By Elizabeth Roche (AFP) – Dec 7, 2009
NEW DELHI — India's environment minister faced criticism in parliament on Monday and dissent from negotiators after his offer to reduce the country's carbon footprint ahead of the Copenhagen climate change talks.
Jairam Ramesh announced last week that India would reduce its carbon intensity by 20 to 25 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels, in a move designed to show India's leadership and willingness to be flexible.
However, opposition lawmakers and commentators have painted Ramesh's offer as a poorly judged unilateral compromise that has been made without gaining anything from the developed countries which are blamed for climate change.
"There is no dilution of our stand," Ramesh told lawmakers, stressing that India's national interest had not been compromised by the non-binding and voluntary commitment.
"I want to reassure this house that ... there is a certain basic code that we are not violating.
He added: "There is simply no compromise on India's interest."
India has always refused to commit to binding emission cuts and has demanded financial aid from developed countries to help cope with the effects of climate change.
A cut in carbon intensity means less carbon is produced by the economy for each unit of gross domestic product, which means India's emissions will still rise in the future but at a slower rate.
The minister has long argued that India needed to show flexibility in the Copenhagen talks, which began Monday and aim to produce a post-2012 accord to slash carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Comments in a weekend interview published in the Times of India also upset some of the Indian climate change negotiators at the Copenhagen talks.
"My main concern was that we have been offering unilateral concessions without obtaining any reciprocity," said one of two dissenting negotiators, Chandrashekhar Dasgupta in an emailed statement.
Ramesh suggested in the interview that New Delhi was willing to be flexible on a number of issues, including the international monitoring of all emission reduction efforts.
Dasgupta initially refused to leave for Copenhagen without clarifications, but said Monday he would finally travel "on the basis of certain assurances offered by him (Jairam Ramesh)."
India "must firmly reject pressures to convert our voluntary, domestically funded national initiatives into internationally binding commitments or actions subject to international review, consultation or verification," he told AFP by telephone.
In parliament, Ramesh also faced a barrage of criticism from the opposition.
"It is bad strategy on the part of the government of India, we have erased our base line," said lawmaker Arun Jaitley, from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday.
"We are in a state of turmoil. Our negotiators appear to be sulking," he said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Brinda Karat too slammed Ramesh, saying that "on the eve of the summit, the minister has done a great disservice by dividing the team that is going to Copenhagen."
India had been under pressure to make a gesture before the Copenhagen conference started on Monday, in response to the world's top two polluters, China and the United States, putting numbers on the table last month.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also set to travel to Copenhagen for the concluding phase of the talks on December 18.
India's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are expected to nearly triple in the next two decades from about 1.2 tonnes per person per year to 2.1 tonnes in 2020 and 3.5 tonnes in 2030, according to a recent government-backed report.
That is still below the global average of 4.2 tonnes per person.
But India's massive 1.1-billion population puts the country among the world's leading greenhouse gas emitters.
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