India offers plan to slow pace of carbon emissions by 2020

By Rama Lakshmi
Friday, December 4, 2009

NEW DELHI -- India on Thursday offered a plan to unilaterally slow the pace of its carbon emissions by 2020 and assured lawmakers that the offer does not amount to a sellout of national interests.

After a four-hour discussion on climate policy in Parliament, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said India's decision to cut by 20 to 25 percent its carbon intensity -- emissions relative to the size of the economy -- will not be legally binding or subject to international verification. But he added that if India were given international aid or technology, it would be prepared to offer more at the global climate negotiations set to begin next week in Copenhagen.

"Our emissions will go up, but its pace will slow. We are not doing this because of the Copenhagen meeting but out of our own national interest," Ramesh said during a parliamentary session in which lawmakers cautioned against succumbing to international pressure.

The offer is a marked shift for India, which has argued that the international onus to curtail carbon dioxide emissions should be on rich, industrialized countries because their development was at the root of global warming and because they can more easily afford to act. However, India's rapid economic growth over the past decade and its billion-plus population have made the country one of the world's top emerging emitters of greenhouse gases.

"We did not pollute for the last 200 to 300 years, but we will do it in the next 30 years," Ramesh said. "We cannot sit like a frog in the well and say we won't do anything. The world will laugh at us."

Some analysts said India's new target could be easily reached under economic plans over the next decade, without the government taking additional action.

Barun Mitra, director of the New Delhi-based Liberty Institute, a think tank, said that from 1991 to 2005, the era of economic liberalization here, India reduced its carbon intensity by 30 to 40 percent.

India's offer follows recent pledges by the United States and China to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Those pledges provided momentum for similar announcements by Indonesia and Brazil.

"We are prepared to be flexible" at Copenhagen, Ramesh said, but "the word does not mean a sellout." He said the carbon intensity goal will be achieved through a series of measures, including mandatory fuel-efficiency standards, green building codes and clean-coal technologies.

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