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India Steps Up At Cancun

by Michael Levi
November 30, 2010

India is one of the more inscrutable players on the global stage. Four years ago, when I was still spending most of my time thinking about nuclear security, I marveled at how much difficulty they had in accepting a U.S.-India nuclear deal that every non-Indian analyst thought was a gift to New Delhi. Last year, I watched in fascination as Jairam Ramesh, the Indian environment minister, floated a very forward-leaning approach to the international climate talks, only to get smacked down by the rest of the Indian establishment (and by some foreign partners). Given how Indian politics works, I suspected that that wasn’t the last we’d hear.

But it was still pleasant to read this AP report earlier this week:

“India has offered two proposals for the U.N. climate summit…. ‘India has been seen to be obstructionist and petulant’ in the past, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in an interview Saturday. ‘I’d like to think that perception is different now.’ The two Indian proposals, obtained by The Associated Press, address the sticky subjects of monitoring emissions cuts and sharing environmentally friendly technologies with poor and developing nations.”

This is good stuff. It moves international diplomacy forward; it also puts China (and in many ways the United States) in the hot seat, something that’s essential to making progress.

What are the specifics? Here’s what the AP says about transparency:

“India is proposing a framework for accountability by which nations do their own reporting to U.N. climate authorities, which would then review and assess the reports. There would be no punishments for violations, suggesting targets would be voluntary rather than legally binding, but includes developing nations in the rubric of commitments.

“Industrialized countries would detail their emissions, progress and future plans in reaching emissions targets as well as how much funding they have contributed for poor nations. Developing countries would offer similar details on their emissions and targets.”

The devil is, of course, in the details, but this sounds reasonable to me. It’s not unlike the “Climate Policy Review Mechanism” that I and others suggested last year, though there are some critical differences, at least from my own proposal.

On technology, the AP article mangles things a bit, but another in The Economic Times (India) pretty much lines up with what I’ve been hearing:

“India will also propose establishing technology transfer mechanism to set up an international network of centres ‘focussing in the area of adaptation where IPR and licensing issues are not contentious and controversial issues.’ ”

As I understand it, these would be focused on the practical matter of connecting innovators and users, which is less sexy than IPR but probably more important. It tracks with past Indian proposals on “Climate Innovation Centers”, something my colleagues and I endorsed in our recent energy innovation study.

Of course, there’s plenty of time for backsliding, particularly as details are nailed down. Minister Ramesh is quoted today as saying the China is on board with his proposals, something the Chinese have not yet said themselves. Perhaps Beijing has decided it’s wise to go along; perhaps there’s some misunderstanding. Time will tell.

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