10 PEOPLE OBAMA SHOULD MEET
40, Nicolar Islands
AN ISLAND may detach you from the vast land beyond the horizon. But, then an islander is not bothered as he creates a world of his own in his space. Rashid Yusoof, who lives in the small island Kamorta of the Nicobarese archipelago is not an exception. He talks passionately about his village: enchanting corals, benevolent neighbours, the Nancowry language and the abundance of fish. If Obama wants to learn the inconvenient truths about carbon emissions and global warming he should meet Yusoof. The memories of the 2004 Tsunami left a deep scar in his mind, says Yusoof, whose grandmother was once the tribal queen of the island. Earthquakes in short intervals make the Andaman and Nicobar islands vulnerable. The tsunami forced Yusoof and his family along with other families, to move away from the coastal regions towards the hilly sides. Now they realise that the sea-level is rising unusually and they will have to move further inland. The coral rocks in the island are damaged. The sea-current and the climate have become unpredictable. “These days we can’t go to deep sea or deep forest because of wind and rain,” says Yusoof. In April 2008, Yusoof, the tribal council spokesperson in central Nicobar, attended a workshop on disaster management held in the US. However, he realises that a workshop alone would not help the island. “We need a proper disaster management system, like an efficient tsunami warning system and alternative communication system,” he says.
America is the Bully in the Greenhouse
But isn’t it time India learnt to use its powers for the greater good?
By Siddharth Pathak
INDIA’S TRADITIONAL foreign policy clearly identifies China as a competitor and US as an ally that enables India to have a strategic advantage in terms of geopolitical positioning. But in the climate change regime, India has a binary foreign policy towards the US. China is the ally and US is the enemy. We have seen this with China and India teaming up habitually in the international climate change conferences; whether it was the Bali climate conference in 2007 or the climate summit at Copenhagen in 2009. This collaboration between China and India in the climate arena has therefore changed the tone of Indo-US relationship to one of a polychromatic nature.
In the climate change regime, the US is the odd man out. Following the pattern of refusing to sign on to various multilateral treaties, the US has rather obstinately remained a non signatory of the Kyoto protocol — the only legal instrument in the international climate regime. The superpower has earned the reputation of being the bad boy of the negotiations not just because of this non-committal attitude but also because it has the weakest emission reduction targets in spite of having the highest emission profile in the world in absolute and per capita terms. India, on the other hand, is viewed as a saviour of the developing countries, often leading the fight against the developed world in order to secure the interests of the global south within these climate negotiations.
The US has had a pragmatic approach towards climate change. It often ignores principled notions like historical responsibility and equity; the principles India advocates
India has a unique position, which enables it to shuttle between the two main drivers within climate politics — China and the US. Whichever side India decides to support will automatically have an upper hand within these negotiations. And when all the three countries unite on a common issue, as was seen in the final hours of Copenhagen, the world is forced to take notice. The variance in the colour of the Indo-US relations can be seen with the different perspectives the two countries come from. The US has had a pragmatic approach and often ignores principled notions like historical responsibility and equity; the same principles that have been India’s main arguments in the climate change debate. However, the paradox to this dichotomy is the Indo-US collaboration on technology innovation for climate-friendly technologies.
The US as a country is not only rich in terms of its GDP but also has the highest carbon dioxide emissions. America’s indecisiveness over action against climate change has had the world waiting for it to make up its mind. And that is exactly what is stopping the international climate regime to come to a global consensus. The US, being at the top of this unipolar hegemonic world, has to take a much stronger position on climate change, contrary to its current position. It has a perfectly defined role to be the global leader that it projects itself as, and to give a clear direction to businesses, investors and countries that the world is moving in a direction that would mitigate climate change.
Clearly, the foreign policy advisers for the US do not share this view. On the contrary, the US has been responsible for injecting massive amounts of distrust between developed and developing countries. The American ambition on climate change has been very low, and this is evident from its ineptness to meet finance as well as emission reduction obligations and its unwillingness to accept a legal instrument for combating climate change. In one of the bilateral conversations between the US and Indian negotiators, a particular US climate change negotiator went to the extent of threatening India with trade restrictions if India did not comply with a certain demand from the US. Being a bully within the negotiations is not only counterproductive but also disempowers the global negotiations as an unbiased forum for discussions.
But the US is not all bad, and that is where the other colours of the Indo-US relationship surface. In the beginning of this year, Steven Chu, the United States’ Secretary of Energy, called for a clean energy ministerial, which had various energy ministers of the world converging to discuss collaboration on climate-friendly technologies. Within the major economies forum (the members of which are incidentally also the world’s top carbon dioxide emitters), the only area of mutual cooperation has been around technology. This, like the clean energy ministerial, is yet another initiative of the US administration.
The current proposal within the international climate regime on a global technology mechanism to combat climate change is largely the collaborative work between India and the US, especially since technology is an area where the two countries could collaborate the most. These productive initiatives on the part of the US add another dimension to Indo-US relationship.
The relationship on climate change can be enhanced further. Businesses in India have a tremendous opportunity to provide clean technology and services to the US while building a foundation for India’s least carbon development pathway. The US should provide technical and monetary support for India to ensure 100 percent electrification. US institutional investors and banks should focus on providing support for renewable energy projects in India rather than follow in the footsteps of the US EXIM bank, which provides concessional loans to coalfired power plants like the 4,000 MW Sasan project in Madhya Pradesh. Focussed investment by the US in renewable energy within India would not only ensure sustainable electrification, but would also help India in achieving a critical development imperative without necessarily increasing its carbon emissions.
India can play a constructive role in order to make US more ambitious on climate change. By using its unique global position, India along with the US can decipher the complicated code of the least carbon future development pathway rather than contribute in running down the global climate regime to achieve a least common denominator.