[Guest Post] (Op-Ed): India announces “safe” climate change action plan, misses a chance for international leadership

Editor’s Note: Guest Blogger Jordan Bower is an intern at Indicorps, where he is promoting growth of Ultimate Frisbee in Ahmedabad as a means of inspiring leadership and community integration among local youth.

The defining struggle with climate change is that we can’t have our cake and eat it too.

The economic development boom currently occurring in India is directly related to the increased production of carbon emissions believed to contribute to climate change. Policy makers are faced with an uncomfortable choice between capping growth outright or encouraging “responsible” development without restrictive limits. Yesterday, in announcing a draft of its national action plan on climate change, India’s government sided with the latter option.

From the Indian Express:

India has decided to stick to the safe path on dealing with climate change. In the much-awaited draft of its national action plan, there is no word on carbon cuts or caps on industry. Instead, it is “avoidance of emissions.” In the penultimate draft, there were caps specified for various sectors, including industry, which have been dropped — for now. The catchword for the action plan is “saving” or “efficiency” rather than capping.

There is irony in the choice of the word “safe” to describe India’s decision. Recent controversy in the scientific consensus has centered on whether accepted forecasts are too conservative; a stunning October 2007 report by an American scientist claimed that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free during the summer of 2013, challenging the analysis of other teams that had ranged from 2040 to 2100. This research implies that the effects of climate change might be felt far sooner than previously expected. In the face of this type of evidence, the “safe” choice is likely to turn out to be anything but.

By encouraging “avoidance of emissions” over cuts or caps, India is sending strong signals to both the domestic and international community regarding its opinion of the acuity of the climate change problem. According to the Times of India, this choice was consistent with India’s position at the Dec 2007 UN conference on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, where India, as a influential leader in the G-77 grouping of developing countries, asserted the need for the developed countries to institute carbon capping before that strategy is employed in the developing world. India has pointed out that the emission of carbon provided a foundation of post-Industrial Revolution growth for the developed world, and that imposing limits on the developing world without a reciprocal agreement in the developed world would be ‘discriminatory’.

India is right, of course, in its analysis of the contribution of fossil fuels and their associated carbon emissions to Western development. But it may be waiting for a change that will never happen. As far back as the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the developed countries has demonstrated their own apathy to imposing and enforcing binding restrictions on emissions; it took a stroke-of-midnight change of heart for the US to acquiesce to the Bali agreement that had already been riddled with compromise. In this defining and global issue, leadership need not come from the West.

At the Bali conference, a representative from Papua New Guinea – an island country with a population about the size of Ahmedabad – memorably addressed the American delegation, saying “if you’re not willing to lead, get out of the way.” No nation has stepped to the front of the debate on climate change with the willingness to look itself in the mirror and make hard changes. India, the world’s second largest country by population, is also the world’s fourth largest emitter of carbon. By maintaining status quo and taking the “safe” path, India missed its chance to demonstrate her capacity for visionary leadership.

5 Responses

  1. […] the Indian government has taken with regard to its own plan (see Tidbits below, also check out this guestpost) will actually result in greater costs and growth impairment than a cohesive and cooperative […]

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