Shameless India

  • 14/03/2002

THIS fortnight, US president George Bush made it clear that his country would continue to pollute the global atmosphere, as before. No matter what this means for climate change, which scientists now say is getting real and worse. This is not news, because Bush has said again and again that efforts under the Kyoto Protocol to set legally binding emission reduction targets for rich countries like his are "fatally and fundamentally flawed".

But what does make news is that the Indian government has chosen to endorse Bush's disastrous proposal. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) has chosen in its wisdom to issue a statement saying that India "welcomes US President George Bush's policy statement on US government's approach to environmental protection and global climate change". US diplomats are thrilled. They have got support for their president's renegade plan from a key country of the G-77.

We are appalled. The Bush proposal is ridiculous. He says that he rejects the Kyoto Protocol because it will hurt the US economy and "cost us jobs". He says he is charged with "safeguarding the welfare of American people and workers" so he cannot commit to an "unsound international treaty that will throw millions out of work". In other words, while he protects his kitty, the rest of us can go to hell.

We know that climate change negotiations are hard economic negotiations and this is why it has taken the world over 10 years to arrive at any action to even begin to cut emissions of the industrialised north. Global warming - the heating of the earth's atmosphere which threatens to destabilise the earth's climate - is primarily caused by the use of fossil fuels, that is burning coal in power stations, using petroleum for running automobiles and doing just about everything that keeps the economy going. This is the reason why George Bush, leader of the world's largest economy, guzzler of fossil fuels and polluter, has always opposed climate negotiations.

Now he says that in his grand design, he will ask his industry to "voluntarily" cut emissions and sets a target for reducing greenhouse gas intensity - making the economy more energy efficient so that as it grows, the intensity of emissions are reduced. What he does not say is that this is business as usual, as in the 1980s, greenhouse gas intensity fell by 21 per cent and in the 1990s by 16 per cent. In other words, the target is totally meaningless as US emissions will continue to grow and grow. In fact, it is estimated that emissions in 2012 will be 30 per cent over the 1990 level. The US had signed the Kyoto Protocol and agreed to cut emissions by 7 per cent over 1990 levels by 2012. In actual fact it will be 37 per cent above the Kyoto target.

But this is not the last of Bush's immorality and India's stupidity. Bush also says that he rejects Kyoto because it is not "global". He says India and China, big polluters in the future, must be included in the agreement, always forgetting that not only has the industrialised north created the global warming problem but that even till date emissions in the US are much higher than India and China. In fact, the climate negotiations have been built on the premise that countries like the US - overusing their share of the atmospheric space - need to reduce emissions to give environmental space for other countries to grow. But then while "sharing" has never been one of Bush's virtues, how does MEA justify its "welcome" of this ludicrous plan.

Straight talking Texan that he is, Bush also reaches out to India and China with a simple bribe: take my approach on greenhouse gas intensity as it recognises your right to development. In other words, let us both pollute. But let us not talk about the earth's capacity to handle these emissions.

The MEA statement has some perfunctory lines about how India's per capita emissions are very low as compared to developed countries and how per capita emission rights need to be the basis of policy. But that is not enough. We have ended up endorsing a renegade plan, where the leader of the "free" world has just declared that his nation will knowingly and wantonly take the road to hell and take us down with him.

We have to remember that we have no choice but to demand an effective climate convention. Emerging science tells us that climatic change will result in greater climatic variation and extreme events like floods, droughts and cyclones and sea level rise, leaving poor people living at the very margins of survival even more vulnerable. Given our poverty, it is in our interest to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

But desperate people are known to do foolish things. After the September 11 attack we need to do everything to prove our loyalty and friendship to the"big idea" to rid the world of terrorism. And as sycophancy is second nature to our politicians and bureaucrats it is not difficult to understand why we decided to issue this statement, even if it means jeopardising the entire climate negotiations. More shame on us.
- Sunita Narain

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