India miffed as UNDP suggests Asia take more climate action

May 14, 2012
One planet to share

The Government of India has taken umbrage over perceived “biases” in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP's) Asia Pacific Human Development report, One Planet To Share – Sustaining human progress in a changing climate, which was released on Thursday.

The report argues that in the face of climate change, countries in Asia and the Pacific “will need to change the way they manufacture goods, raise crops and livestock, and generate energy.” This will mean “moving to greener, more resilient, lower-emission options that not only sustain the environment but also offer opportunities to the poor for employment and income.”

In his foreword to the report Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, said that: “Unlike the developed countries of today, Asia-Pacific does not have the option to ‘grow now and clean up later’ in view of the already accumulated huge amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

Claiming that UNDP had not even consulted the government on the draft report, however, a unnamed official from India's Ministry of Environment and Forests was quoted in the Times of India as saying: "It pits the issue of growth against environment, which is not a correct framework for analysis. The very title of the report is objectionable. It suggests that cleaning up first, and growing up later should be the option. This is like putting the logic on its head."

“The report is silent on the principle of equity. It only says that developed countries are taking adequate steps to reduce carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutral production and consumption. Our experience with the Kyoto Protocol and low-level of pledges made in Cancun do not support this view," the official continued.

The UNDP is recommending that Asia-Pacific countries act now while they are experiencing a fast pace of economic growth and cites some positive indications. China is committed to lower its carbon intensity of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level. India is also committed to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 20-25 percent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level while Indonesia has committed to cutting emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

Rich-poor divide

It also make a plea for more fair and balanced consumption in a region where there are more than 2.5 billion mobile phone subscriptions, yet half its population, or almost 1.9 billion people, lacks basic services such as access to flushing toilets.

The report warns that fulfilling the urgent needs of those in extreme poverty, combined with the higher purchasing power of the region’s new consumers, will increase the demand for food, water, energy, housing and consumer goods. These factors will put even greater pressure on natural resources and will require more balanced consumption patterns that are less energy and resource intensive, especially among the rich and the growing middle classes.

How India’s burgeoning middle class and super-rich felt about this message the Times of India did not say. However, on visit to the country two weeks ago Un Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that although India has made impressive economic progress there are "serious disparities between rich and poor".

The UNEP report also observes that of the world’s top 20 megacities – those with populations of 10 million or more – half are located in Asia. The region has some of the world’s fastest growing cities, which must deal with both the causes and consequences of climate change.

“Actions in cities will be ‘make or break’ for climate change,” it said.

The new UNDP publication is aimed at reinvigorating the climate change dialogue by bringing people’s concerns to the fore in the lead-up to the Rio+20 conference.