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Burden of friendship with US and earth

Washington, Dec. 4: When A. Raja arrives in Montreal on Wednesday as India’s chief delegate to the UN Climate Change Conference, he will carry a burden which far outweighs his role as the minister for environment and forests.

This weekend, that burden became a lot heavier with demonstrators in Canada, Britain, the US, Japan, Germany, France, Bangladesh, Brazil, Australia and South Africa protesting to demand urgent action on global warming.

Although India is not a target of the protests, the country ' along with China ' figures prominently in the demonstrations because the two growing economies are exempt from commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But the ire of demonstrators, such as the Arctic Inuit who are losing their ice caps, or Canada’s environment minister Stephane Dion, who is a protester and also chairman of the climate change conference in Montreal at the same time, is the least of Raja’s worries.

George W. Bush’s America is the bete noire at the conference and the White House is looking to India in its desperate search at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the organisation dealing with the climate change process, for shoulders to lean on.

In July, the Americans roped in India to create a new process called the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development to give Washington some credibility on climate change after the Bush administration faced mounting pressure, especially from US allies in Europe, to do something positive about climate change.

Joining the Americans in the new process along with India were China, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

India was represented at the launch of the Asia-Pacific initiative in Laos by Rao Inderjit Singh, the minister of state for external affairs.

Announcing the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development, Robert Zoellick, the US deputy secretary of state, sought to allay fears that the new process was an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, a landmark international agreement in 1997 against global warming.

The Bush administration pulled out of that agreement in 2001, calling the treaty “fatally flawed”, partly because it does not require developing countries to commit to emissions reductions.

Zoellick said the countries which met in Laos viewed the new initiative as a “complement, not an alternative, to the UNFCC and the Kyoto Treaty”.

Having had its way on exemption from greenhouse gas reductions, New Delhi has so far used the Kyoto process to its diplomatic advantage.

India and China are two of the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse gases.

Explaining his reasons for pulling out of Kyoto in a speech here in June 2001, Bush criticised the exemption for India: “Our country, the US, is the world’s largest emitter of man-made greenhouse gases...India and Germany are among the top emitters. Yet, India was exempt from Kyoto.”

So, seven months later, when Bush announced an initiative on “Clear Skies and Global Climate Change”, the NDA regime sought to placate White House by welcoming “the positive elements in President George Bush’s statement of February 14, 2002...particularly his emphasis on the links between economic growth, prosperity and environmental protection; and on capacity building through cooperation, rather than imposing impractical and unrealistic targets on developing countries”.

India, meanwhile, ratified the Kyoto Protocol. And when the US state department mooted the idea of an Asia-Pacific Partnership on Climate Change this year, the UPA government went along with the plan.

Raja’s task in Montreal will be to continue this delicate balance of protecting India’s economic interests, cosying up to the US and appearing to the large politically correct constituency of environmentalists to be a friend of the earth. It will not be easy.

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