Where The Air Is Rarefied
The most comprehensive analysis of climate change, which tackles India’s (mostly flawed) policies.
This book is remarkable for two reasons. Praful Bidwai has compiled the most comprehensive analysis of climate change, which tackles India’s (mostly flawed) policies governing this all-encompassing global threat, as well as those of other rich and poor nations. His meticulous research is matched by his moral commitment in ensuring that this environmental crisis hinges on equity between, and within, countries. What is more, the author is not one of the usual suspects who follow the tortuous trajectory of global laws regarding curbs on global emissions. He is a formidable nuclear policy analyst and has co-authored several books on it.
This is a depressing chronicle. There was promise of a brave new green world when the UN held the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Five years later, the Kyoto Protocol was born, the first treaty to impose penalties on industrial countries. Environmentalists then pinned their hopes on the Copenhagen conference in 2010, which turned into a damp squib, with India allying itself with BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). President Obama played midwife in hammering out an ‘accord’—as distinct from a treaty—at midnight on the last day. Cancun and Durban followed in successive years, without coming to what is known in UN parlance as a ‘fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty’. With the world’s second largest polluter (China recently overtook the US in carbon emissions) bogged down in congressional wrangles, not to mention its breed of die-hard climate sceptics, there seems little possibility of averting an irreversible global catastrophe, sooner rather than later.
Many environmental journalists keep on stressing that one should look at per capita rather than overall emissions.
Bidwai identifies three strands in the discourse on India’s climate policy. The first he dubs the “Cynicism of the Indifferent Outsider”, whose proponents believe that the problem is only that of the North, which created it and must now resolve it. The second is “Engagement with Entitlement”, where India engages with UN negotiations even while it takes action on climate irrespective of these negotiations. However, these proponents believe that it is not in India’s interests to take on any legally binding commitments even in a decade or two. Finally, there is the “Bargaining-Oriented Pragmatism” approach, which stresses bargaining in contrast to principles. As the author writes, “Unlike the first two strands, it does not put a premium on India’s entitlement to greater climate space.”
Many environmental journalists, this reviewer included, have emphasised that one should look at per capita rather than overall emissions. Bidwai adds a nuance regarding ‘rights’ over greenhouse gases. Within India, 55 billionaires own wealth equivalent to 14.3 per cent of the GDP; the highest per capita emissions are 16.5 times the lowest. He advocates the Greenhouse Development Rights model as a holistic global solution. This posits that those earning below $7,500 a year today must be permitted to make development their top priority and need not contribute to climate stabilisation. Those earning above this threshold—irrespective of their nationality—have to compensate the others.
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