The world should not expect too much more from the developing countries in controlling global warming. Not having enough to eat is a more immediate problem than emitting greenhouse gases. This is what Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee clarified at the eighth conference of parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change. There were ministers from more than 170 nations at the New Delhi COP8, and no amount of rhetoric on adaptation could cover up the well-worn divide between the developing and the developed world on this issue. Mr Vajpayee was speaking out for the former, but many heard the unmistakable cadences of that greatest of polluters, the United States of America, in his putting of the Kyoto Protocol in its place. The US has, of course, warmly supported what is already being referred to as the “Delhi declaration”, to the exasperation of the European Union, especially the United Kingdom. Yet it would be wrong not to see the important differences between what Mr Vajpayee is saying and the unilateral undermining of the protocol by the US.
First, he asserts that India’s contributions to the GHG concentrations in the atmosphere make a fraction of the world average, far below that of many developed countries. Therefore, the Indian democracy cannot support “any norm other than equal per capita rights to global environment resources”. Second, developing countries, with their low per capita incomes, cannot afford to take on all the costs of climate change mitigation. Third, he dismisses the allegation that developing countries generate GHG emissions which are unnecessary to their economies. These clarifications certainly underline the extent to which rich and poor nations, although meeting in the same forum and united by the same fears, must think and act according to different priorities. But such a rationale cannot absolve Mr Vajpayee of the responsibility of governing the country with the highest rate of pollution-related diseases in the world. This, among other crucial things, is what the children’s charter at the Delhi conference is asking him to do something about urgently.