barack", and ratified the treaty even if he had to go against the grain?

We need to pause and consider: Doesn’t the Paris agreement serve the greater interest of the United States than India? Isn’t it that the Paris deal sounded a death knell to India’s war-cry on climate justice? India had insisted in the past that developed countries must share the larger burden to reduce emissions and developing countries must be allowed greater leeway in emissions to fulfill their historical requirement of developmental needs.

The Paris deal, however, did not set any target for the rich nations to aggressively reduce their emissions. It took pride in the fact that it did not discriminate between the nations; that it sought to universalise the effort to reduce emissions. But then this universalisation is in fact inequitous; it negates the fundamental basis of the climate justice campaign — that those who have polluted the environment the most in the past must take the sharpest cut in the emissions now.

Another concomitant of the equity argument that India had espoused for decades was that the rich developed nations must compensate the poor backward countries generously with technological and financial support. The Paris agreement does not even specify what kind of technology support the developed countries would provide to the less developed ones for the latter to embark on a low-carbon growth. There are vague assurances of financial support by the rich to the poor countries, but those remain as mere assurances; they do not translate into concrete, time-bound action plans.

The Paris agreement was masterminded by the rich polluting countries; it contained all provisions to protect the economic interests of these countries. The poor countries were given a raw deal. Still India, which had consistently been the spokesperson for the developing economies for decades, chose to give up its 'spoiler' tag and become a conformist.

Barack Obama cast a spell and Narendra Modi fell for it. India was the clear loser. So also are the developing nations who have been following India’s lead for decades.

Updated Date: Oct 06, 2016 11:01 AM

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