India’s Role In Multilateral Climate Changes Negotiations

Namrata Patodia Rastogi

In November of this year, South Africa will play host to the next round of multilateral climate negotiations in Durban. A central issue for many parties is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period is set to expire at the end of 2012. Other key issues include establishing the Green Climate Fund and fleshing out the details for measurement, reporting and verification of actions by countries, agreed to by parties in Cancun last year.

India’s role remains critical at these negotiations. As an emerging economy ranked as a top-five greenhouse gas emitter and a key member of the “BASIC” negotiating bloc — which consists of the major developing economies of India, Brazil, China, and South Africa — India played a pivotal role in shaping the outcomes of the last two Conferences of the Parties (“COP”) in Copenhagen and Cancun. Given the recent appointment of a new Environment Minister, however, it is unclear how India will approach Durban (“COP-17”).

Since agreeing to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) in 1992, India has been a staunch defender of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” (“CBDR”). India, along with other developing countries, has long argued that the responsibility of addressing climate change rests with those developed countries that have historically been the largest global greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emitters. While India continues to support the CBDR principle, it has shown greater flexibility in recent years as to the roles and responsibilities of developing countries. For the first time, at the COP in Bali in 2007, India and other developing countries acknowledged the growing significance of emissions from developing countries and their responsibility to act to reduce GHG emissions. This acknowledgment came to be reflected in the Bali Action Plan, which called for an “agreed outcome” by COP-15 in Copenhagen that would include commitments or actions by developed country parties, as well as “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” to be undertaken by developing country parties.

In 2009, prior to the much-hyped Copenhagen Climate Summit, India began to reposition itself as a “deal maker,” largely due to proactive engagement by then-Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. One of the first signs of departure from India’s traditional stance was seen at the Major Economies Forum (MEF) in L’Aquila, Italy in July of that year. The MEF countries, of which India is a part, agreed that the increase in global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels should not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. To many, this language implied that India as well as other emerging developing countries would need to undertake mitigation actions. Prior to the Summit, India announced a voluntary pledge to reduce its emissions intensity (emissions per unit GDP) between 20 to 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This marked a shift not only because India agreed to undertake mitigation actions, but more so because it agreed to do so without any international financial support —a clear indication that India understood and acknowledged its own responsibility, and was ready to engage constructively.

The Copenhagen summit was viewed by many as a failure because it did not deliver a legally-binding climate change agreement, even though it was evident well before the summit that such an outcome was highly implausible. It did, however, produce the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of the BASIC countries. The Copenhagen Accord has since then been endorsed by more than 100 countries. Though the Accord was only “taken note of” by the UN body — and as such has no legal standing in the UN framework — it was able to strike the delicate balance between the needs of both developed and developing countries.
The principal elements of the Copenhagen Accord were:

  1. A goal to limit global temperature increase to 2 degree Celsius;
  2. A process by which developed and developing countries enter their mitigation pledges;
  3. A commitment by developed countries to raise $30 billion in international climate finance between 2010-12 and a goal to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 from various sources to address developing country needs;
  4. Broad terms for ensuring transparency of countries’ mitigation pledges (also known as “monitoring, reporting and verification” (MRV)) and;
  5. Establishment of various institutions including a new fund (now called the Green Climate Fund), a Technology Mechanism and an Adaptation Committee. These main elements of the Accord were adopted a year later by the UN body as part of the Cancun Agreements at COP-16.

Apart from India’s active participation as a member of the BASIC bloc in Copenhagen, it played a crucial role as a facilitator between the two largest GHG emitters, China and the United States. An important issue for the United States and other developed countries in the multilateral negotiations has been to establish a process to ensure transparency of the unilateral actions being pledged by countries – what is known in negotiator’s speak as “measurement, reporting and verification” (MRV). Establishing such a process, developed countries argue, helps to build trust and confidence among parties that countries’ mitigation pledges are being met. Leading up to the Copenhagen summit, there was significant tension around this issue primarily since China, and to some extent India, expressed concern about potential infringements of their national sovereignty related to “verification” of their unilateral actions. India helped to find a middle ground between the United States and China by introducing the concept of “international consultations and analysis,” which was agreeable to both.

In the aftermath of Copenhagen the international community tempered its expectations for the next round of negotiations in Cancun in 2010. Leading up to the conference, countries made it clear that the Cancun outcome had to be a “balanced package,” i.e., one that captured progress on all the issues under consideration. Incremental progress was being made on many key issues such as finance, technology, adaptation, and forestry. However, the issue of MRV — critical to the developed countries — remained at an impasse. Again, India played a pivotal role in reaching a compromise. A proposal detailing the process of “international consultations and analysis” presented by Minister Ramesh at the Major Economies Forum a month before the Cancun conference broke open the deadlock over MRV, mostly because it came from a member of the BASIC bloc, and was welcomed by developed countries as the path forward. Ramesh’s proposal provided details on how such a process could work and made clear that it would be facilitative and without any punitive implications. In Cancun, India was applauded by other parties as a “bridge builder” and credited for its instrumental role in the success of the Cancun Agreements.

Having established itself as a constructive and valuable broker at the Copenhagen and Cancun COPs, India has the opportunity to continue to play this role in the upcoming negotiations in Durban.

Keeping the Kyoto Protocol alive, however transitional that might be, is critical to achieving success when parties meet in Durban in November. While developing countries are championing a legally-binding second commitment period for Annex I parties to the Kyoto Protocol (developed countries except the US), Japan, Russia and Canada have made it abundantly clear that they will not sign on to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The European Union on the other hand, has said that it is prepared to do so but only with assurances that the US (which is not a party to Kyoto) and other major economies (including India) will agree to a comprehensive legally-binding treaty in the near future.

Negotiators are attempting to find creative ways to address this politically charged issue. The most realistic option on the table is one where the EU and some other Annex I parties agree to a political second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (as opposed to a legally-binding one), coupled with agreement among parties on the objective of working toward future binding outcomes. Gaining assurance of such a future agreement wherein other key GHG emitters are included is key to breaking this deadlock. Figuring out such an option will help avert a failure in Durban.

With newly appointed Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan in office, and recent proposals that indicate India may be hardening its negotiating stance, it is an open question whether India will revert to its more traditional stance or continue to work proactively to bridge differences between developed and developing countries.

Durban provides another opportunity for India to play the role of deal maker. Helping to help find middle ground on the future of the climate regime — one that is able to bring other major developing economies on board — would be invaluable. Such constructive engagement by India would help bring parties closer to success in Durban.

Namrata Patodia Rastogi is the International Fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Her work is focused on researching international climate policy issues, developing policy recommendations, and facilitating dialogue with governments and stakeholders. She can be contacted at


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