One year of change in climate: India’s Environment Ministry.

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One year of change in climate: India’s Environment Ministry.

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Only legacy of previous government that India’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar carries with him is the title of the building from where he operates- ‘Indira Prayavaran Bhavan’ (Indira Environment House). Every thing else about him portrays a refreshingly stark Indian aspirations and sculpting of a new heritage of environmental governance.

Loads of columns have been written and long-winding raucous TV-debates have assessed the performance during the first year of Javadekar’s ministry. There are clearly two camps. One proclaims that in total disregard for value of nature and care for the ecosystem on which lives of many poor depend, the clearance for the industrial projects have been given primarily to display the speed of clearance. Other camp, though appreciative of the faster clearances, would like to see further acceleration though they are uncertain (and even worried) about how the monitoring of the conditions of clearances would be implemented.

Javadekar has mastered modern management tools of ‘360 degree self-appraisal’. He has graded himself with humble marks of 5 out of 10 but with zealous vows to get much higher grades in coming year. His honesty probably will take him to slightly higher grade for the first year. However, more than that, his keen aspiration to catch up with higher score is reflection of what PM Modi is inspiring the nation to do.

What is missed in most of the one-year assessments of the Environment Ministry so far is the performance of the Ministry in ‘environmental diplomacy’ in negotiating the environmental accords at global level. Also missed from assessment is what more needs to be done at global level in coming year which heralds huge opportunities to demonstrate India’s international leadership and to benefit PM Modi’s agenda for the poor and inclusive growth.

Javadekar has consistently conveyed PM Modi’s ambitious national agenda at the international environmental meetings and skillfully transformed it for effective negotiations, be it on Convention on Biodiversity to preserve the ecosystems, or the Montreal Protocol that aims to protect the Ozone Layer or Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

In Kyoto Protocol negotiations, he has diluted the insistence of the developed countries for all developing countries and particularly India, China and other emerging countries to take legally binding targets, by claiming that India is already on target of achieving its energy intensity reduction (20-25 percent, though not legally binding) by 2020, where as most of the developed countries have not fulfilled their own targets promised under the Kyoto Protocol for 2012 and not even any where near in achieving them even by 2020. Indeed most of the international assessments including that of United Nations have confirmed India’s performance of being on track to achieve the target. Javadekar is now insisting at the United Nations platform and at Major Economy Forum that India can achieve even non-binding targets but developed countries are not serious about their pre-2020 targets agreed earlier as per Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and later as per Copenhagen accord of 2009. He argues that India still would like to take proactive stand in Paris meeting by submitting and discussing its INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) and striving to achieve them.

The finance and technology transfer for the developing countries are still the issues at the core of the negotiations. Taking on legally binding reduction targets for Green House Gases (GHGs) still hangs at the door. But India is now certainly considered as wiser and skillful negotiator and no longer a frustrating obstructionist who lounges for scoring the brownie points on divisive arguments between developed and developing countries.

In the international meetings on the Montreal Protocol which is aimed at protecting the stratospheric ozone layer and which is termed as the most successful international environmental treaty by any standard, India recently regained its position as one of the global leaders that contributed to the success of the Montreal Protocol. For more than six years, negotiations on thorny issue of HFCs (Hydro Fluorocarbons) were doggedly blocked mainly by India and few other countries on technical grounds. HFCs were developed as substitute for CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons), which are ozone-depleting chemicals. HFCs helped in implementing the Montreal Protocol. However, though HFCs have zero ozone depleting potential, they have very high global warming potential. In case of commonly used HFCs, it is nearly 2000 times more than Carbon Dioxide. Kyoto Protocol included reduction of emissions of HFCs. However, recognizing that negotiations on Climate are proceeding with glacial speed and early benefits of reducing use of HFCs cannot be availed for limiting the temperature rise, countries like USA, Canada and other small island countries initiated a proposal for reduction of production and consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. India considered that issue of HFCs reduction should be tackled under Kyoto Protocol. Further, It argued that alternatives to HFCs are not fully ready. Though India’s stand did have some merits, international environmental diplomacy demanded the continuation of the dialogue. Javadekar, during his first participation in the Montreal Protocol meeting did exactly that. India has now proposed an amendment to the Montreal Protocol for reduction of production and consumption of HFCs with conditions of financial assistance and transfer of proven technologies and allowing the grace period to initiate the action as compared to the developed countries. The logjam is removed without diluting the national interest.

In the globalized world of 21st century, where campaigns like ‘ Make in India’ and ‘ Digital India’ have international repercussions, India has to do much more in environmental diplomacy. A meeting last month in Geneva on Stockholm Convention on toxic chemicals called Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), India was shockingly isolated during the negotiations on its stand of not accepting the United Nations scientific finding on a toxic chemical called Pentachlorophenol-PCP, which is used in wood treatment. India refused to accept the science based global consensus on banning the PCP. For the first time in the history of environmental negotiations, the voting took place on the issue of banning of PCP, because of Indian position. The total defeat of Indian argument became evident when 94 countries voted for banning, 2 including India opposed and 8 remained absent. India could have avoided such extreme position by sharp and quick diplomacy, even though it had disagreements with UN’s and WHO’s science reports.

Year 2015, a second year of new government, will see three more important UN meetings internationally. First, in Addis Ababa, on Finance and Development in July. Second, agreeing to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at UN General Assembly in New York in September and lastly Climate change meeting in Paris in December. India has to continue demonstrating its environmental proactive stewardship at these meetings to keep the momentum built so far.

These meetings provide the opportunities to further Modi’s agenda for inclusive growth, enhancing youth employment, clean India and clean energy. Climate change negotiations, for example, can no longer be considered only about rise of temperature in longer term, but also about rise in air pollution in shorter term, due to use of fossil fuels. The opportunities to deploy clean and renewable energy not only benefits people’s health but also saves money by importing less of oil and coal. Energy efficiency is about saving money and reducing air pollution. Adopting SDGs would also serve as catalyst to push ahead many of the PM Modi’s initiatives like smart cities, housing, sanitation and poverty reduction.

There is much talk about innovation in technology and innovation in policies for India’s inclusive growth. New government’s environment ministry also needs innovation in its environmental diplomacy. END

Rajendra Shende

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