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Energy: A New Arena in Indian Diplomacy

The past few weeks have been a hectic period for Indian diplomacy, with forays into territory not traversed so intensely in previous years.A...

Written by R K Pachauri |
August 6, 2005

The past few weeks have been a hectic period for Indian diplomacy, with forays into territory not traversed so intensely in previous years.

An area that has exhibited high-profile diplomatic initiatives covers India’s efforts to secure supply of hydrocarbons both through investments in reserves overseas as well as through import of natural gas as LNG and by pipeline from Iran via Pakistan.

In a very different setting, the Prime Minister’s participation in the Gleneagles Summit was also a diplomatic novelty of sorts, in which leaders of the G8 essentially acknowledged India’s importance in the context of climate change. Prime Minister Tony Blair had underlined two areas of importance, Africa’s serious problems of poverty and HIV/AIDS, and the threat of climate change.

Five major developing country leaders were invited to participate in the Summit, mainly in an effort to engage these nations in initiatives to stabilize the earth’s atmosphere and climate system. One major outcome of Gleneagles was acceptance of the reality of climate change. The Summit stated ‘‘we reaffirm the importance of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and look forward to its 2007 Report’’.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) would now need to mobilize departments and ministries of the Government of India as well as organizations outside the government for actions to strengthen India’s international posture and to follow through on some elements of the G-8 communique.

The developed countries are likely to escalate pressure on India to accept some limitation on the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases , and it would serve us well to evaluate and develop some options to suit our long-term interests, without compromising on our growth prospects. What options can we exercise against this background?

The G-8 leaders are now looking at a future energy trajectory globally that would be lower in terms of capital costs, cleaner in terms of environmental impacts and more efficient in the use of energy. It was also affirmed that decisions taken today ‘‘could lock in investment and increase emissions for decades to come’’.

This is an important element of policy that India also has to take seriously. It is important for India to develop a medium and long-term strategy that moves us towards a secure, energy efficient and environmentally sound future, not only for reasons of national interest but also to help us in our negotiations at the international level.

Significantly, the India Country Paper for the Gleneagles Summit details India’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The international community and negotiators under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, should be presented India’s record in formulating and implementing a clean energy policy, to deflect the intense and persistent scrutiny that we would be subjected to. Wherever, therefore, our national interest requires bold, imaginative departures from a business-as-usual path.

Domestic actions must move in tandem with developments and realities at the international level, but always serving national interest. India needs energy solutions driven by thinking out of the box.

Much noise has been created on the Prime Minister’s agreement with President Bush on cooperation in the nuclear field. As the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament made abundantly clear, this development provides India with fresh opportunities for enhancing its nuclear power potential.

Undoubtedly, considerable effort is required to pursue the implementation of the agreement involving intensive diplomatic follow-up with the US Administration and Congress.

An important aspect of economic policy would now involve clear monitoring and assessment of resources overseas, access to which is critical for India’s economic growth and development. A recent book by Matthe Simmons titled Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy questions the optimistic picture the world holds of Saudi Arabia’s hydrocarbon resources. With demand growing rapidly in the US, China, India and elsewhere, there is a distinct possibility of market prices going much higher than the current US$60 per barrel.

All these realities highlight the importance of a new dimension being added to India’s diplomatic agenda.

The challenge ahead requires the MEA and all our missions overseas to attain high levels of competence in subjects related to energy, the environment and international economics. The nuances and scientific realities of climate change, the changing energy scenario and the need for India to access scarce minerals and metals critical for the country’s future growth, enhance the diplomatic challenge, for which we must prepare ourselves.

The writer is Director-General, TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute)

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