India’s Dubious Role in Copenhagen

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The Government, says the author, needs to replace its self-righteous ‘development’ rhetoric with concrete action on the environment. For a start, it could reconsider the planned mining projects that will damage the environment on a gigantic scale.

His name no longer draws a blank. More than the reams of revolutionary essays he has written since turning rebel, it was Kobad Ghandy’s dramatic arrest in Delhi last September that set people abuzz, people who he would have termed the ‘petty bourgeoisie’. After his arrest, there were debates even among people who normally skip the main newspaper for the glamour supplements. They wondered how a man who studied at the prestigious Doon School along with Sanjay Gandhi and Kamal Nath, and who lived in a sea-facing Mumbai flat, could join the Maoist movement, becoming a dyed-in-the-wool Naxalite. As Home Ministry dossiers will tell you, Ghandy could well be called the foreign minister of the CPI (Maoist). He is a Central Committee member, the highest decision-making body of Maoists. Currently lodged in the high-security ward of Tihar Jail in the Capital, Kobad Ghandy considers the Copenhagen Summit a diabolic failure. Here, in an Open exclusive, he lays out his charges. For a man believed to be suffering from prostate cancer, and who has no access to research material, not even a desk and chair (for which he has applied to the court), barring an odd newspaper, this is a remarkable effort. Kobad Ghandy writes from high-security Ward 8 of Tihar Jail no. 3W

After two years of preparation, a number of high-profile meetings and a mammoth event at Copenhagen, the summit could not even produce a commonly accepted declaration or accord. What was finally manipulated by the US, of which the summit only ‘took note’, was a step back from what had already been achieved under the Kyoto Protocol and Bali Action Plan. After 12 days of meetings, with 110 heads of the state and about 45,000 others, including ministers, top bureaucrats and NGOs, in attendance, the high-profile meeting achieved virtually nothing.

The deal recognises the need to keep warming below 2º Celsius, but does not commit to do so. It kicks back the big decisions on emission cuts and fudges the issue of climate cash. It says developed countries will seek to raise $10 billion a year for developing countries over the next three years and step-wise raise this amount to $100 billion a year by 2020. But it gives no commitments on how and who will raise these funds. It does not commit any nation to emission cuts. There are no overall targets for rich countries, which existed in the Kyoto Protocol.

It was a victory of the powerful energy and car lobbies (the main polluters) over the need for urgent environmental protection of the globe. Greenhouse gases have resulted in global warming, which, if it continues, can have catastrophic implications. There are six greenhouse gases (GHGs), of which two are the main—carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Uncontrolled growth in emission of GHGs, coupled with the destruction of two major carbon sinks—forests and the sea—are resulting in an abnormal rise in temperatures. Year 2010 is forecast to be the hottest on record. Deforestation on a gigantic scale has seriously impacted climate change as leaves absorb CO2 through a process of photosynthesis. Earlier, forests and seas used to absorb half the CO2 produced. It is estimated that deforestation accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s emissions. Also, the oceans are fast losing their ability to absorb carbon. Just between 2000 and 2007, the sea’s ability to absorb CO2 fell from 27 to 24 per cent.

It has scientifically been established that warming above 2º Celsius (from pre-industrial levels) will result in the earth’s natural processes beginning to break down, and the world then would be set to get warmer and warmer. Now, 2º Celsius looks like a small amount, but we must remember we are a mere 6º Celsius away from the last ice age. There are, for example, massive amounts of warming gases stored in the Siberian permafrost; at 2º Celsius, they melt and are released into the atmosphere. The world’s humid rain forests store huge amounts of warming gases in their trees; beyond 2º Celsius, they lose their humidity and begin to burn down, releasing them into the atmosphere.

With global warming, the Arctic and Antarctic have already been melting at an alarming rate, threatening to inundate low-lying islands and coasts. East Antarctica, for instance, has been losing at least 5 billion tonnes of ice every year since 2006. So 2º Celsius is the threshold level and Copenhagen should have sought to limit the rise to 1 or 1.5º Celsius, as suggested by Cuba and a number of other countries. But what needs to be done to keep temperatures this side of 2º Celsius? There is solid scientific evidence to show that we need a cut of 40 per cent in the most polluting country’s emissions by 2020 and 80 per cent by all countries by 2050.

The US has offered a pathetic 4 per cent by 2020, and once you factor in the loopholes demanded, it was actually demanding the right to a significant increase in US emissions. China vetoed the 80 per cent target by 2050 and opposed basic checks. Only some Latin American and African countries came out strongly against the farce enacted at Copenhagen.

In spite of the total failure, Jairam Ramesh, India’s environmental minister, said it was a “good deal and satisfactory solution”. The same was the approach of the EU, US, Australia, China and Britain. But Lumamba Dia-Ping of Sudan, who chaired the G-77 bloc of 130 countries, called the draft deal the worst in the history of climate negotiations. Cuba had earlier stated that the summit was a failure from the start and had urged Latin American leaders to devise their own plan to cope with climate change. The presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela vehemently opposed impositions, blaming climate change squarely on capitalism and demanding billions of dollars in ‘reparations’ from rich countries.

For India, climate change is only part of the environmental devastation taking place. The destruction of forests, fertile land, the drying up of underground water aquifers, pollution of rivers, etcetera, is only the tip of the iceberg. Poisoning of food and water by fertilisers and pesticides and heavy pollution of the very air we breathe, plus the worst levels of hygiene, is resulting in a country of sick people.

All this coupled with the occasional Bhopal gas leak and the fact that India is the world’s largest dumping ground of toxic wastes—a veritable time bomb is ticking, set to explode. Over and above all this, India is the fifth largest emitter of GHGs in the world, spewing 1,370 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year.


From the very first day of the summit, developed countries sought to sabotage it by sneaking in the ‘Danish Text’, purportedly drafted by the US, UK and Denmark (the hosts). The document, which was not a part of the agenda, was leaked to the press (The Guardian). It not only negates the earlier agreements (Kyoto and Bali), but also seeks to hand over effective control of climate change finances to the World Bank, taking it out of the jurisdiction of the United Nations (UN).

The document set unequal limits on carbon emissions for developed countries (2.7 tonnes per person) and developing countries (1.44 tonnes) in 2050. It forced developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures, not part of the original UN agreement. It divided the poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called ‘the most vulnerable’. It also mentions a sum of $10 billion a year over 2012– 15 to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Due to vehement opposition from the developing countries, though this document could not be tabled, it became the de facto framework for negotiations by developed countries, particularly the US. Also, the US aim was to turn the issue of climate change into a commodity, whose permits could be bought and sold in the market. These deals amount to accounting tricks that will give the impression of cuts, without the reality. In fact, a study has shown that most projects that are being funded as ‘cuts’ either don’t exist/don’t work or would have happened anyway.

For example, the nations of the world were allocated permits to release greenhouse gases back in 1990, when the Soviet Union was still a vast industrial power—so it was given a huge allocation. But the following year, it collapsed and its industrial base also disappeared, along with its carbon emissions. So, it was never going to release these gases. But Russia and East European countries have held on to them in all the negotiations. Now, they are selling them to the rich countries who want to purchase ‘cuts’. It is no wonder that Russia, witness to the world’s worst nuclear calamity at Chernobyl, was particularly silent at the summit. It backed developed countries whose emphasis on trade in carbon emissions suited it. Russia has a massive 10 giga tonnes of CO2 to sell. By comparison, if the developed world cuts its emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, that will take only 6 giga tonnes out of the atmosphere. Imagine the level of fraud being perpetrated in the name of climate change.

In essence, Copenhagen has pushed the climate agenda back by putting forward an accord (not agreed upon) that negates even the limited gains that Kyoto and Bali had achieved. Copenhagen thus was a victory for the powerful energy and car/vehicle lobbies that control the likes of US President Obama. It was a great loss to the world.


While the media gave the impression that it was with the developing countries, in actual fact, it was among the select few that were used in pushing forward the Obama agenda and final draft. But this is not surprising if we see the role played by India in the run-up to Copenhagen. Of course, it was in the company of the world’s largest emitter, China, which was also a party to the draft.

It was at the Bangkok meet that it became apparent that India had shifted from its earlier position. At that meeting, the US negotiator said that Indian Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh had taken a broader interpretation (read: in accordance with the US proposal), even against the views of Indian negotiators. Owing to this apparent shift in stance of the Indian Executive, much to the discomfiture of Indian negotiators, India would seem to have lost the trust of the G-77. This was particularly in evidence in Barcelona.

Then came Ramesh’s controversial letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which he openly advocated abandoning the G-77 and aligning with the G-20; and his statement at the pre-CoP ministerial conference in Copenhagen on 16-17 November reflects the Indian Executive’s submissive acceptance of developed countries’ abandoning the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, Singh sent Shyam Saran as his special envoy on climate change—the main architect of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal.

The final outcome at Copenhagen reflected the common understanding of Obama and Manmohan Singh during the latter’s visit to the US on the very eve of the summit. A joint statement released on 25 November talks of transparency of mitigation actions through ‘appropriate process’, a euphemism perhaps for the Australian or US framework. It talks of an ‘agreed outcome’ and not a legally binding outcome at Copenhagen (which is exactly what happened). In fact, the PM had already capitulated to the US by signing extensive climate and energy agreements on the very eve of the Copenhagen Summit. India and the US announced numerous programmes, from the joint deployment of solar electricity to the strengthening of India’s environmental regulatory and monitoring capacity. Most important was the announcement of joint scientific R&D for renewable energy technologies. India’s dubious stand resulted in not only its near isolation from the G-77/China in Barcelona, but also its being kept out of the preparations of the G-77/ China document, ‘Options on Possible Forms of Agreed Outcome’.

So arbitrary had been the functioning of Ramesh that even India’s top negotiators were not informed of the changed stance. In fact, things turned so ugly that two of the major negotiators, Chandrashekhar Dasgupta and Pradipto Ghosh, refused at first to go to Copenhagen. The climax came when the PM, who was not to go to the summit, changed his plans immediately after Obama announced that he would be attending the summit.
It was clear from the start that the Indian Government was not at all keen on the issue. In fact, just prior to the summit, it signed climate agreements with the two countries most aggressively pushing the developed countries’ agenda—the US and Australia. With the US, it was a multi-faceted agreement, as already mentioned. With Australia, it has agreed to joint solar research. No wonder Obama lavished praise on India just prior to his departure from Copenhagen.

India’s role is not surprising, as it has one of the worst records of environmental destruction. India is projected to lose 4.5 per cent of its GDP due to environmental problems. A recent Forbes magazine survey has listed Mumbai and Delhi as the 25 dirtiest cities of the world. Also, as a result of rising (untreated or not recycled) filth, 80 per cent of the urban waste ends up in the country’s rivers. The amount of pollution it creates can just be imagined by the fact that India produces 200,000 tonnes of waste water every day and three billion litres of waste is pumped into India’s rivers every day.

No wonder the Indian delegation was not serious at Copenhagen, more keen on toeing the US line, which is also beneficial to big business and transnational corporations operating here. Any restrictions will affect them primarily as they will have to install expensive equipment to prevent emissions. Particularly, massive mining projects, one of the worst polluters, will be affected. So, India’s continuous refrain that emission restrictions will not be allowed to prevent the country’s development is all about preserving the profits of big business and the unrestrained mining projects which destroy forests, water resources and, in addition, create huge amounts of pollution.

And as for Ramesh’s refrain on having protected India’s sovereignty, hardly was the summit over than senior White House advisor David Axelrod claimed that the US would not only ‘review’ the implementation of the domestic actions by India (and China) in tune with the Copenhagen Accord (India was one of the few countries to have signed it), but also ‘challenge’ them if these goals were not met.


The Copenhagen Accord should have built on the basis already laid in the Kyoto Protocol and Bali Action Plan. It needs to plan restriction of global warming to 1-1.5º Celsius and not the maximum permissible 2º Celsius. There needs to be a concrete and accountable plan to cut emissions in reality and not play fudging games of trading in emissions. Also, clean technologies—like wind and solar—need to be developed. Global spending on clean tech is small, around $2 billion annually. Experts expect it to reach $100 billion, but that still would be barely 2 per cent of global GDP.

Also, if India is to be serious about environmental protection, it should take the following steps on a war footing: systematic afforestation programmes and a total ban on cutting forests (whether for mining or any other purpose); extensive schemes for watershed management to rejuvenate groundwater sources and putting an end to the rampant sinking of borewells; develop proper drainage systems and clean disposal of waste and/or its recycling; implement strict environmental restrictions for industry and mining and stop the pollution of air and water resources; and reduce carbon emissions in a planned way with a focus on developing wind and solar power.

Even a small step in this direction can work miracles. India’s Government needs to replace pompous and self-righteous phrases on ‘development’ with concrete action on environment at the ground level. A start could be a reconsideration of the planned mining projects that are set to destroy the environment on a gigantic scale.