India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has this week released a document to support India’s claim that it can quickly grow its economy without destabilising emissions negotiations. The intention is clearly to take a ‘scientific’ stand at the Copenhagen meeting in December with which to project the central government objective of steady GDP growth.

The Ministry report – released with an authoritative flourish to the press – says that the set of five studies it compiles “are independently undertaken, and use different models, techniques and assumptions. The Ministry’s role has been to serve as a platform to bring together the studies and facilitate a rigorous academic peer review process. The effort has been to ensure that these studies are fact-based and objective and are not seen as a ‘government study’ “.

To that end, the Ministry has done the scientific community in India (and of course in China and South Asia) a service because the document puts out in detail the methodologies, data sources, modelling objectives and assumptions used in each of the five studies.

What is the bottom-line observation by the Ministry? In his foreword, the new minister in charge, Mr Jairam Ramesh, says that “there is a broad convergence across the five studies in the estimates of India’s aggregate GHG emissions and per capita GHG emissions over the next two decades.” According to the ministry, these studies indicate that India’s aggregate and per capita emissions over the next two decades will remain “quite modest”.

Here are the important final numbers: “the per capita GHG emissions of India (average across the five studies) are estimated to be 2.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in the year 2020, and 3.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in the year 2030”. The Ministry has then immediately compared these estimated per capita emissions of in 2020 with those of “the developed countries” to find that India’s numbers are expected to be “well below those of the developed countries, even if the developed countries were to take ambitious emission reduction targets (25-40%) as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the mid-term.”

The organisations which have done these studies are: The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe), Jadavpur University (in the state of West Bengal), and McKinsey and Company.

What is the take-away conclusion of the Ministry? It says that “even with very aggressive GDP growth over the next two decades, India’s per capita emissions will be well below developed country averages and much lower than the scenarios that have been projected by certain sections of academia in the developed countries.” A dose of international civic responsibility has been injected with the Ministry saying that “we are acutely conscious of the need to address the issue of climate change and be a proactive and constructive participant in search of an agreement that is fair and equitable”.

The Ministry claims that India’s energy intensity of GDP has reduced from 0.30 kgoe (kg oil equivalent) per US$ GDP in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms in 1980 to 0.16 kgoe per US$ GDP in PPP terms. “This is comparable to Germany and only Japan, UK, Brazil and Denmark have lower energy intensities in the world.”

China too has been active in publishing analysis and opinion to further the moral argument – as India has done – that it should not have to pay the price of developing a low-carbon economy, after the developed world was able to grow rich in the era of cheap fossil fuels. Judging from the responses to the official and industry positions taken in both countries, neither China nor India want to be seen as manoeuvring to derail a new climate change agreement that can succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Not surprisingly, the new numbers released by India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests are being viewed in a different light elsewhere. The Financial Times in a news feature covering the matter said that “India’s greenhouse gas emissions are set to at least quadruple over the next 20 years as its economy expands.” The 02 September FT report commented: “The Indian government is hoping these projections will strengthen its hand in the run-up to climate change talks in Copenhagen in December, at which governments hope to forge a successor to the Kyoto protocol. It fears binding emissions cuts or caps would hamper its pursuit of growth, and argues that the aspirations of emerging economies should not be stunted by unfair corrective measures promoted by developed nations.”

Only a month earlier, international media had reported that India and China were hardening their stances against what is seen as western pressure to join a deal in which the developed world (which bears historic responsibility for global warming) has failed to meet its own emissions targets. “The toughening of New Delhi’s stance marks an escalation in the war of words over global warming that India has waged with the developed world ahead of crucial negotiations in Copenhagen in December,” reported the FT on 01 August. “The bad-tempered dialogue bodes ill for the success of those talks.”

At the time, Jairam Ramesh had bluntly said that the “hypocrisy” of the US and the inability of European countries to meet their Kyoto obligations made it easier for India to take a stand for its own industrial development. “[The west] caused global warming and [it] needs to bear the cost. We are enjoying [this battle] because many western countries have not met their obligations and where there was an agreed baseline [on emissions] they are now changing it altogether.”

The government of the People’s Republic of China has said that it wants the developed world to spend 0.5-1 per cent of GDP helping developing countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This was earlier estimated to cost more than US$300bn a year. A new study from the People’s University of Beijing estimates that reducing net emissions in China alone will cost some US$438bn a year by 2030. That new number and the study it came from could be used in the Copenhagen negotiations to push the argument that the developed world should contribute to the costs of reducing carbon emissions in China.

Aside from the hard Asian negotiating positions however is the fact that at the end of July, the USA and China signed a “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to Enhance Cooperation on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment”. Writing about the MoU in China Dialogue, authors Banning Garrett and Jonathan Adams said (27 August) that although it has been “generally viewed as less than earth-shaking”, its real strategic significance is not being understood.

Garrett and Adams argue that there is reason to believe that the two governments may actually follow through on their commitments and a long-term collaborative project with strategic implications will be undertaken. They list four reasons why they think so:

* First, the leadership of the two countries at the highest level now endorses climate-change science and takes seriously climate change as a critical strategic threat to both nations and the world. This is a major change that has taken place in China over the last two years and in the United States with the advent of the Obama administration.
* Second, the two governments are both committed to scaled-up domestic actions to implement policies aimed at transitioning their economies to clean-energy systems and low-carbon development.
* Third, the strong and public commitment by the leaders of the two countries to both meet the climate-change challenge and to engage in unprecedented US-China cooperation is a new and essential ingredient to energise the two governments at all levels and the two business communities to vastly scale up their collaborative as well as national efforts.
* Fourth, international and public pressure will continue to increase on the two biggest consumers of energy and producers of greenhouse-gas emissions to take effective and far-reaching steps to reduce their emissions and to cooperate with international efforts to reduce global emissions.

The U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment is here.

Compared with an Indian government stance that has grown more intransigent this year – now bristling with quasi-academic armoury – China has publicly announced itself as “always committed to have the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol implemented and very serious about honoring commitments on its part” but steered clear of numbers. Its philosophy on climate change, its processes and dialogues, is contained in the four principles set out by the National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic.

Two of these contain the arguments that the Indian central government and its Ministry of Environment and Forests is also making, albeit in a far more nuanced manner. One is ‘The Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities’. This states: “Developed countries shall take responsibility for their historical cumulative emissions and current high per capita emissions to change their unsustainable way of life and to substantially reduce their emissions and, at the same time, to provide financial support and transfer technology to developing countries. Developing countries will, in pursuing economic development and poverty eradication, take proactive measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change.”

The second is ‘The Principle of Sustainable Development’. This states: “Sustainable development is both the means and the end of effectively addressing climate change. Within the overall framework of sustainable development, economic development, poverty eradication and climate protection should be considered in a holistic and integrated manner so as to reach a win-win solution and to ensure developing countries to secure their right to development.”

The complete ‘China’s Position on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference’ is available at the National Development and Reform Commission website.

Moreover, compared with the Indian government’s five GHG emissions studies and utter absence of urban settlement information, the People’s Republic of China has a Pollution Information Transparency Index that has come out of a partnership between the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and the US Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The index rates 113 cities in China on a 100-point scale based on their compliance with the disclosure requests, responses to citizen petitions, and public records of environmental violations.

Worldwatch reports that there is greater transparency about environmental issues and data since 2008 when China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection authorised its Measures on Open Environmental Information, a new effort at public disclosure. The freedom-of-information law requires municipalities to provide details on which companies violated pollution regulations or caused large pollution incidents, as well as how much contamination these polluters discharged into the environment.

The Transparency Index is not enthusiastically subscribed to by all municipalities in China. “Three out of four cities surveyed did not fulfil the disclosure requests. Some cities responded that disclosure would reveal corporate secrets or compromise economic growth,” said the Worldwatch report.

Ningbo in Zhejiang province, Hefei in Anhui province, Fuzhou in Fujian province, and Wuhan in Hubei province are cities that ranked at the top of the list. Smaller cities are also said to be demonstrating reform. Weihai in Shandong province was the first city to publish pollution levels on its website. Changzhou in Jiangsu province publishes environmental violations in the local government-owned media. India has 35 cities with populations of over a million (including the Greater Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai urban super-agglomerations). None of these – let alone any of the host of lesser cities such as Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Indore, Bhopal or Coimbatore – is plotted on an environmental or pollution transparency index.