Down to the wire: India's leadership is necessary to build consensus in international climate talks

This blog was co-authored by Andy Gupta

During the final days of the international climate talks in Cancun, there is a need for leadership and action if countries are to reach agreement.  In these final days, it is harder to feel the optimism that existed in previous rounds of negotiations.  As our colleague Jake Schmidt writes, the table has been set on a handful of key issues and it is now up to individual nations to decide if they are ready to take action.  India is poised to continue to be a leader on consensus and action in the climate talks – helping to bring about a new international framework that will ensure that all countries have a seat at the table to fight climate change and its impacts.

India has been a constructive player in this regard, showing signs that it wants to contribute to a productive negotiation.  It played a proactive role leading up to these negotiations and has positioned itself as a potential deal maker that can work with other nations to foster agreement on various issues. Environmental Minister and Chief Negotiator for India, Jairam Ramesh, stated that his mandate in Cancun is to “play a bridge between U.S. and others” and to “bring [the] U.S. on board in climate talks.” In a speech this week, the Minister reminded delegates that “environmental stewardship demands responsive leadership.”  India has already demonstrated leadership in the negotiations.  It helped create the Copenhagen Accord.  At Cancun, we hope India will once again help bridge the gap on key areas of disagreement.

India’s substantive contribution thus far has been to revitalize positive discussion on the issue of tracking and reporting of emissions and climate actions by individual countries.  The Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) scheme agreed upon in the Copenhagen Accord was a vital first step in creating a workable and transparent system to track progress against climate change.  Still, disagreement between developing and developed nations about key components of such a system has stalled progress since.  India’s International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) framework has fostered debate and dialogue.  While the ICA framework is merely a proposal, it does signify a shift in the Indian position on international scrutiny and indicates that India is looking for ways to build consensus. 

The ICA proposal has sparked debate among key parties, including the United States and China, and has helped highlight issues that need to be resolved before an agreement is finalized.  The MRV/ICA issue is critical because it affects countries’ willingness to cooperate on issues such as technology transfer, finance, and emissions reduction.  Developed countries want a mechanism in place to ensure that developing countries are following through on their own climate actions.  At the same time, developing nations want commitments of funding and technology to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  They also want to improve the transparency of the movement and use of climate funds with clear monitoring guidelines.  India is keen to resolve this issue because the technology and funding so critical to addressing climate change are, in part, contingent on a good framework for MRV and ICA.  With these issues in mind, last week NRDC released a factsheet with recommendations for improving the accuracy and accountability in the international global warming agreement.

While the transparency (MRV/ICA) issue is critical for consensus in these global negotiations, it is also beneficial for individual countries.  A robust MRV/ICA framework would allow countries to better monitor and analyze the efficacy of their own actions, as well as memorialize and get credit for them.  India has started to address climate change domestically.  It has a comprehensive National Action Plan on Climate Change that outlines a variety of programs and initiatives to curb emissions.  The Indian government has already started to implement a host of these climate actions.  An MRV/ICA deal would ensure that India gets adequate credit for its actions.  Moreover, it would help the Indian government calibrate policies to increase effectiveness and allow the Indian public to hold its government accountable on climate change. 

India has declared that it will meet its domestic emissions goals whether a global agreement exists or not.  By starting a productive dialogue on the MRV/ICA issue and making a parallel proposal on technology transfer, India has made agreement on this package of fundamental issues more likely. 

Still, time is running out at Cancun.  Countries have made significant headway on all the critical issues: increasing transparency, creating a global fund to fight climate change, deploying clean technology, developing a system to reduce deforestation emissions, and bolstering climate adaptation programs. Translating this progress into actual agreements will require leadership, consensus and action.  India has indicated that it is willing to be one of the “responsive leaders”. 

The Copenhagen Accord was drafted in the waning moments of COP 15.  We still have a little time left at Cancun.  It’s time for the United States, India, and the other negotiating nations to find a way forward to combat climate change together.