India is Vulnerable and Acting to Address Climate Change

“India is vulnerable,” said Jairem Ramesh, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests at a breakfast meeting in Washington, DC last week. “We are responding to climate change because it is in our own self-interest.” While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sheds members over its reactionary position on climate change, the US-India Business Council (USIBC), headquartered at the Chambers offices in DC, invited Minister Ramesh and Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar to talk about the challenges and investment opportunities in addressing climate change in the world’s second most populous country.

India’s primary challenge is development, said Ambassador Shankar. The question is how to develop sustainably, to avoid accumulating problems for future generations. India’s National Climate Change Action Plan, released last year, calls for 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. Currently there is very little, which makes it an area ripe for investment. “We need technology transfer and collaboration similar to the IT revolution,” said Shankar, “in the areas of efficiency and environment.”

Minister Ramesh opened his remarks by noting the impacts that India is already experiencing including retreat of the Himalayan glaciers and the worst monsoon in 37 years. (A Purdue study released earlier this year predicts that global warming could lead to less rain and a delay in the start of South Asian monsoon season by up to 15 days by the end of the 21st century.)

Credit: Purdue
Credit: Purdue

Prime Minister Singh has given him a clear message, Ramesh said. “More than most countries, India must take a leading role. India has not caused the problem but it must be part of the solution.” He drew a distinction between between the developed (Annex I) countries and the developing world. Developed countries must take on international legally-binding commitments to reduce emissions. Developing nations can and should take on nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) in addition to adaptation measures.

India, he says, has responsibility to reduce emissions while developing; not necessarily to reduce emissions overall but to reduce growth of emissions. He noted, however, that emissions are an issue of consumption, not population as commonly believed.  As an example he cited China, which experienced negative population growth from 1985 to 2005 but saw its emissions rise by 43% over that same period.

Ramesh reported the “Singh Per Capita Principle,” as formulated by the country’s Prime Minister: India is willing to commit to keeping its per capita carbon emissinos lower than the west.  Currently, Indian emits 1.1-1.3 tons CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) per person. That is expected to grow to 2.5 tons CO2eq by 2020 and 3.0 by 2030. Even then, he said, India would still be 50th or 60th among nations.

On COP15, the climate change negotiations that will take place in Copenhagen in December, Ramesh said that India should not be painted as a “deal-buster” in Copenhagen. Instead, Copenhagen should be sen as the fist in a series of discussions. “Think of it as Copenhagen 1.0. We will not get the mega-treaty that everyone wants. Rather we should go for the low-hanging fruit.”

When asked about the significance of black carbon (BC) and possible measures to address it (by yours truly), Ramesh pointed out that he was involved in efforts to replace polluting cookstoves in the 1980’s “We learned the limits of central intervention,” he recalled. Black carbon is important in terms of ecology and public health, he added, but he would not like the climate negotiations to be “hijacked” by BC. The international agreement focus on the six greenhouse gases. “BC should not be included internationally.”

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[Note: Next week Brave Blue Words will be updated with a brand-new climate related blog on Thursday, October 15th – instead of Tuesday – as part of Blog Action Day. Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. The aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion. Check it out at: http://www.blogactionday.org].

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