Prakash Javadekar Interview: Developed World Should Vacate The Carbon Space

22/11/2015 7:30 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Indian Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar speaks during a press conference in New Delhi on August 24, 2015. World governments will try to forge a new global accord to address climate change at a UN climate conference in Paris from November 30 - December 11, 2015 with both developed and developing countries committing to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- Next week, negotiators from 196 countries will gather in Paris to reach an agreement on how to fend off the catastrophic consequences of climate change, and stop global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Over the weekend, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told HuffPost India that he feels "confident" about steering India's course in what was described by one climate scientist as the "most important meeting of modern times."

But with pressure mounting on major economies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, Javadekar has a tough job of balancing India's mammoth task of lifting millions out of poverty and providing electricity to 30 percent of its 1.2 billion people who are still in the dark, with its response to the climate change crisis.

India's action plan is to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and produce 40 percent of electric power from non-fossil-fuel-based energy resources by 2030, was well-received. But its goal of producing 1.5 billion metric tons of coal by 2020, which will make it second only to China in coal production, has ruffled some feathers.

Recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that India could be a "challenge" in Paris, and he criticized its plan to produce more coal domestically as "not the direction that we ought to be moving in."

In his conversation with HuffPost India, Javadekar said that Kerry's remarks were "absolutely unfair and unacceptable," especially since the CO2 emissions reduction targets set by the United States and other developed countries have failed to arrest the climate change crisis, which they have a historical responsibility of fixing after a century of pumping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. "John Kerry's statement is absolutely unfair and unacceptable. Actually, the developed world's attitude is the challenge for Paris, not India's."

"I'm asking the developed work to vacate the carbon space so that we can park our development," he said.

While warning against "bullying" at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP21), Javadekar also talked about what India wants from the talks, its "peculiar situation," and its equation with China, an old ally in the negotiations, which has shifted gears in its plans to deal with climate change.

climate change

A bird flies over the sea as smokes rises from the chimneys at the Kakogawa Industrial Area on November 21, 2015 in Himeji, Japan.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that India could be a "challenge" at the U.N. How do you respond?

John Kerry's statement is absolutely unfair and unacceptable. We don't like it. Actually, the developed world's attitude is the challenge for Paris, not India's. I don't want to comment further on John Kerry. U.S. is an important strategic partner of India. But he has this opinion and we don't agree.

READ: United States & India: Our Time Has Come, By John Kerry

What are three top things which India wants from the climate change conference in Paris?

We want a just and equitable agreement from Paris, and we will try for success of Paris because we believe that it is the need of the hour that the world must come together to enter into a new regime. "Paris is a new beginning, a move forward and it is historical."

In Kyoto Protocol, it was agreed that only the developed world will take action of emission reduction and the developing world was not mandated to take any action. But now, it is a new thing. Every country is taking action and that is reflected in their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). And therefore we believe that Paris is a new beginning, a move forward and it is historical.

But what are the top three things which India wants from Paris?

Three things which I would say for Paris is that it should be unanimous, consensus should happen, and nobody should bully.

Second, it must recognise that it is not rewriting a treaty under the Convention (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), but it is a progression on the earlier arrangement. "Paris should be unanimous, consensus should happen, and nobody should bully."

Third, it must provide technological support to the developing world, finance to the developing world, and must not forget that actions from the developed world should be more ambitious because they have taken less ambitious targets, and they also need to come up with a pre-2020 action plan.

climate change india

Traffic moves along a highway during morning rush hour in Delhi, India

What are three redlines for India?

India does not think in terms of redlines.

See, India is operating in a peculiar situation. There are two scenarios: first, India is 17 percent of the world's population, and we have 17 percent of cattle population. They require food, water and land, and we have only 2.5 percent of land, and we have only four percent of fresh water resources. So we are working under these constraints. "Why are we coming to Paris? I'm asking the developed work to vacate the carbon space so that we can park our development."

We did not get benefit out of industrialisation because we were under foreign rule and so we are left behind: my 30 percent population is below poverty line, my 30 percent of people don't have energy access, 30 percent of people don't have house of their own. We want to provide everything and we want to grow.

We need development space. Why are we coming to Paris? I'm asking the developed work to vacate the carbon space so that we can park our development. Otherwise, you will say that the car parking is full. No, you must vacate the car parking so that we can park our cars.

READ: Rural Women Turn Solar Energy Entrepreneurs in Indian Village

coal india

Indian visitors and officials walk on the campus of the Wanakbori thermal power plant at Wanakbori village, some 120 kms from Ahmedabad

No one is clear about the legality and binding-ness of the Paris agreement. What is India's position on this?

In Durban (COP17) also, we have come out with an agreement with legal force. It can be domestic legal force. I don't think it is an issue. Certain things are for negotiations. Let negotiations happen. If I solve everything in your interview what will negotiators do?

The Paris agreement will deal with post-2020 action. What will countries to do combat climate change in the next four to five years.

Pre-2020 action is the most important issue. And the developed world, which should have taken second commitment period (of the Kyoto Protocol) with ambitious targets, have not done so. So our first point in Paris is that they must take their ambitious targets because they cannot take a five-year action holiday.

There is already concern that negotiators will reach an agreement in Paris, but it will be business as usual, kicking tough decisions down the road.

No. India has already started on its renewable path, India has started on climate action, we are doing very heavy investments. What is America doing, what is Europe doing, what is other developed world doing? They must give pre-2020 targets. They must reduce emissions. Today, they have occupied two-third of the carbon space. They must vacate carbon space.

India is very often blamed for obstructing climate change talks...?

But this time we are facilitating. That is the regime change.

What is the difference?

No, you tell me. Has India been perceived as a roadblock in the last one year. We have changed the whole scenario. We are putting out new ideas on climate justice, new ideas on solar alliance. Though we are not part of the problem, we are part of the solution. We are networking everybody. And we are putting our ideas which the world has to accept: technology support and finance. "Al Gore put An Inconvenient Truth before the world. Narendra Modi is putting convenient action before the world."

So the whole narrative has changed because of one difference. Al Gore put An Inconvenient Truth before the world. Twenty years ago, it was important. Narendra Modi, our prime minister, is putting convenient action before the world.

Are you saying that the previous regime (Congress Party-led UPA government) was not doing this?

No, no. India is one. Our policy is continuation. And narrative definitely changes as per circumstances.

Is India's image of obstructing talks... (interrupts)?

There is no such image. Through you I'm saying that India is actually a proactive member of the world club, but if there is an issue, it is an issue of the attitude of the developed world and unreasonable insistence by developed world.

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Smoke billows from smokestacks and a coal fired generator at a steel factory on November 19, 2015 in the industrial province of Hebei, China.

India and China used to present a united front at the talks....

We will always be a united front.

But things are different now. China has signed a pact with the US and agreed to peaking its emissions by 2030.

But no one has asked us about peaking because we are in a different league. China today contributes 24 percent of emission, we are five percent.

Let us also understand what is peaking. In 2030, U.S. and China will converge at 12 tonnes per capita emissions. My (India) per capita emissions are below two tonnes today. No one is asking me about peaking because countries know that India will never reach 12.

Around 40 billion tonnes of CO2 has been emitted into the atmosphere. The largest emitters are China at 28 percent, US at 14 percent, EU at 10 percent and India at 7 percent (with the highest growth rate of 5.1 percent), according to the 2014 Global Carbon Report.

India produces 1.9 tonnes of emissions per person (per capita), compared with 16.4 tonnes per person in the U.S., 7.2 tonnes in China and 6.8 tonnes in the EU.

But on what points do China and India still agree?

We agree on principles.

You will be leading India in one of the most important meetings in the history of the United Nations. How are you feeling

I'm feeling very confident. We are going with hope of an equitable and fair agreement in Paris, and we will put all our efforts to reach a conclusion.

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