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Tough talk at UN climate show

New Delhi, Oct. 23: Union environment minister T.R. Baalu has said while his “countrymen are important”, he will not compromise on degradation of environment. The minister made it clear that cleaning up the environment was more important than ensuring rehabilitation of displaced workers.

Baalu’s observation came shortly after he was elected president of the eighth UN-sponsored Conference of Parties (COP) to the climate change convention at a news conference. On the fate of thousands of workers who were forced out on the streets after the Supreme Court order to shut down polluting industries, he said: “ My countrymen are important, but I will not compromise on environment.”

In his inaugural address, however, the minister had said: “Poverty eradication is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.”

While the 10-day UN blitz on climate change took off today in the midst of great fanfare, those with a different viewpoint on alternate strategies of sustainable development have planned a parallel meet.

They have come up with a different viewpoint that does not merely look at climate change and its impact on sustainable development as a technical issue. “We are looking at it from the people’s perspective — from the perspective of fishermen, workers,” said one of the organisers from the voluntary sector.

But organisers steered clear of these controversial issues on the first day of the conference. It was, however, clear that Baalu, as the newly-elected president of the organisation, will have a hard time thrashing out a consensus between developed and developing countries on fractious issues like commitment of both sides to reduce levels of greenhouse gases and the commitment of developed countries to extend sufficient financial help to developing countries to upgrade their technology.

“As president of COP 8, it is my responsibility to develop a consensus among the parties and to see the Kyoto protocol is quickly ratified,” said Baalu. The on-going conference is expected to finalise guidelines for clean development mechanism (CDM). The meeting is being attended by 3,000 delegates from 186 countries.

There were beginnings of fireworks on the first day itself with conservation organisations warning that the government must ensure that developed countries reduce pollution levels that cause global warming.

They were also sceptical about the CDM’s ability to help reduce emissions. “If the governments do not act to ensure the environmental quality of CDM projects, the mechanism will become rapidly tarnished. They will be regarded with suspicion and distrust by many in all the sectors involved,” said Jennier Morgan, director of World Wild Life’s climate change programme.

In India, medium and small scale sectors, voluntary organisations pointed out, will have to upgrade their technology in order to comply with the mandate for a cleaner environment. Much of this is left undone. The big industrial companies, however, have by and large adapted upgraded technology because of more resources. “We are now going through a transitional phase from negotiations to implementation,” said Baalu.

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