India In, India Out

October 22, 2009

Friend, colleague, philosopher, and co-conspirator Andrew Light posts this hopeful report over at the Center for American Progress. Friend, colleague, policy scientist, and co-conspirator Roger Pielke Jr. disagrees.

Light and authors are hopeful that “India may be the country that provides the necessary breakthrough in international negotiations to help developed and developing countries reach an agreement.”  Roger and Pielke are more pessimistic, given these obstructionist comments from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: “No way.”

(Singh didn’t actually say that.  I paraphrase.  But, as we’ve seen, quotes can be a barrel of fun.  Singh actually said this: “”Developing countries cannot and will not compromise on development.”)

Who to believe?  What to do?  Shall I intervene?

The truth clearly lies somewhere in the middle: that international agreement options for developing nations at Copenhagen are not off the table, even though Singh implies they are; and that all of the options for developing nations are not on the table, even though Ramesh implies that they are. The idea, I take it, is that India will play, but maybe not play casually (whatever that means).  My impression is that apparently mixed messages work like this in politics.

This can be chalked up to the quick movement of statements, as well as the context in which the statements are uttered. I often challenge my students not to gravitate immediately toward apparent contradictions in statements — though this is an important skill too — but rather to engage in a bit of low-impact mental contortionism. I urge them to try to reconcile apparently contradictory statements. It’s a wee bit more difficult when you have multiple speakers, like Ramesh and Singh, as individual speakers often genuinely disagree, but when you’re talking about the utterances and whispers of an administration, I think we can nevertheless make sense of these claims.

Singh is signalling the dedication of his developing nation to development, implying that this means no agreement in Copenhagen. Ramesh, by leaking the memo, is signalling the dedication of his department to smart development, implying that this means yes agreement in Copenhagen. There’s no reason these two positions can’t be reconciled. Both positions can support development; the question is, rather, over what kind of development.

Policy positions change.  Singh wants to lay down the law. Ramesh is trying to get Singh to change his tune, to free his mind and allow his ass to follow, as any person in an advisory position might do.  There are clearly pressures pushing both ways internal to the Indian government, just as there are pressures pushing both ways among my friends and colleagues. Nothing so crazy about that.

Beer summit, anyone?


  1. But not that many months ago it was Ramesh making the strong statements. IMHO these new statements by themselves don’t say much of anything about what’s going on in the negotiations, although CAP can be presumed to knmow a lot more about what’s going on with those than Roger does.

    The basics here are that a deal is inevitable since the main players all want one, but that the deal will be weak relative to 350 ppm and probably 450 ppm. As with the forthcoming U.S. climate law, the important questions are what substantive actions it will require in the short term and how much of an impediment it will present to further steps toward 350 ppm.

  2. The truth of the matter is constrained by the fact that India, among the great countries, is most (and quite seriously) threatened by climate change because the north of the country depends on the Himalayan glaciers for its drinking water and also because they are pulling down the water table at a huge rate for agriculture.

    They gotta get a deal and all the rest is posturing



    Anyone who comments on what is going on on the surface is missing the action. It might look good in the Washington Post, but it is wrong

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