Is the climate change goose cooked?
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Is the climate change goose cooked?

The one thing India, or the other G-77 developing nations, didn’t need ahead of a key climate change summit in Copenhagen later this year is the flip flop by Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. 

If he did propose that India abandon the Kyoto protocol, that would mean a significant departure from its earlier, and consistent, stand. What is more, it undermines the position of all the developing countries, including China, and India risks alienation. 

For years, the developing nations led by India have maintained that the developed nations led by the US, the original and larger polluter of the world, should assume greater responsibility by accepting larger cuts and by assisting developing nations through liberal funding and transfer of technology.

If he did not, as Ramesh now claims, the damage still has been done. His proposal, made in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was leaked to The Times of India and has made global headlines. Climate change czars in the US and UK have responded enthusiastically, while diplomatically hiding their glee. It is a particularly important victory for the US, which has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol and has urged developing nations to accept mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. 

At a press briefing yesterday, Ramesh visibly lost his cool when reporters badgered him over the leaked letter. But he told Mint newspaper that opposition charges were mere “insinuations” and that “India’s interests and India’s interests alone shall dictate our negotiating stance.” Nevertheless, Ramesh’s actions raise a lot of questions. 

Why was he so belligerent about India’s stand on climate change during a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July if he was exploring ways to break a global deadlock? Is India being unduly pressured by the US? Why did he not win over some or all of his colleagues in the expert panel on climate change? Did he try to persuade other developing nations to reposition their stance?

There might be merit in Ramesh’s view that a review of the developing nation’s stand is necessary to break a global deadlock. After all, India and many developing nations stand to lose the most on account of climate change. But the way he got around to it has caused harm, rather than good, to the idea. 

Finally, Ramesh’s handling of the issue raises another question: Is the PM losing control over his Cabinet? 

In the past weeks, there has been the brouhaha over the five-star indulgences by Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor, and Tharoor’s sometimes insensitive tweets. And now this leak of a highly sensitive letter sent to the PMO.