INFOCUS | INDIA-CHINA | INTERVIEW
We are all equally vulnerable
RR Rashmi is the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India and works on issues of climate change. Rashmi belongs to the 1983 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). He has been dealing with Climate Change matters as Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India for the last eight months. He has participated in several important bilateral and multilateral negotiations on behalf of India. In his career spanning more than 25 years, he has acted as trade negotiator on behalf of India. Here he speaks with Shawahiq Siddiqui on a range of issues on climate change and India’s position in the global arena.
ICC: There have been many versions about the role that India played at Durban. What actually transpired? Rashmi: Before Durban, with my little understanding, India had lots of hope to stir the process itself on behalf of developing countries. In Durban the major role was to save the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, it was the Environment Minister from India who played a pivotal role in foraging a consensus. The talks would have completely collapsed without her. We were heading nowhere and EU was not willing to move further on the Kyoto Protocol unless they were assured of some road maps beyond 2020. So, we finally broke the impasse with an understanding that there will no be agreement on the legal forms of the final outcome, whether it is binding or non-binding, legal or in some other form, that issue will be revisited as we proceed along with the negotiations. That was the fundamental issue in Durban. Did India play a leadership role for developing countries? We have been able to safeguard the fundamental interest of developing countries by ensuring that there is no commitment to reduce the emissions till 2020. And also, beyond 2020 we have ensured that the new arrangements that are going to evolve will be under the Convention (UNFCCC). Now if one is familiar with the convention, the fundamental issue is that the countries must take action according to their responsibility. There is a principle of common but differentiated responsibility and the principal of equity. So, the arrangements that evolve post 2020 period will have to be constructed according to these principles. In a way these two are the major gains of the Durban conference. From our perspective, we have been able to bring the Kyoto Protocol back on track and established the second commitment period without any legal obligation for any developing countries. One way to look at it could be that the commitment to emission reduction that was to come within the period of 2020
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has been stretched beyond. Did we delay the ﬁnal outcome by postponing it to 2020? It is a mistake to presume that climate change takes place because of current emissions. Climate change does not take place or has taken place because of the emissions that took place in the last 10 years, or will take place in the next 50 years. Climate change is entirely an environment phenomenon which is attributed in totality to the emissions by the developed countries in the past 150 years. In short the point is we are not saying that we should be shy of our ambitious actions, rather we
THE PAST CANNOT BE IGNORED; THE DEVELOPED COUNTRIES WHICH HAVE THE RESOURCE MUST BE WILLING TO INVEST IN A RATIONAL WAY AND SHOULD IMPLEMENT WHAT THEY HAVE COMMITTED (TO REDUCE THEIR EMISSIONS) AND THIS IS THE REAL CHALLENGE
should contribute to expect the best possible results. All countries must contribute in a reasonable way to the principal of common but differentiated responsibilities. But the past cannot be ignored; the developed countries which have the resource must be willing to invest in a rational way and should implement what they have committed (to reduce their emissions) and this is the real challenge. The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol which mandates one to reduce the emissions, and except a few countries, no other countries have actually reduced its emission which is a complete travesty of the Kyoto Protocol. Countries with emerging economies like India, China, South Africa, Brazil, are part of it and that is what matters and they are doing everything which is possible within their given limited resource. Domestically we have taken a number of actions; we have our National Action Plan on Climate Change. Along with that, we are doing so many things in different sectors and are an example for others. In fact, there are several international studies that have highlighted the Indian policy efforts on climate change and have concluded that our national voluntary action and its impact are more significant than April 2012 India-China Chronicle |7|
INFOCUS | INDIA-CHINA | INTERVIEW
the developed countries. But this does not mean that we should take a legally binding commitment even before 2020 or before the developed countries have made their commitments as we are the ones who are affected most by climate change and our interest should be seen by the global communities before anyone else. The Least Developed Countries (LDC) and island nations feel that India is not in a position to lead them due to its alliance with the BASIC countries. Do you think India is going to be looked upon as a leader for other countries? I think this classification of countries is not motivated by very noble reasons. The present negotiations are more on political and economical issues rather than being environmental in nature. And every attempt is being made to divide countries, particularly those who are in the developing world. We are all equally vulnerable. For instance if the small island developing countries are going to go under water in 20-50 years, so are a large number of coastal communities in India. This makes us all the more conscious of our responsibility. And instead of quarreling among ourselves we should remain united and put pressure on the developed countries to meet their commitments. On the other hand, the developed countries are trying to create a notion that the final agreement is legally binding in nature. So, the solution for this lies in actions taken by the developed countries to meet their responsibility and thereby allowing the developing countries to take action within the reach of their resources. No developing country is running away from its responsibility. The problem is that of lack of confidence which has been created because of most of the obligations under the convention have not been fulfilled. And the basic reason for non fulfillment of goals is lack of funds and technology. Even in terms of |8| India-China Chronicle April 2012
coal, the most dominant source of energy today, the clean coal technology and the coal gassification technology are not available commercially. And the super critical technology and the ultra super critical technology require large investments for implementation and there is no global mechanism for their funding and implementation. When it comes to India, we are certainly not demanding money, but ample resources and technologies to use efficiently. In Durban it was hoped that India would be closer to the EU stand but ultimately the EU and the US came together, and India was standing alone in terms of the statement. Is this in the right spirit?
I don’t think it happens by design; it so happens that the fundamental interest of USA and EU are same -They are both a part of the developed world, both of them would not like to meet the obligation, both of them would not like to discharge their historical responsibility. But EU has been traditionally more environment conscious, since they are the one who actually piloted the initial discussions (on climate change). But as far as the Durban outcomes are concerned, I would say that India was against the EU and in fact it was the only country which was against the EU for a legally binding agreement. And finally it was a mutual dialogue between India and EU which resolved the issue, so I would certainly not agree with the view that we were together with the EU. The EU was trying to force a deci-
sion on something which was not required in Durban. What they should have done is that, they should have agreed to the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol as required under the obligations of the convention. Does the Kyoto Protocol stop here and make way for a new regime that the world would want to come up with? No, the Kyoto Protocol does not stop here because the second commitment period decision has been taken. So till 2017 or 2020 depending on the final negotiation, the Kyoto Protocol will continue to exist. In case we come up with this soft agreement, are we in a position to commit to bring down our emission? The requirements of compliance don’t state that we should bring down our emissions. India has made it very clear that we would not bring down our own emissions in the near future because it is our development requirement and our emissions are bound to rise. But we will be able to bring down the emission intensity of our GDP and that is not only required for the purpose of addressing climate change and but also for the energy security of our country, as our energy resources are limited and they are required to be used in an efficient way. And to add to that, we have certainly made progress in a direction where we use less energy for producing the same amount of goods by mainly improving our technology but we cannot say that we will use absolutely less energy than required as it is simply not possible given that we are a huge population with huge energy needs. We also face a lot of challenges mainly due to our growth; 50% of our population still does not have commercial electricity. And a government would not like its people to live in poverty and without basic needs when the developed part of the world is fulfilling its needs at the cost of natural resources
(consuming more than 20 tonnes/year of carbon). Therefore an inequality issue like this has to be addressed. Do you think that the coordination and reporting machinery among the various ministries and the Ministry of Environment and Forest are lacking in any way? It is not fully correct that there is no coordination, there is a coordination mechanism functioning in this ministry and we have a dedicated coordination committee in the ministry (MOEF). Several inter ministry meeting of all the ministries in-charge of the different environmental missions and action plans of the government are conducted by the committee. Here the progress (of various ministries) is seen and the possible outcomes are then determined and the future actions are coordinated accordingly. Let me put it in perspective, there are two aspects where one might feel that the coordination mechanism needs to be further strengthened; legal and developmental. For instance, in our country climate change is seen by us (MOEF) as a nodal ministry but it is not only an environment issue, but also a social and developmental issue. And development and social aspects of the issue are not handled by Ministry of Environment and Forest, but by the respective ministries. And we should not go over their role in these matters
THE PRESENT NEGOTIATIONS ARE MORE ON POLITICAL AND ECONOMICAL ISSUES RATHER THAN BEING ENVIRONMENTAL IN NATURE. AND EVERY ATTEMPT IS BEING MADE TO DIVIDE COUNTRIES, PARTICULARLY THOSE WHO ARE IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD. WE ARE ALL EQUALLY VULNERABLE as there exist no environment law that says it is our job to lay down the targets for each ministry. Do we have a mechanism where we create a different institution in a ministry and put forward various questions and challenges to another ministry? Even in Parliament it happens that one ministry answers on behalf of the entire government. So it’s not one ministry’s responsibility, it’s the Central government’s. If there are bottlenecks those have to be resolved. It is an administrative issue.
India and China are bilaterally related countries on climate change and environment. Is there a possibility of an exchange of idea especially in the technology sector? We have a MoU with China on climate change, under which we have had two workshops. First, it was exchange of ideas on the national action plan and the second, was an exchange on water and mountain ecosystems (Himalayas Ecosystem Mission). And we are planning to hold a third one in the near future. Is there anything else that we can gain from China? We can learn from China in terms of market mechanism; as to what kind of strategy China is employing to decrease its Carbon-dioxide intensity. Which maybe in terms of law on carbon or any other strategy; such an exchange of idea would be beneficial to both countries. We have a huge amount trade from China, is it environmentally safe? As we have to deal with the disposal issues of the goods that are imported and that impinges a cost on us. We would not like to bring in the linkage between environmental challenges and trade either in context of China or any other country as it is in the interest of environment as well as trade. April 2012 India-China Chronicle |9|