Daring to be different and right

The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012. Key developed countries appear unlikely to sign on to a new serious international agreement to reduce carbon emissions worldwide unless developing countries, many of whom are among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, are also engaged in the process. Developing countries argue, however, that growth is a priority, and that their emissions per capita are still much lower than in the West.

India's negotiating team at the Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico has shown a way out of this deadlock. Jairam Ramesh's proposal that, under the right conditions, India would allow verification of, and hard caps on carbon emissions, is a bold move that seeks to induce all other large polluting countries, including China, to agree to submit to a similar regime. The proposal requires that this must be accompanied by extensive handover of clean technologies with the know-how for how to use and manufacture them from rich to developing countries, a tremendous potential gain for numerous emerging markets. Some might question India's proposal. How can it be right to ask countries that are now finally growing to put in place regulations that may inhibit this growth?

First, India is likely to pay a high price for global inaction and deadlock in confronting climate change. State-of-the-art climate models predict that, if current trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue, India will have more than 100 extra days per year where temperatures exceed 32 degrees Celsius. As last summer's heat wave demonstrated, high temperatures exact a toll in India. Research (by Greenstone) indicates that at these temperatures, mortality rates become substantially elevated, especially in rural areas. Further, these hot days reduce agricultural yields, lower wages, and lead to higher prices for consumers in rural areas. Climate change is also likely to lead to increased climate instability, and more episodes of destructive severe weather comparable to this year's flooding in Pakistan.

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