Indian Environment Minister–Climate Denier or Savvy Negotiator?

The Financial Times reports today on remarks by Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh whereby he critiqued scientific assessments about the role of climate change in shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas.

According to a press release from the Indian government Ramesh “said we have to get out of the preconceived notion which is based on western media” that retreating glaciers are due to climate change. He also stressed the scientific uncertainty about the causes of glacial decline in the Himalayas.

Of course there is “scientific uncertainty”–the whole project of science is based on uncertainty. The real issue is how we use the knowledge gained from science to assess risk and develop policy accordingly.

This is why Ramesh’s remarks may be more accurately interpreted as a political move to deflect pressure from Western countries (and the US in particular) that India agree to greenhouse gas emissions cuts at this year’s UN negotiations in Copenhagen.

A look at the Indian press shows that Ramesh’s understanding of glacial science may be more complicated. The Hindu reports on Ramesh acknowledging a .5 degree rise in India’s temperatures over the past century and the Times of India indicates that the government is supporting long-term research on glacial change in the Himalayas.

There are other indications that India is taking measures to deal with the problems with a carbon-dominated economy. In Calcutta, a transport strike is underway after West Bengal proposed to ban commercial vehicles older than 15 years from operating on the city’s streets. The main reason for the ban is to try and solve the horrible air pollution problem.

Although the ban in Calcutta is unrelated to Ramesh’s position, there is a demonstrated concern–however contentious–that environmental problems need to be solved in this rapidly growing industrial economy. Perhaps using emissions reductions strategies as a justification for helping to deal with public health could change the dynamic of India’s position in international negotiations.