PM says India will play constructive, responsible role in climate change negotiations
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that India would continue to play a constructive and responsible role in the ongoing negotiations on climate change and would work with the international community to find practial, pragmatic and equitable solutions.
"I would also like to emphasise that even as we wait for meaningful agreements on global mitigation action, we in India have committed ourselves to keeping our per capita consumption below the average for the industrial countries," he said in his inaugural address at the 11th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit here this morning.
"This is an important commitment since it ensures that if industrial countries do more themselves to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, which they should, they also automatically ensure that our emissions will also be contained. In fact, the faster the industrialised countries reduce their per capita emissions, the quicker will be the self imposed constraint which requires action in our country," he said.
The annual summit has been organised by The Energy Research Institute (TERI), which also honoured Dr Singh with the Sustainable Development Leadership Award on the occasion.
Dr Singh said that he was particularly honoured by the fact that he was receiving the award at the hands of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mr James Michel and Mr Leonel Fernandez.
The theme of this year's summit is "Tapping Local Initiatives and Tackling Global Inertia".
He said modern societies could not get away from the fact that if they damaged the environment in the pusuit of material gains today, they did so by risking the well-being of future generations to come.
"The central principle that must be enshrined in any sustainable development strategy is that incentives facing all economic decision makers must encourage them to act in a manner that is environmentally benign," he said.
The Prime Minister said the solution lay in two dimensions. He said that, first, there must be put in place a structure of regulatory policies which would prevent potentially damaging behaviour.
"This is what we do by setting regulatory standards and enforcing them. I must emphasise that standards are not enough. They must also be enforced which is often difficult. It is also necessary to ensure that these regulatory standards do not bring back the License Permit Raj which we sought to get rid of in the wake of economic reforms of the early nineties," he said.
Secondly, he said, it must deal with residual pollution that may be caused despite regulatory efforts.
According to him, the principle that should be followed in such cases is that the polluters must pay. This will discourage the polluters and also provide a means of financing the corrective steps necessary to counter the pollution caused, he said.
"We in India are trying to do this by setting appropriate standards in several areas especially in the most energy using industries. As a general rule we are trying to establish the principle that the polluter must pay though that is much more difficult to achieve in all cases. Last year, for example we introduced a cess of 5% on the use of coal both domestic or imported to build the corpus of a National Clean Energy Fund," he said.
Dr Singh said another aspect of sustainability was the management of common pool resources.
He said that, in India, as in many other developing countries, indigenous tribes, cattle rearing groups, as well as cultivators use and access common pool resources like forests, water bodies, pastures and farmland without clearly defined property rights.
The traditional wisdom on the management of such commons was that they would tend to get over-used if individuals were left free to exploit them for their individual ends and therefore, these common resources, and related environmental matters, should be managed by central authorities and governments, he noted.
Dr Singh said this conventional view was challenged now by new research in economics, ecology and the environment.
He referred to the enactment of the landmark Forest Rights Act in 2006 that sought to assure the rights of millions of tribal and other forest dwellers by restoring to them both individual rights to cultivated forest land and community rights over common property resources.
"We hope this will spur local initiative on a sustainable use of resources, conservation of bio-diversity and maintenance of ecological balance," he said.
"Needless to say, capacity building is a major issue in any such effort. Effective village level planning and decision making can only occur if capacities are built up at the local level. This is clearly an area where much more needs to be done. We are trying to restructure the implementation of our development programmes to strengthen local bodies and empower them to act in their common collective interest," he said.
The Prime Minister said the growth in environmental awareness and the capacity to manage local environmental problems was a very positive development. However, local or national action would be of no avail when the externalities crossed natural boundaries, as in the case of climate change, he pointed out.
"For example, even if India were able to eliminate all its greenhouse gas emissions, we will not make a significant difference to our climate since our emissions account for only 4% of the global total. The solution for this particular problem clearly lies in coordinated global action," he said.
Dr Singh said India's view had been that those who had been primarily responsible for the build up of greenhouse gases and who also had the greatest capacity to act should bear the brunt of the responsibility.
"Developing nations are obviously much less culpable, and have a much greater need for continued growth. These countries should be helped to achieve sustainable development paths," he said.
He noted that the most recent Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Cancun in Mexico did not resolve these problems, but it did produce some modest results.
He said India particularly welcomed the agreement on the setting up of a network of technology innovation centres under the UNFCCC to foster local adaptation and mitigation measures. India had proposed this at the very outset of the current round of multilateral negotiations, he pointed out.
Dr Singh said India was also taking action on its own in the form of a National Action Plan on Climate Change.
"A broad objective that we have set is to reduce the emissions intensity of our GDP by 20% between 2005 and 2020. We have already launched seven missions in the following areas. These include: energy efficiency, solar energy, sustainable habitat, water, sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, agriculture and strategic knowledge for climate change. We will shortly launch the last of the 8 National Missions under the Plan, which is called Green India, which will result in the regeneration of 6 million hectares of degraded forest land," he said.
The Prime Minister said India was currently engaged in preparing for its Twelfth Five Year Plan which will cover the period 2012-2017.
He said the Plan would focus on specific initiatives needed to put the country's development on a path consistent with low carbon growth. Energy efficiency and exploitation of renewable energy sources would receive a special emphasis, he said.
Dr Singh said India, China and many other developing countries had all responded with significant voluntary goals and specific plans on emission intensity reduction.
"But, if we have to tackle global inertia, we will need to see clear commitments from the industrial countries on emission reduction targets for 2020 that are consistent with the Copenhagen goal of containing the likely temperature increase to no more than 2 degree centigrade or less. We do not as yet have a response from the industrialised countries which is consistent with meeting that objective. So, here is a viable agenda for concerted global action to deal with the problem of climate change," he said.
He said that, in the final analysis, the world must move away from production and consumption patterns which are carbon-intensive and energy-intensive.
Without this shift in the patterns of energy generation and use, ecologically sustainable development will remain mostly a pious aspiration if not merely a buzz word, he stressed.
"We have to make changes in our lifestyles, particularly in the developed world, and learn to make do with less. In developing countries, poverty eradication will have to be linked to the availability of clean, renewable and affordable energy. I believe that charting these new pathways is not beyond our collective imagination. Life as we know it on our beautiful planet is at stake," he added.