UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s first overseas posting as a South Korean diplomat was to Delhi, his son-law is a former Indian Army officer but as Secretary General he has rarely put out a personal appeal to an Indian prime minister as he has done now.
His latest appeal to Modi to attend next week’s UN Climate Change Summit – “I really wanted him to participate” – is yet another signal of the waves Brand Modi is making in global diplomacy as well as the discomfort that his absence from the Summit is causing to its supporters.
Modi of course will speak at the UN General Assembly in New York later this month on the sidelines of his meeting with President Obama and he isn’t going now partly because scheduling dates with Washington and coinciding them with the Climate Change Summit was an issue. So what’s the big deal?
Only India, China and Russia’s top bosses won’t be at this summit where 120 government heads will meet to talk about what Ban calls the “defining issue of our times.” It is a crucial step towards crafting a new climate change treaty by next year and global experts are concerned about India’s environmental positioning under the new government. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar is likely to represent India and media reports indicate that his ministry doesn’t see much value in this forum.
As Modi hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping on the Sabarmati, this is one issue that both governments agree on. India is the world’s fourth largest green house gas emitter (6%), China the largest (29%) but basically both countries are unwilling to put emission breaks on their development journey till the West puts in equivalent breaks in place.
As the author of a book on climate change, Narendra Modi is well aware of the debate. His book, ‘Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response to Challenges of Climate Change’ focuses on Gujarat’s industrialisation and most recently on Teacher’s Day he told Indian students that the “climate is not changing, people are”. Critics say that his response must also take into account what current climate science is telling us.
The World Bank estimates that environmental degradation is costing India 5.7% of its GDP and former environment minister Jairam Ramesh is warning that India may remain the last country standing at the Paris negotiations in 2015 if it doesn’t accept binding emission cuts and retrofit its development model.
India desperately needs a new transparent and clear-cut environment regime. While desparately needed-development projects cannot remain permanent hostage to the environment bureaucracy like they did under Manmohan Singh, the only barometer for efficiency in the Environment Ministry cannot be the speed at which files are cleared, like it seems is happening now.
Mr Modi has a lot on his plate but as the Kashmir floods and the Uttarakhand tragedy last year show, the environment is something we ignore only at our own peril