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India in International Climate Negotiations

Centre for Education and Documentation

08 / 2010

27 percent of the 1.16 billion population of India lives below the poverty line, about 41.6% on under 1.25$ a day (Asian Development Bank, 2009). Yet India has the eleventh largest economy (World Bank, 2010) and she is slated to be the fifth largest emitter of CO2 given its 8 to 9 percent growth forecast.

Thus India is in this peculiar bind where the mainstream economy feels that it is its chance to catch up with the industrial hounds, and run alongside the hares of developing countries, with the help of technology and finance to kick-start its drive towards a sustainable future. It is in this context that India has been a key and keen player in international climate negotiations on environmental and developmental issues.

Negotiating “Our Common Future”

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, culminated in the setting up of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), and the publication of Our Common Future. This document known as the Bruntland Report set out the definition of sustainable development, as « Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,”

Later in 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), otherwise known as the « Rio Earth Summit, » over 170 countries adopted Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development – aimed at conserving, and protecting the Earth’s ecosystem.

Most countries also joined the international treaty – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – to begin to consider what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. The Convention came into force on 21 March 1994.

India negotiates its position

Traditionally, India has been one of the key leaders of G77 a group representing the poorest countries. Today it finds itself with an elite band of so called emerging countries, jostling for its own interest, which has alienated it from many poor countries, particularly AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States).

India played a key role for the G77 in its ongoing tussle between the rich countries – Annexe –I countries. At the First Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC (COP1) at Berlin, thanks to concerted efforts by India, the concept of equity was attached to the notion of sustainability. India, with firm support from Anil Agarwal of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and a network of NGOs through out the world, backed the concept of per capita emissions to ground the equity principle in international negotiations.

The NGO campaign highlighted the fact that countries of the G77 had low per capita emissions ranging from <1 tce to barely 2 tce (tce = tons of carbon equivalent) at that time, compared to 6 tce to 20 tce by the developing countries. Armed with this, the group led by India and China refused to accept binding cuts and limits on their emissions, until the Annex1 countries, took firm verifiable action to reduce their emissions. The Berlin Mandate firmly put the responsibility for mitigation on the rich countries.

The other challenge was the cutoff year against which to measure the percentage of reduction of emission levels for mitigation. By shifting the base year, Annexe I countries have sought to deny their responsibility for the emissions of their years of growth, which made them so rich in the first place.

Despite this conflict between the developed and developing countries, the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” was accepted which led to the negotiating of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Kyoto was seen by India and developing countries as the first step toward mandated GHG reductions

The Kyoto Protocol

This protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which came into force on 16 February 2005, is a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries in Annex 1 of the Protocol were to reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to the year 1990. The reduction was calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008-12, which was called the First Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol.

From Bali to Copenhagen

The Kyoto protocol was expected to be the foundation on which the system for future mandates of emissions reduction would be evolved. Thus International negotiations were initiated in May 2007 itself to put into place a successor treaty.

By this time the IPCC had come out with its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Among other things, the report suggested a time frame for mitigation for various levels of GHG reduction targets. Based on this the G77 consensus was that Annexe 1 countries would have to reduce GHG emissions ranging from 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, in order to have a reasonable chance to keep warming to 2°C over pre-industrial levels. This was coupled with an overall assessment that world emissions peak by 2015, and GHG emisisons should reduce to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050, with those of developed countries needing to be 80% or more below their 1990 levels.

In the face of renewed tussles between the developed and developing nations, Negotiators evolved a two-track process at Bali (COP 13):

a) The Convention (UNFCCC) Track, which would focus on four building blocks: adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer & deployment, and financing, and

b) The Kyoto Protocol Track, which would deal with the agreed emission reduction targets for 2009, and the means including market mechanisms, to achieve these targets.

This was a compromise between irreconcilable positions, which negotiators hoped would enable some progress on some fronts: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD); mitigation action from developing countries; and mitigation commitments from developed countries.

However on the main commitments, there was not much headway in COP 13, 14 and 15, the last being held at Copenhagen. India was unyielding on the issue of equity and sustainability. On the other hand India, together with China, and some other countries were increasingly being dubbed as the emerging economies, whose future emission levels are expected to grow so high at least in absolute terms that it would frustrate the overall emissions scenario.

India’s total emissions by 2005 took it to 5th highest in the world, (and China to 2nd highest). The emerging countries argument is that the per capita emissions remained low – 1.2 tce, for India and around 4 tce for China. The chart also showed that developed countries continued to dominate aggregate and per capita emissions levels.

But the international media offensive painted these countries as the dangerous emitters, likely to become even more dangerous in the future. In some ways, the international media played up to India’s desire to sup at the table of the Rich Countries.

After the nondescript COP14 at Poznan, the four large developing countries (known as the BASIC countries, among them India), came together to fine-tune their positions and negotiating tactics collectively. This was in the face of Northern NGOs putting pressure on these nations, especially India, to ‘build trust’ with Northern NGOs. Meanwhile, the Small Island States, grouped under the banner (OASIS) were beginning to feel restive – and with reason. Sea-level rise was already playing havoc in their countries. Given their small populations, they could not muster the attentions that the giants – China and India, were obtaining – even though much of it was unwelcome attention.

The Least Developed nations (Laces), many of them in Africa, also felt that their interests were not specifically reflected in the watering down of the equity and sustainability principles, first in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, and then in the run-up to the post-Kyoto Architecture.

The Copenhagen Accord

Finally December 2009, a cold Copenhagen saw the Kyoto track reach a dead end as the biggest emitter, the US had to be brought on board, and they were unwilling, along with other major developed countries to take the deep cuts needed.

On the other track there was the carrot of $100 billion by 2020. But this contribution from the Annexe 1 countries was made contingent on the emerging countries like India also taking mandatory cuts. The Small Island States in the G77 made to feel that the tough stand by India, China and other countries that only Annexe 1 countries should take the mandatory cuts in the next commitment period, was responsible for delay in finding solutions.

At this juncture, President Obama put this back door proposal before the BRIC countries.

• Industrialised countries to put on the table what emission reduction target they are willing or ‘able’ to do.

• Developing countries to list their specific mitigation action and submit this to verification.

India and the other BASIC nations went along with it. The result was the Copenhagen Accord which is not clear over its nature as it was not “adopted by consensus,” due to strong objections by some countries.

The fact that there was no deadline for global emissions to peak disappointed scientists, activists and vulnerable countries. This suited India, which was happy about the focus on equity. India on its part relaxed it position on international monitoring and verification of domestic mitigation actions.

Given the new regime of countries making unilateral commitments, India and China chose to be counted by saying that their reduction would be relative to the per unit of GDP, thus refusing an absolute reduction of emissions. By end March 2010, more than 110 nations, including India, China and the US, submitted their commitments and agreed to be listed in the preamble to the Copenhagen Accord.

The current impasse

The BRIC countries, especially India, were under great pressure – from both the developing and the developed countries to take contrary stances in the international negotiations. Back home, India has since back-tracked, saying that the Copenhagen is not a commitment but a political statement.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is on record stating:

• The vast majority of countries do not support any renegotiation or dilution of UNFCCC and that

• The Kyoto Protocol should remain a valid legal instrument, and that

• Any agreement on climate change should respect the need for development and growth in developing countries.

Notwithstanding these statements, India is seen to be waffling on the issue of the prime responsibility of Annexe 1 countries. Thus the leadership of India on Climate Change in the G77 has come into question. Even within India, there were / are misgivings that India is going easy on the Annexe 1 countries on being coerced, prodded or seduced by the US. The Small Island States, led by the charismatic Seychelles leader, and African nations, led by Sudan, and the Latin Americans led by Bolivia, are increasingly being seen as the leaders having the interests of the G77 in mind.


changement climatique, négociation internationale, gouvernance

, Inde


L’Inde et le changement climatique


This article is also available in French: L’Inde dans les négociations internationales sur le climat

Further readings:


Texte original

CED (Centre for Education and Documentation) - CED Mumbai: 3 Suleman Chambers, 4 Battery Street, Behind Regal Cinema, Mumbai - 400 001, INDIA - Phone: (022) 22020019 CED Bangalore: No. 7, 8th Main , 3rd phase, Domlur 2nd Stage, Bangalore - 560071, INDIA - Phone: (080) 25353397 - Inde - -,

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