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No breakthrough on climate change

The agreement on climate change announced at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm may, at first sight, appear to be a breakthrough. However, it falls short of the real, decisive, practical action needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. The main reason the agreement has been welcomed internationally is the partial success of other members of the grouping, notably the United Kingdom, in pressuring and persuading the United States to recommit itself to the United Nations framework. U.S. `willingness' to work for a new multilateral agreement by 2009 to reduce emissions beyond the Kyoto Protocol period of 2012 is an advance only from the perspective of the withdrawal from the Protocol in 2001 — and the stubborn, obscurantist refusal of the Bush administration to recognise, until recently, the existence of a science of climate change. While agreeing to work with the rest of the world, President Bush has insisted on linking a "substantial cut" in America's emissions, the world's highest, to comparable efforts by China and India. Justice and equity in the realm of climate change would require the historical polluters to commit themselves to major long-term cuts, considering their culpability. But any real progress towards halving emissions by mid-century from an appropriate base year (as Germany proposed) now depends on further discussions in the U.N.

If the G8 failed to break major new ground, official India's stance on, and approach to, climate change can be seen to bring up the rear in the international arena of debate and action. As one of the five ascendant economies engaged by the G8, India has a great responsibility to root its national policy in science and in a progressive and ethical vision of the future of the planet. China, which also faces a giant responsibility, indicated at the summit that it was seeking to green its growth partly through reduced energy use per unit of GDP. With a much smaller landmass than China's and a population that is set to overtake its neighbour's in some years, India faces an even tougher challenge. An advisory panel on climate change that New Delhi has proposed is a pathetically inadequate response. What India needs in the realm of greenhouse gas emissions is political will, guts, and consensus. Research forecasts indicate that agricultural yields and water access may be affected if the concentration of greenhouse gases and atmospheric brown clouds continue to rise, altering the country's monsoon and surface temperature patterns. The wider impact may bring on India new kinds of pressure and blame from the affected smaller countries. The responsible, ethical, intelligent thing to do would be to evolve robust, transparent, and quick-acting national programmes in parallel with active participation in the international efforts to combat climate change. If the immediate need is for education and persuasion of the members of the Central and State governments and the legislative bodies, a copy of Al Gore's award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth can be provided to all of them. Mandating and securing lower emissions in power, transport, and industrial sectors; achieving targeted and measurable improvements in energy efficiency; and providing vital support for communities affected by climate change must become top Indian policy priorities. That will constitute real pressure on historical polluters to act.

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