NEW DELHI — During speeches in recent weeks, India’s prime minister has derided developed countries that “destroyed nature,” has touted his own solar projects and has even said yoga might help fight climate change.
From New Delhi to Berlin, Narendra Modi has called for India to take a leading role in the “pressing global problem” of climate change, including through lifestyle changes such as bicycling and leaving streetlights off on full-moon nights.
Yet Modi has revealed little about the crucial dilemma India faces ahead of global climate talks set for December — whether the country will pledge to reduce its carbon emissions, the third-highest in the world.
“Too often, our discussion is reduced to an argument about emission cuts,” Modi said in a speech at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on April 10 in Paris. “But, we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices.”
Modi was an early advocate of solar technology, and his government has pledged to increase its solar-generated capacity to 100 gigawatts and its wind capacity to 60 gigawatts by 2022. At the same time, the country is doubling its coal production to fuel its growing economy and electricity needs.
Already, more than 30 countries have produced proposals for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which negotiators hope will lead to a landmark pact in Paris in December. This includes the United States, which pledged to lower its total carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.
India is considering putting forward two proposals, Prakash Javadekar, the country’s environment minister, said in an interview. The first would detail what the country can do to combat climate change on its own, while the second would be a more ambitious plan outlining moves that could be made with international financial support, technology exchanges and incentives, Javadekar said.
The stakes are huge: A deal in December could prevent some of the warming expected to cause rising sea levels and extreme weather in coming decades.
The United States had hoped that it could negotiate a climate deal with India that would complement the landmark agreement it struck in November with China. But after weeks of harried negotiations in the days before Obama’s visit to India in January, only modest measures materialized.
Obama took a parting shot, saying that if countries such as India with “soaring energy needs” don’t also embrace cleaner fuels, “then we don’t stand a chance against climate change.”
Since then, India has added the ambitious wind-power target to its massive solar plan. While U.S. climate negotiators do not expect India to commit to reducing carbon emissions by 2022, they say that new solar and wind generation would lead to “a very significant reduction in their growth.”
“We have been encouraged by recent steps taken by India, and look forward to ongoing cooperation as we work toward a global climate accord,” said Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change. The Obama administration says it is prepared to back wind and solar projects through the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corp.
In 2014, China was responsible for some 28 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, followed by the United States (14 percent), the European Union (10 percent) and India (7 percent), according to the Global Carbon Project. India is the world’s third-largest single-country emitter.
New Delhi has long argued that the developed nations that did more historical harm to the environment now have a far greater responsibility toward mitigating climate change. India puts out around 1.7 metric tons of carbon emissions per capita, compared with 6.2 for China and 17.6 for the United States, according to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.
Modi has continued to hammer that point in recent days, chafing at the “scolding” that India has received from industrialized countries.
“The whole world is posing questions to us. Those who have destroyed the climate are asking questions to us,” Modi said in a speech Monday night to an audience of Indian expatriates in Berlin. “If anybody has served nature, it is the Indians.”
Indian officials also argue that the United States should be doing more, noting that Europe has pledged to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.
“There’s a general feeling within the government and outside that the U.S. [proposal] is very, very modest,” said Chandra Bhushan, the deputy director of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. “It has not impressed the government of India. That is quite clear.”
Jairam Ramesh, the former environment minister who is the author of a book titled “Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India,” predicted India’s pledge will include stronger commitments to renewable energy and cuts to the intensity of the country’s emissions, rather than offering an overall cut or naming a year in which emissions will “peak,” as China and Mexico have done.
“It’s not going to be earthshattering,” Ramesh said in an interview. Anybody who is expecting a revolutionary proposal from India on climate change is “living in fool’s paradise.”
Steven Mufson in Washington contributed to this report.