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On commitments,Jairam drops a line,eats words

'All countries must take on a binding commitment under an appropriate legal form.'

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Cancun |
December 10, 2010 2:17:14 am

Even as the climate change conference began preparing for an inevitable inglorious end,India seemed to have tied itself in several knots,with a vaguely-worded one-liner from Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh leaving everyone guessing whether New Delhi had become ready to make its domestic actions on climate binding under international law.

“All countries must take on a binding commitment under an appropriate legal form,” Ramesh said,while addressing the high-level ministerial segment of the climate talks,after which the guessing game started. The line was not a part of his prepared text and was said extempore during the course of an otherwise routine speech. But it has the potential to substantially alter the course of debate at the climate talks.

India,like many developing countries including China,has so far been resisting pressure from the rich countries to convert its voluntary offer — of reducing emissions intensity,or the amount of emissions per unit of its gross domestic product,by 20-25 per cent by the year 2020 from 2005 levels — into a legally-binding commitment. India says it will attain this target and be completely transparent about its progress but rejects the idea that it could be penalised if it fell short of the goal.

A legally-binding commitment is an oft-repeated red-line,and India and China have routinely rejected such an idea. They maintain that only rich and industrialised countries must be held legally-bound,under Kyoto Protocol,to make targeted cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

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It was unclear whether Ramesh’s one-liner significantly alters India’s position. “What I have said does not contradict our known position. We do not intend to make our domestic actions on climate change legally binding in nature,” Ramesh said later. But he did concede that the language he had used today was new and different from what was being used till now.

His statement seems to have used a window provided by the Union Cabinet in its meeting last week,wherein it was decided that India would refrain from taking any legally-binding commitments “at this stage”.

Significantly,his statement came on a day when India,to its surprise,found itself being cornered by a number of countries — many of whose causes it fervently espouses at these talks — over precisely this same issue. A group of countries,spearheaded by small island states in close collaboration with the European Union,put forward a proposal seeking a legally-binding nature to the overarching climate treaty,whenever that is finalised.

The proposal was not just backed by four of India’s neighbours — Nepal,Bhutan,Maldives and Bangladesh — but also had the support of South Africa and Brazil,members of the so-called BASIC group,that also comprises India and China.

India strongly opposed the proposal,and so did China. The United States also disagreed.

But within hours,Ramesh was speaking at the ministerial where he added the controversial one-liner while making a prepared speech.

He later sought to clarify that he had added that line only to address the concerns of India’s neighbours who,being some of the most vulnerable to climate impacts,are desperate to see things moving.

There is a raging debate going on what a legally-binding treaty is and what its implications can be for individual or group of countries.

Meanwhile,the Mexican host government,in consultation with other countries,started working on the draft of the declaration that can be issued at the end of the meeting on Friday.

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