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.

China & India, Climate Change, climate justice, Copenhagen, developing countries, development, emissions reductions, equity, India, inequality, Kyoto Protocol, negotiations, per capita emissions

Countries like Brazil, Ecuador and Papua New Guinea are asking for financial compensation to address deforestation, and now Saudi Arabia wants compensation if countries reduce their oil consumption to mitigate climate change. Is it entirely far fetched to ask if individuals should be compensated for having fewer or no children?

 At a Wilson Center discussion on Wednesday, New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin considered this idea and stated that having fewer children was one of the best ways that individuals could reduce their carbon footprints. Humans reproduce exponentially, and having two children instead of three could reduce energy consumption that would otherwise occur for generations. A report by Paul Murtaugh PDF from the University of Oregon found that the “carbon legacy” of having an extra child is twenty times more important than other choices individuals take over their lifetime (such as what kind of transportation they use, for example.) In the United States, a child has 160 times the carbon impact than a child born in Bangladesh, according to Murtaugh. 

Smaller Family Tree, Fewer Emissions

Smaller Trees, Fewer Emissions

 The current world population is 6.8 billion and is projected to increase to 9.1 billion by 2050. We are in a global predicament: industrialized countries are trying to constrain their energy consumption while encouraging and in some ways helping developing countries to industrialize, which will boost their energy demand. 

 Carbon credits for fewer children might be less applicable in developing countries, since industrialized countries have much higher per capita emissions. Also, according to population expert and Worldwatch vice president Robert Engelman, an estimated 200 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are risking it anyway because they have inadequate access to contraception and related reproductive health services. As Engelman explains in his book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, providing such access to all women will naturally cause fertility to decrease. Other key factors include increasing girls’ education and gender equality, which empower women to seek out reproductive health services, influence them to start childbearing at a later age, and increase their bargaining power with husbands to decide when and how many children to have.

 According to a recent report by Population Action International PDF, 37 of the 41 National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) submitted to the UNFCCC by Least Developed Countries have identified population growth or high density as a factor which makes them more vulnerable to climate change. Only one of these countries, however, proposed an adaptation project that includes reproductive health and family planning. Despite calls to promote reproductive health and family planning services as a human rights issue, it remains generally absent from the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen. Even if we don’t start handing out carbon credits to childless couples or parents of very small families – an idea likely to prove challenging to turn into policy – we can foster discussion about these connections to climate change. And we can help build the capacity of women and their partners everywhere to choose for themselves the timing and frequency of pregnancy.

carbon legacy, family planning, per capita emissions, population, reproductive health services, robert engelman, women


India’s Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, declared last week that his country “will walk out” of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen this December if industrialized nations push for legally binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. Mr. Ramesh argued that “we will not get into [a binding treaty] because our per capita emissions are low.” For a recent, more detailed analysis of India’s policy towards climate change negotiations, please click here.

An ongoing debate at the negotiations is whether emissions should be measured on a per capita basis or a per country basis. Industrialized countries with relatively high per capita emissions, such as the United States, support quantifying emissions at the national level. But developing countries such as China and India still have relatively low per capita emissions (about one fifth and almost one twentieth of the U.S. respectively), even though their share of global emissions is increasing as they industrialize. China, for example, is currently the world’s largest country emitter of carbon dioxide but is ranked only 82 at the per capita level; India is the fourth largest country emitter but ranks 140 per capita. 

Jarian Ramesh, India's Union Minister for Environment and Forests

The Indian delegation is not the only group threatening to walk out of international negotiations. The 53-member African Union (AU) voted in February to take a unified stance towards climate change at the negotiations, and will send a single delegation to Copenhagen this December. The AU has threatened to use its numbers to block any proposals that do not include adequate financing for mitigation and adaptation. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who will lead the AU delegation, told a conference of climate change experts that “we will use our numbers to delegitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position” and warned that “if need be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent.”  

These threats are reflective of the deep issues of inequality that sometimes hinder international negotiations: historically climate change has been caused mostly by industrialized countries, but the world’s poorest countries (those that have contributed the least) will be among the worst affected. In addition to suffering from a problem they did not create, developing countries often have little say over the governance of adaptation funds. Furthermore, industrialized countries often fail to deliver on promised financial and technological assistance for both mitigation and adaptation.  Against this background, it is easy to see why some countries may find international climate change negotiations frustrating.

Negotiations for a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol are moving at a slower pace than many had hoped. As tensions between rich and poor countries increases during the countdown to Copenhagen, so too is the pressure on policymakers to come up with a viable agreement at the summit in Denmark.

 An international treaty by December is still possible: after all, the international community proceeded with the Kyoto Protocol without ratification by the United States, the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases. Likewise, a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol could still be negotiated without the consent of India or the AU. However, despite the fact that few expect this group of developing countries to sign up for economy-wide targets, their walk-out would seriously damage any Copenhagen accord.   

Are threats a mere tactic to gain media attention and increase influence at negotiations? While it is easy to criticize harsh words, less developed countries are responding to the strong feelings of injustice that the impacts of climate change are fostering in the developing world. Increasing the developing world’s voice at Copenhagen, not as victims seeking development aid but as empowered participants, will hopefully help bridge the North-South divide and promote equity during negotiations.

African Union, China, climate justice, India, inequality, per capita emissions

“Theoretically, it seats 6.75 billion,” the ad for the new Honda Insight hybrid car states.

My first thought when encountering this ad in TIME magazine was that it plays to a pretty narrow demographic: people who know that this big number is the current population of the world. Then I read the ad copy.

Honda’s ad evokes one thought that ought to dominate the discussion at the international climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December: Global development is inequitable. Some of us worry about the mileage our car gets. But most people don’t own, drive, or ride in any car, let alone a hybrid.

The car that claims to be "for everyone"

On the one hand, Honda is playing to a sense of fairness that its American audience may have. “Sure,” the typical magazine reader might think. “Everyone should drive a hybrid. Good for Honda.” Yet even a fuel-efficient hybrid car could be disastrous for the planet.

“The more hybrid drivers, the better,” the ad declares unambiguously. “For all of us.”


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development, equity, hybrid cars, per capita emissions, population