Game theory, Jairam Ramesh and Copenhagen
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Game theory, Jairam Ramesh and Copenhagen

Last week, a one-minute movie co-produced by my colleague won a British Council award and is to be screened at Copenhagen during the fortnight-long climate change summit. It is titled, My Paper Boat, and traces the concerns of a boy who plied his paper boat on a neighbourhood lake.
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As films go, it is striking in its simplicity and drives home real fears over climate change. Similarly, we have been told by experts and activists alike that seas would rise and so would global temperatures. Also, rainfall may be sparser and erratic, and the number of natural calamities, and probably their intensity, could rise.
/>But there is little else we know and even the predictions mentioned above have a fair share of sceptics. 
/>Many pundits dismiss climate change as an irrational fear. Many question the predicted dire consequences, many debate the timeline of what to expect, and many call to question man’s ability to arrest or reverse climate change. Surveys in the US and UK, for example, suggest the number that doesn’t believe in the phenomenon has actually grown over the years. In short, nothing about climate change is uncontested.
/>Developed nations that have historically polluted the most have employed a clever mix of tactics to conduct negotiations on who should do how much to fight climate change. Variously, these have included a refusal to take responsibility for the past, or even continuing high rates of pollution, scepticism over scientific studies and sometimes scaring the less developed nations by saying the poor will be the worst affected, and consequently, they, more than anybody else, need to take the greater initiative and the bigger cuts in emissions.
/>But what is India doing? Is it doing to ensure that its millions who live in poverty will have an equal chance at development?
/>Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has muddied the debate over the past few months. First, he sought to abandon the Kyoto Protocol, and appeared ready to surrender the long-held principle of equity: holding all nations to per capita emissions. Then he followed China and the US in offering voluntary cuts in carbon intensity, even though one expert reckons China’s offer is a hollow one with no real emissions cut. All his actions raise the suspicion that India now is hostage to the global agenda of developed nations, not the less developed ones.
/>Consequently, two senior bureaucrats —
former IFS officer Chandrashekhar Dasgupta and former environment secretary Pradip Gosh – threatened to boycott the scheduled visit to Copenhagen, believing that India’s principled stand was being abandoned. Ramesh has now persuaded them into tagging along, apparently by reiterating his commitment to fighting for per capita emissions as a significant benchmark for the way ahead. But Ramesh has failed to satisfy MPs in Parliament who, led by the BJP, staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha today.
/>Ramesh has won some support for changing global perceptions of India as a deal-breaker and for posing India as a responsible ‘doer.’ But he is not saying much about what India intends to do at the Copenhagen talks, only suggesting that the negotiations would evolve, presumably with a lot of give and take. This can be taken to mean that what happens in Copenhagen will be a form of game theory. For our sake, we will have to hope that the Harvard-educated Ramesh is prepared for the many potential outcomes, and that he will not stumble, as he did in Parliament when dealing with scientific terms related to climate change, and end up abandoning the future of the poor millions – estimated at 400 million or over – who use no electricity and consequently do not add to our overall emissions levels.