U.S., Chinese pledges to cut emissions put pressure on India

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

NEW DELHI -- Recent announcements by the United States and China to cut carbon dioxide emissions are propelling India to make its own commitment to slow greenhouse gas emissions and go to the upcoming Copenhagen climate summit with a firm proposal on reductions.

The move marks a significant shift for India, which until recently had insisted that wealthier nations should bear the brunt of carbon cuts rather than emerging nations, whose economies are less developed.

But President Obama's pledge for the United States to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and an offer by China to lower by 40 percent its carbon intensity -- that is, carbon dioxide emissions relative to the size of its economy -- have put new, unexpected pressure on India, a senior government official said Tuesday.

A new carbon-intensity target may be announced by New Delhi this week, said the official, who is part of India's climate negotiation team and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly before a formal announcement is made.

"The Americans are now on board after President Obama's offer. China has expressed its willingness to stick its neck out. Now, we are also willing to do our bit, China-style," the official said. "The two developments signaled to us that the global politics has moved beyond everybody sitting behind their tables and doing nothing. So, a lot of number-crunching is going on now."

India previously insisted that wealthy nations help support carbon cuts in less developed countries. The new proposal will be a domestic initiative, however, and will not be dependent on international financial or technological support, the official said.

India's rapid economic growth over the past decade and its billion-plus population have made it the world's fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

On Tuesday, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that he expected "a fairly strong agreement" in Copenhagen and that India was "at the crossroads" after the recent U.S. and Chinese moves.

The proposal would represent the first time that top Indian officials are on the same page on carbon emissions. But some here are urging caution.

"We have to be very careful that we are not hustled into a position, inadvertently, where our economic interest is harmed," India's top climate change official, Shyam Saran, told members of the Confederation of Indian Industry on Monday.

During a weekend meeting, India, along with China, Brazil, South Africa and Sudan, decided it would not agree to legally binding emission cuts, international verification of reductions without foreign funding and technology, and imposition of trade barriers in the name of climate change.

Some environmental activists say that a commitment on carbon intensity is not ambitious enough and that India should announce emission cuts instead.

"Carbon-intensity cut is an easy, safe, low-hanging fruit to commit to," said Siddharth Pathak, climate campaigner for Greenpeace India. "India would have achieved this anyway."

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