Kyoto is dead – India is changing

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FROM the climate point of view, unlike what many believe, the Copenhagen Summit was remarkably successful. It buried the Kyoto protocol, and along with it, hopefully, India’s old strategy of coping with climate, and change.

Climate change means different things to different people. And within the same people, ideology, particularly the Cold War anti-US ideology plays a strong role. It is most unfortunate that this ideology is allowed to play a large part in our policy-making and, of course, as most often happens with ideologists, the views are played out with complete disregard to the facts.

The Cold War dictated the following Indian foreign, economic and cultural policy. Russia could do no wrong; the US could do no right. So markets were out, planning was in. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was ok, the US invasion of Vietnam was not. Banning cultural freedom, a la Russia was in; openness to ideas was out. Hence, we banned Maxwell’s book on the 1962 China-India war, as also Louis Malle’s portrayal of Indian life and poverty, Phantom India. Why, we even felt obliged to change the title of the James Bond film, From Russia with Love, to From 007 with Love.

Much has changed in India from those days. There is today a new found confidence in the Indian people. No longer does the young Indian think that India is a poor country, beholden to Russia, or America. Poverty (by our own standards) is down considerably, from over 50 per cent of the population in the 1960s and 1970s to less than 10 per cent now. Our economic growth rate is now more than twice the level recorded in the Nehru-Gandhi Cold War regime of 1950-1980. As are our savings and investment rates – yes, that is correct and let me repeat: savings rates, investment rates and GDP growth rates are more than twice (more than 100 per cent higher) the levels recorded pre-1980. Our population growth rate is about half (presently, at around 1.4 per cent per annum) the level which prevailed in those pro-Communism and pro-Russia days. Which means that the same level of GDP growth means a higher level of per capita growth than before.

What has not changed is our servile attitude towards ‘Russia’ and towards ourselves. And nothing illustrates this better than our policy towards climate change. There were several different hallmarks of this policy. First, the developed countries caused the problem in the first place, so it was their moral responsibility to clean up the atmosphere and to fund the developing countries in their efforts. Any connection between the ‘moral’ argument and the hackneyed, and obsolete, arguments of the ‘nonaligned’ movement is not coincidental. The second foundation of India’s climate policy rested on its pledge to never exceed the per capita emissions level of the developed countries. In 2007, India’s per capita emissions were 1.2 tons per capita, around one-tenth of the average for the developed countries.

The third foundation of India’s policy was that India and China’s interests were the same. Hence, the alignment with China and with the lesser two of the ‘Basic 4’ countries – countries willing to stand up against imperialism, and the bad western world. India’s old, faded, and so-called ‘nonalignment’ policy was being resurrected and most likely not by the mindset of a young, new and vibrant India. The climate policy was made by the mindset of the old India. Maybe old age has wisdom, so let us examine some facts to decide.

There are three available indicators of climate performance. The first is the absolute level of carbon emissions. This as any Indian will tell you, is an absurd method of deciding on the goodness of policy or performance. India would be a bad polluter just because it had more people. And ex-Czechoslovakia was a bad performer because the Czech Republic and Slovakia were together. There are numerous other examples, but the absurdity of this method is quite clear. The second improved method is to decide on the badness of emissions by looking at the emissions per capita. In 2007 (unless indicated otherwise, all data are for 2007) the emissions per capita of the Basic Four were: India 1.4, Brazil 1.8, China 5.0 and South Africa, 9.1. Very bad US was at 19.1 and the ‘good’ nonalignment ally Russia was at 11 (all in CO2 tons per capita per year).

But is per capita the correct criterion? From all the economics, climate science and sociology that one knows, people do not cause pollution, machines do. (And even if people cause some pollution, Indian vegetarianism helps to keep it to a minimum). Assume for a moment that you adopt all the clean technologies recommended by the IPCC and you are awarded a gold medal, for good climate behaviour. If you do so with a small population, you will appear to be a terrible performer. Reconstructing that example, assume Greenland had all the clean factories in the world. On a per capita basis, it would still be a terrible performer.

Indeed, the per capita criterion is just as flawed as the absolute emissions criterion. This fact underlines the lie which began to be perpetrated at Kyoto, and that is why Kyoto being dead is good for truth, justice, and the climate way. Why did the policy-makers agree to the absurd per capita principle at Kyoto? The tyranny of numbers, or the tyranny of ‘democracy’. With each country having one vote, and regardless of the fact that it had a smaller total population than the smallest Indian village, it was very easy to get a ruling which some countries, especially China, wanted. It was the green fig leaf behind which the big polluters could hide.

The ruling of Kyoto was the following. The western nations caused the pollution at the time of the industrial revolution, and they should now pay for their transgressions. They had to bring down their per capita emissions. Meanwhile, developing countries, led by China, could pollute as much as they wanted. This rather one-sided diktat sat down well with the inefficient Chinese, South Africans and the Russians. Any coincidence that these three were also members of the erstwhile nonalignment club?

The key anti-Kyoto feature at Copenhagen was that no one talked about either absolute emissions, or per capita emissions. The only emission currency in circulation was the intensity of emissions, i.e. emissions per unit of output. Finally, the world had come around to the logical test of a good vs. bad climate performer. It did not matter how many people you had. And it did not matter how rich you were. If through hard work, or innovation or sheer good luck (e.g. the oil states) you produced a lot of output, that was fine. What was relevant was the climate efficiency of your production; i.e. carbon intensity, or the magnitude of carbon emissions per unit of output.

One reason for the delay in recognition may have been due to the popular misconception that emissions intensity is proportional to per capita income. Not so. The rate of change of emissions per capita with respect to income per capita is less than unity. This occurs because as countries become rich, they move out of industry and into services; the latter is much less energy intensive. For example, a Wall Street trader needs precious little energy input besides a broad band. An automobile factory needs considerably more energy. So as the US moves out of car production and India moves into car exports, the energy uses of the two economies will tend to converge.

How do the different countries performance measure against the ‘new’ intensity yardstick? Among the Basic Four, the emission intensity were as follows, represented as a ratio of carbon emissions per unit of GDP where GDP is measured in comparable PPP currency. India 0.30, Brazil 0.17, China 0.51 and South Africa 0.72. Our nonalignment ally Russia had an emission level of 0.66. The US a much lower 0.41, and Germany a lower 0.30. The world average was 0.37, i.e. 0.37 kg per 1996 PPP dollar of output.

Note some basic conclusions that hit one in the face (unless one is ideologically watchful). First, that India is one of the best countries in terms of its emissions. (Brazil’s ‘good’ record becomes worse once land-use emissions are included). Second, that the formerly Communist countries, China and Russia, are among the worst polluters in the world. Third, that the US, while ‘bad’ isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. The figure often cited is of total US emissions or its high per capita emissions – around 19 tons/capita compared to good performer Germany at 9.4. That is more than twice the German level. In terms of emissions per unit of output, the US is still higher than Germany, but by a much lower amount (37 per cent compared to 102 per cent). Fourth, no matter what the criteria (per capita or intensity), China, Russia and South Africa are among the worst (top 10 per cent) polluters in the world.

These data highlight the absurd nature of India’s negotiating position. By aligning itself with China, it has ensured that the worst polluter in the world is firing its pollution guns from the shoulder of the least bad polluter. And that this shoulder has been willingly provided. Can anyone explain just what benefits India obtains from this negotiating position? Is it the case that China will treat Tibetans, and the Dalai Lama, better? Or that it will promise not to spy on us in order to spy on its own citizens? Or that it will reduce its trade surplus with us by giving us preferential treatment on our exports? Can anyone, especially the perennial and knee-jerk America bashers (remnants of the extinct ‘nonaligned’ movement) please provide reason, any reasonable reason, for India’s attitude towards very big brother China?

So if Kyoto is dead, let us celebrate. Let Copenhagen be a new beginning in how India begins to see itself. Let it be the beginning of the long awaited mindset set change. And let India begin to be not only less argumentative, but also considerably less absurdly ideological.

Surjit S. Bhalla