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Energy»India challenges the scale of America's commitment

»Wednesday, October 14,2009

India demanded today that America step up its "measly" efforts to combat global warming – or risk jeopardising an international deal to avoid catastrophic climate change.


The challenge from Delhi's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, and recent moves from China, mark a deliberate ratcheting up of the pressure on Barack Obama to move more forcefully to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions.

It comes barely 24 hours after Democratic leaders introduced a climate change bill in the Senate which – they hoped – would convince the international community that America was prepared for to take strong action.

But Ramesh dismissed the bill, which proposes to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. He said it was too little to persuade India to make serious commitments of its own at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen that aims to seal a global treaty.

India – like other major developing countries – has been demanding that rich, industrialised countries pledge cuts of 25% to 40% in Copenhagen in December.

"The bill that was with the Senate yesterday talks about a 20% cut on 2005 levels, which is really only a measly 5% reduction on 1990 levels," Ramesh told a US-Indian energy conference in Washington, put on by Yale University and The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi.

He added that America and other developed countries had to commit to deep emissions cuts in the next decade – not by 2050 – if they wanted to see India and China take serious action to contain the rise in their future emissions, as their surging economies expand.

"If we are serious about climate change we should stop talking about 2050. I laugh when countries put up numbers for 2050," Ramesh said.

However, he was almost immediately rebuffed by Obama's climate change envoy, Todd Stern, who said that such a narrow focus on 2020 actions could wreck the prospects of reaching a deal at Copenhagen. "We can talk about that all the way to Copenhagen and for the next two or three years and get nothing done," Stern said. "We have to be practical."

Ramesh's comments were the most forceful expression of a new diplomatic push by India to avoid being cast as the spoiler of the Copenhagen process. Ramesh insisted, however, that India was well aware of the threat posed to its own people by the change in rainfall patterns and rising sea levels brought by climate change. This summer saw the worst monsoon since 1972, a major setback for a country which remains heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture.

India sees its economic growth as non-negotiable, given the large number of citizens it wants to lift out of poverty. In the past fortnight, India has offered to undertake a series of measures that would see it embarking on a less polluting course of future growth – but these are firmly tied to action from America.

Ramesh spelled out some of those commitments in an interview with the Guardian last week. They include: legislation on fuel efficiency for cars by 2011 and new building efficiency by 2012, getting 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020; and expanding forest cover. India also plans to get 15% of its electricity from nuclear power by 2020.

But Ramesh ruled out any possibility that India would agree to an absolute cap on emissions in the future. "N-O, No," he said. The position was endorsed by RK Pachauri, who heads the IPCC. "Obviously you are not going to ask a country that has 400 million people without a lightbulb in their homes to do the same as a country that has splurge of energy," he told the conference."





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