Jairam Ramesh, India’s minister for environment and forests, spoke to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Beijing on Sunday. Many of his remarks focused on Copenhagen climate-change summit in December. The Hindu reports:

China would have been left completely isolated at last December’s climate summit in Copenhagen, if it had not been for India’s backing, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has said.

jairam_ramesh

Recognition from China’s “top leadership” that Indian support was “absolutely essential” for China at the talks, following an “ambush” by the West, had now even led to an improvement in bilateral relations after a year of hostilities, Mr. Ramesh told journalists on Sunday.

“We were critical to China at Copenhagen. The Chinese know, in their heart of hearts, that we saved them from isolation,” he said. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the top Chinese leadership acknowledges the Copenhagen spirit, and the cooperation between India and China, as a very positive outcome.”

Ramesh also refuted a recent article in Der Spiegel that suggested India made a last-minute decision to back China in the negotiations. From The Hindu again:

Mr. Ramesh said the article “was not accurate.” “India and China argued  that if you were to impose this constraint [of capping global emissions] without working out a formula to ensure equity in burden-sharing, the development space for countries like India and China would get  circumscribed,” he said. “That is why we argued for setting a global goal of limiting temperature increase [instead].”

I attended the talk – and beyond the Copenhagen post-mortem, I found Ramesh’s remarks about the revitalised relationship between India and China interesting. In particular, Ramesh emphasised that this “Copenhagen spirit” had wider strategic objectives, including increased cooperation in water resources, the low-carbon economy, glacier monitoring and forestry.

On the issue of water resources, Ramesh said there remain great fears in India about a possible Chinese diversion of the Yarlung Zangbo River, a transboundary river that rises in Tibet and runs through disputed territory in north-eastern India, before it becomes the Brahmaputra River in India and the Jamuna River in Bangladesh. However, China and India now have an agreement on sharing hydrological data on the river and China has for the first time admitted to building a hydroelectric project on the Yarlung Zangbo: a sign of increased openness and the renewed post-COP15 relationship, said Ramesh. He added that since this is a run-of-the-river hydroelectric project, it was not of such great concern to India. A water-diversion project, he said, would be a different matter (not only for India, but also Bangladesh). There is no water-sharing treaty on the river.

On green tech – which he described as a “strategic objective” following a “paradigm shift” in the Indian leadership – Ramesh said it was a “matter of deep regret” to him that India fell behind China in terms of low-carbon industry: its solar energy programme started in 1982, he said, and its wind power development in 1984. He also said that India and China were moving forward with cooperation on glacier monitoring.

The minister focused a number of times on critics of the “bonhomie” between China and India. Many Indians, for example, point out how China is a far larger greenhouse-gas emitter than India. And politicians in the United States too, Ramesh said, are uncomfortable about India finding common cause with China. But, he continued, “As an Indian, I have to deal with both G1 and G2”.

UPDATE: Ananth Krishnan has written a summary of Ramesh’s remarks on the Brahmaputra at The Hindu

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