We’ve heard a lot in recent months about India’s international positioning on climate change, but what is opinion like at home? Is everyone in agreement with the formal government position? And what is the key to stronger Indian engagement with the international climate regime? A working paper [PDF] on this subject was recently released by Navroz Dubash, a Senior Fellow at India’s Centre for Policy Research. It looks not only at the state of opinion within India’s government, corporations and civil society on how India should respond to the climate challenge, but also proffers that what is most needed in advance of the negotiations in Copenhagen is to build trust.

Dubash suggests that there is broad domestic agreement in India on three key points. Firstly, that India is being unfairly labelled a major emitter by the international community, secondly, that India has an ongoing and considerable development challenge, and thirdly, that India is moving in the right direction climate change mitigation is concerned. ”Climate diplomats from other countries would do well to recognize this reality,” says Dubash.

However, he also argues that opinion is far more divided at home around how India should respond to the climate challenge, with three major streams of opinion characterizing the debate. He describes as Growth First Stonewallers those who, frequently sceptical of the science, believe that pressures to respond to climate change are primarily a strategy employed by industrialized nations to keep emerging economies such as India and China at bay. As such, these pressures are a threat to Indian interests. Stonewallers, according to Dubash, see addressing climate change as less important than India’s economic development.

The second are Progressive Realists. These Realists recognise that climate change poses a significant threat to India, but are deeply skeptical of the international process as a fair or effective way to address the climate problem. Seeing pressure on developing countries primarily as an attempt by industrialized countries to shift the burden of action away from their shores, they are resigned to focus on domestic climate change action through clean development efforts resulting in climate ”co-benefits,” while at the same time avoiding the ”obligations and constraints of an international regime.” Dubash describes this as India’s increasingly predominant position, with a shift from its former Stonewaller center of gravity.

Finally, Dubash highlights a ”small but increasingly vocal group” of Progressive Internationalists. Although in agreement with India’s Realists that the rich world is using India as an excuse for inaction and that equity must be paramount within any global climate change agreement, these Internationalists are of the opinion that India should work with, not separately from the global policy regime, aligning its efforts at home to facilitate and condition a stronger global deal. They argue, that a weak global climate deal resulting in weak action on climate change will result in greater inequities for the poor in the future, who will be the first to suffer the impacts of climate change and who are primarily located in developing countries. These Internationalists, describes Dubash, are in the distinct minority and perceived by most in India as naïve. Fears abound that a more concerted engagement from India with the international regime will result in greater constraints on India but little change in global dynamics and commitments.

Recent political developments in Bangkok have done little to allay these fears, with reports of a new proposal from some industrialised nations to scrap the Kyoto Protocol. Dubash argues that a split between India’s progressive thinkers driven by different opinions on the international climate regime is weakening India’s ability to respond to climate change. To bring these groups together, a far more progressive approach to the international negotiations will be required from all countries with trust building and signals of good faith an essential factor. ”A renewed Indian climate politics…will require far stronger signals of good faith from the international community, and industrialized countries in particular,” says Dubash in his paper, going on to elaborate what this would imply.

For a full recount of this insightful overview, please see the full paper.

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