In the annals of world history, 2015 might just go down as the year nations decided collective responsibility was going to yield little, and that it was time for every nation to do its own bit for global progress. You could look at it as the year developed nations got weary of the “rich man’s burden”, of waiting for developing and poor nations to catch up, aided by development financing from them. Or you could look at it as the year some developing nations came into their own and assumed new roles as global leaders or—faced with contexts that demanded this—decided to go along.
At the Paris climate change summit, rich nations like the US, Canada and Australia shook off the yoke of historical emissions or of financing climate-change action in developing countries—in return for having eaten up all their carbon space—and ensured developing countries like China and India had to share the burden of cutting emissions.
This was unfair, but India went along since, it was obvious, protesting wasn’t going to do any good, save for better press back home. And, at the Nairobi WTO meet, despite India’s protests, the US and the EU—with support from Brazil—decided to try and junk the Doha Development Agenda that sought to extract greater concessions from them for developing and undeveloped countries; in any case, with the Trans Pacific Partnership and other such pacts being worked on, plurilateral seems to be the preferred way over multilateral. And though the world as a whole endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals—formally adopted by the UN in September 2015—at the third international conference on Financing for Development in July 2015 at Addis Ababa, OECD figures show aid for least developed countries (LDCs) shrank by 16% in 2014 over 2013. Given that overall aid had fallen only by 0.5%, this suggests rich nations are more interested in funding the rise of developing or middle-income nations with immense market and talent potential.
Though this will hurt many underdeveloped countries, from India’s point of view, this is not necessarily a bad thing—but it will call for a new approach. As this newspaper has pointed out before, the very farm subsidies the rich are objecting to at the WTO are the ones holding back Indian agriculture; indeed, they can be refashioned and, while being kept at the same levels, can be made WTO-compatible, improving the lot of Indian farmers. Having to finance climate change action on India’s own, is going to cost more than what India can afford, but Indian policies of subsidising fuel for decades has only contributed to the problem; not charging most customers the right price for electricity, in turn, ensured energy conservation never took root in the country and, along with free water, ruined vast tracks of land in Haryana and Punjab. If the lesson from Paris gets Indian policymakers off their moral pedestal, and gets them to work on practical policy solutions, that’s a good start to the new year.