On Tuesday, India’s former environment minister Jairam Ramesh claimed that former Barack Obama's memoir A Promised Land, the former US President hasn’t accurately portrayed the discussions between the American delegation and those from BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) in the lead-up to finalising the Copenhagen Accord in 2009.
Obama's memoir, which has become a huge best-seller, has a few pages on the Copenhagen climate summit in Dec 2009. Sadly, his account is different from what actually happened. I had written about it 6 years ago.https://t.co/LYZOdwTGUh— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) December 22, 2020
To back his claim, Ramesh, currently the Congress whip in India’s Upper House, cited a June 2014 column he penned, which described how the meeting between the Obama-led US delegation and leaders from BASIC countries was a “watershed” moment that salvaged the climate talks in the Danish capital.
In particular, Ramesh’s recollection focused on the tough stance adopted by the Chinese and Indian delegation during the negotiations.
“Sir, we will agree to international consultations and analysis but you must agree to the reference to respect for national sovereignty,” Ramesh told Obama during a meeting that is said to have clinched the legally, non-binding climate agreement.
The exchange happened after Obama, along with former US Secretary Hillary Clinton and others, “barged” into a meeting between then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, and ex-South African President Jacob Zuma.
Ramesh, as well as his Chinese counterpart at the time Ha Yafei, were part of their respective country's delegations. The meeting between BASIC leaders had been convened by Wen.
Citing other accounts of the meeting, Ramesh claims that the Indian delegation had to argue “aggressively” to get original clauses in the final climate agreement modified to suit the interests of developing countries, including BASIC nations.
“India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh argued politely but aggressively with Obama over several points,” wrote US diplomat Jeffrey Bader in his book Obama and China's Rise: An Insider's Account of America's Asia Strategy. Bader also documented Obama's meeting with BASIC leaders in his account.
‘We Will See Who They Believe’
In his autobiography A Promised Land, Obama claims that he forced BASIC countries to agree to the terms of the agreement by putting the onus of a potential failure on them, and he cites the same meeting.
“And remember, I’ve got my own megaphone, and it’s pretty big. If I leave this room without an agreement, then my first stop is the hall downstairs where all the international press is waiting for news. And I’m going to tell them that I was prepared to commit to a big reduction in our greenhouse gases, and billions of dollars in new assistance, and that each of you decided it was better to do nothing,” Obama writes.
“I’m going to say the same thing to all the poor countries that stood to benefit from that new money. And to all the people in your own countries that stand to suffer the most from climate change. And we’ll see who they believe,” the former US President also writes in his book.
Obama further claims in A Promised Land that he had warned Wen that “holding out” negotiations for any longer could risk the treaty being stonewalled by US Congress. Obama claims that after another half hour of “haggling,” the BASIC countries agreed to the deal with some minor changes to the agreement text.
“I did feel pretty good…. I’d pulled a rabbit out of a hat,” the former president writes in the memoir, crediting his successful negotiations with leaders from China and India among other countries for saving the deal.
One of the major outcomes of the legally non-binding Copenhagen Accords was developing countries such as China and India agreeing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, in a bid to contribute towards the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.