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Arvind Subramanian – India's Economic Advisor or a US Lobbyist?

From press reports, it is now known that Arviand Subramanian, the Chief Economic Advisor to the Modi-led NDA government has not only suggested a wholesale reversal on India's positions in the on-going Climate Change UN negotiations, but has advised a complete capitulation to US corporate interests. This is in line with what he had done earlier, when as a part of Peterson Institute, a right-wing economic think tank, he had recommended that if India does not change its patents laws, the US should file a dispute against India in WTO. The difference is that he was then speaking as a part of an American think tank; now he is India's Chief Economic Advisor, supposedly advising on policies in India's interest. But then this is the problem of appointing high-profile non-resident Indians, whose primary interests lie in the careers they have built abroad.

Subramanian negates the essential premise of environmental law – that those who create the problem, have the responsibility of solving the problem as well. About 2/3rds of carbon emissions have been emitted by developed countries who have about 1/5th of world's population. The developing countries – including India and China -- who have 4/5ths of the world's population, have emitted only 1/3rd of world's carbon emissions. It is this completely disproportionate share of carbon emissions that led in the Kyoto protocols to the formulation of “common but differentiated” responsibility of the rich and poor countries.

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Subramanian is proposing that we let off the developed world completely off the hook and put the burden of not exceeding the global carbon budget primarily on the shoulders of the poor. Even worse, he goes further and suggests that we throw all our climate allies under the bus, thus emerging as the saviour of the rich countries. This way, we will “earn” our place at the global head table, but of course as a good “Uncle Tom”. This might – according to Subramanian – even get us a place in the Security Council.

It is quite stupid to suggest that the rich countries have the power to decide who should or should not be in the Security Council. Anybody with a modicum of knowledge or intelligence, would have known that it will require a global consensus for India to get a seat in the Security Council, a prospect unlikely to be fulfilled by betraying all our allies in the UN. But then Subramanian is not looking at India's interests, but his long-term career in the US.

The key questions in Climate Change negotiations have been carbon budget and equity. The globe has a fixed carbon budget which it cannot exceed without endangering all of us. And already, the major chunk of it has been occupied by the rich countries. The battle is now over what is left in this carbon budget. Every year that the climate pact over carbon emissions is postponed, more of this carbon space is occupied by the rich countries and less that will be left for the rest. That is why countries such as the US is keen on postponing any agreement on climate change.

The equity issue is related to the energy costs, and the energy route chosen. Fossil fuel (coal and hydrocarbon) based energy is cheaper than renewable energy. India currently has an energy consumption that is less than a third that of the global average and less than 1/12th that of the US. So if India wants to have per capita energy consumption to even reach the global average, it will have to generate 3 times the electricity it currently produces. Even though the cost of renewable energy has been dropping over time, using the renewable route – wind and solar – would currently cost 3-5 times more than the fossil fuel route.

The amount of energy a country needs, is based on the number of people. People need energy for their daily activities. If we want to have a lower level of per capita carbon emissions while increasing our per capita energy consumption (a low carbon path), we will have to spend a lot more money. Therefore, the poor countries are not asking for charity when they ask that rich countries have to finance a part of the additional burden being imposed on them for the disproportionate carbon space rich countries have already occupied and are continuing to occupy.

The rich countries have argued that since we are all facing a limit on how much we can emit, we should all cut back, without reference to our historical emissions or our current per capita emissions. The rich countries pontificate that we should forget the past, even if this past includes the last 25 years, when global consequences of carbon emissions were well-known and Kyoto protocols were already in operations. So India, with 1/12th the per capita carbon emissions of the US, with a small fraction of its historical emissions, should cut back in the same proportion as the US. Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel lobby including the Koch brothers in the US, have also been advancing such positions.

If we all agree that for the sake of humanity, the globe needs to follow a low carbon path, all of us have to share the costs of such a path. What the rich countries are saying is that they want to levy huge taxes on poor countries in the name of intellectual property rights, technology, finances, etc.for low carbon technologies, but the additional burden of the low carbon path that the poor countries are now being forced to adopt, should be borne exclusively by the poor countries. This is what Subramanian is also advocating, when he asks for equity to be taken out of the Climate Change negotiations.

By arguing that India jettison equity as a principle, Arvind Subramanian is acting squarely in the interest of the rich countries, especially the US. So when Subramanian wants India not to ask for money from the rich countries, he is asking poor countries to subsidise the rich countries and their profligate carbon consumption.

Subramanian's lobbying the US Congress on behalf of US pharma companies earlier is no different from his now lobbying the Indian government on behalf of the US fossil fuel companies. The only difference is that he is now the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India and should not act as a lobbyist for US corporate interests.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick



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