An interesting piece of news had come out a few days back, where it was stated that the government is planning to replace polluting ‘chullahs’ in rural households with green stoves (stoves fuelled by biomass). As stated there, this flagship program would cover around 140 million households. In other words, it would cover over 560 million people. This, in itself, is a wonderful initiative and would go a long way in not just saving the precious forests of India but would also arrest many ailments which emanate from the poisonous smoke of chullahs. Another interesting news that has come up in the recent past is that India’s forest cover has grown by 728 square kilometers during 2005-07 and thus now stands at 21%. Similarly, one has also witnessed that there has been a sincere effort on the part of the government and also the judicial system to crack down on illegal mines in forest areas and force the fuel guzzling and polluting vehicles on the streets of Delhi to convert to CNG. Kolkata too has followed the queue. The average car on the Indian streets today conforms to Euro-3 or Euro-4 norms and the awareness with respect to the environmental damage that is caused by plastics has been on a constant rise. All these are good initiatives which would definitely help India and its commitment towards the global environment. And for all these, one doesn’t need to go to Copenhagen and deliberate with representatives of developed nations.

But then a summit like the Copenhagen one is imperative! It is imperative because all those six nations which contribute to 60% percent of global greenhouse emissions might not do what India is doing. Had they been doing the same, then today’s Copenhagen and yesterday’s Kyoto would not have been needed in the first place. In fact, not just India, but even China has set the tone for the ongoing summit by making self-commitments in terms of cutting down the greenhouse emissions by 2020. Even though the per capita emission and energy consumption in India and China are far less than what they are in the developed nations (As on date, although India globally might stand sixth in terms of greenhouse emissions, with respect to per-capita emissions it is a tenth of the US!), the fact remains that with increase in prosperity in both these nations, more and more people will consume an increasing amount of energy. And if two billion plus people start consuming as much energy as a few hundred million people in the West consume, then the world is surely doomed. So while this is true that people in China and India have all the right to have a far better style of living – which would invariably increase the level of emissions – there is also this blatant fact that the West and especially the US have been extremely disinclined to cut down on emissions. While they might create stringent conditions of environmental factors on imports from underdeveloped countries and thus limit the competitive edge of developing and underdeveloped countries in terms of cost factors (as investments in less polluting production systems would surely increase cost), the developed countries would continue to waste energy. The Environmental Protection Agency has this shocking revelation that US is forced to spend a whopping $1 billion every year only on disposing the food left overs of Americans. Likewise, the value of wasted food in countries like UK is around £10 billion annually.

Thus, when China, which emits almost 21% of global greenhouse gases, takes a voluntary commitment of cutting down its emission by 40-45% by 2020 based on 2005 emission levels, and India, which emits just 4% of global greenhouse gases, follows suit by committing to cut its emission by 20-25% by 2020 based on 2005 emission levels, it puts tremendous pressure on the US to make meaningful commitments. US, by far, has been one of the biggest abuser of the environment and has managed to escape the Kyoto Protocol as well. Bogged down by the impending pressures from China and India, the US has offered to cut down its emissions by 17% by 2020 based on 2005 emission levels. Clearly, the commitment is far too low with respect to what the nation is emitting as a whole. But more than that, there are two other problems. Firstly, back home, Barack Obama is facing too much resistance in terms of making this offer, with the Republicans putting pressure on him to resist the passing of any treaty in Copenhagen citing that the whole issue of global warming is an exaggeration and orchestrated by scientists. Secondly, if the US offer is accepted, then all those wealthier nations who ratified Kyoto by cutting down emissions with respect to their 1990 levels, would also ask for a shift of the base year from 1990 to 2005! And if that happens, it would not only give an undue advantage to the wealthier nations, it would mean an obituary to Kyoto. More than that, this will set an extremely dangerous precedent for other nations to follow the same path in the future.

It is not the first time that the world is observing double standards of the developed world, but then Copenhagen should be an opportunity for developing countries like India and China to set their own standards and work towards the creation of a better world!

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