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The Tipping Point for India to lead?

During last week's climate discussions, the Indian Govt offered non-binding annual reporting into India’s emission reduction initiatives and progress.

The announcement is a politically significant move demonstrating India’s flexibility and commitment to the overall global goal of containing climate change. It is clearly aimed to present an altered view on India’s image as the nation creating the deadlock on the climate change talks and to put the onus on the developed world to commit to deeper emissions cuts.

In recent times, India has already announced a number of green goals: increasing the renewable share of energy output (excluding hydro power) to 20% by 2020 including a lofty goal of 20,000 MW through Solar means, ensuring 15% of annual greenhouse gas emissions are "sequestered by forests" before 2030, mandatory fuel efficiency norms by 2011, reduced emissions from agriculture and all public buildings to be “Energy Conservation Building Code” compliant by 2012.

At the same time, India has reiterated its reliance on Coal to power India’s growth programs, albeit leveraging clean coal technologies. Self-characterized as a ‘Coal Realist’, India’s Environment and Forest Minister Ramesh has often stressed that given India’s coal reserves (it has world’s largest reserves) it is natural that coal will continue to be the base of India’s energy economy.

While broadly reiterating India’s broader stance that emissions needed to grow in order to advance development programs for its 400 million poor people, Jairam Ramesh proposal entails the publication of a "national communication" to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, to track India’s "domestic targets" on curbing emissions growth without being legally enforceable under any new treaty. India’s formal stance continues to be that it will stick to its long-standing commitment to keep per capita emissions below those of developed nations but and would not agree to any internationally binding cuts.

The Indian offer and recent policy drive seems to be reflective of the pragmatism required to soften the US stance as also to pressurize he developed nations in general, and Obama Administration in particular, to deliver on its own climate change pledges.

It also signifies New Delhi’s willingness to adopt a leadership role in fostering discussion on the need for a change in the value system and lifestyle in the west and to present India as part of the solution and not the problem.

It also seems to set a stage for formalizing the framework in areas where broad consensus seems relatively close such as financial compensation for afforestation initiatives, extension of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and an international agreement on green technology transfer from developed to developing countries. Whether this is achieved or not at the Bangkok summit in the first week of October and Barcelona in first week of November will determine the agenda and the likely outcome of the COP summit at Copenhagen in December.

Author: Upendra Bhatt