x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

India fears impasse over climate change

India sees little chance of escaping the present impasse over a successor deal to the Kyoto Protocol.

Hopes are not high for a climate deal when the Group of Eight industrialised nations meet their developing nation counterparts in Japan.
Hopes are not high for a climate deal when the Group of Eight industrialised nations meet their developing nation counterparts in Japan.

NEW DELHI // India sees little chance of escaping the present impasse over a successor deal to the Kyoto Protocol when the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations (G8) meet their developing nation counterparts in Japan. "If we are going into the negotiations with the current mindset, then I don't see much progress being made," said Shyam Saran, a special envoy for climate change to the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

Japan is pushing for a declaration at the summit that would formalise the draft agreement struck in Bali last year, to halve global carbon emissions by 2050. But at a preparatory session of the Major Economies Meeting (MEM) in Seoul last month, India was among the countries refusing to back the target. Mr Saran appeared in no mood to compromise, and said his country wanted any long-term goal to come with tough short and medium targets, and a better baseline.

"By saying 'we should have a 50 per cent aspirational cut by 2050', with reference not towards 1990 but to the current levels of emissions, what you are actually saying is 'give me a pass for all my emissions between 1990 and 2007'," he said. The MEM, scheduled for Wednesday, the last day of the summit, groups the G8 together with major carbon emitters from the developing world, and is Washington's preferred forum for climate change talks. The MEM countries, which include India, China and Brazil, are together responsible for 80 per cent of global carbon emissions.

But Mr Saran said that there had been a stalemate since the agreement in Bali last December to work towards signing a new international treaty on climate change in Copenhagen in December next year. The US has said it would accept binding emission curbs, but only if major developing emitters such as China and India also agree, something they have so far refused to do. India is rejecting calls to cut its emissions while its energy use per capita remains so far below that of advanced nations. Mr Saran said that the environmental performance of the US was not related to that of India and China, citing India's much lower per capita emission of 1.8 tonnes of carbon compared to the US's of more than 20 tonnes per person.

"So to say that we will not do anything until India does something is to us trying to find a rather lame excuse for not doing anything," he said. India's National Action Plan on Climate Change - which Mr Saran oversaw and which was released last week - supports India's plans to build 80 gigawatts of new power generation in the next five years. Mr Saran said the additional emissions this would create were inevitable.

"If India has to maintain a growth rate of eight to 10 per cent, and if this growth rate is the absolute minimum that is necessary for us to eradicate poverty in this country, then we will have to use all sources of energy that are available to us," he argued. Much of this new generation will be coal-fired, and little of it will use the most efficient coal technologies. To counter this, Mr Saran argued that India's new generation of coal-fired power stations would be more efficient than the older plant now used. He added that almost none of the capital and technology that was to be transferred to the developing world under the Kyoto Protocol, agreed to back in 1997, had been delivered.

India is proposing that advanced countries loosen intellectual property rights over advanced technologies which have the power to dramatically affect emissions, to aid their quick dissemination around the globe. This proposal - based on a similar deal over drugs to treat HIV-Aids - would be a difficult one for advanced nations to accept, as it would mean countries annulling patents or buying licences from companies who have spent billions developing advanced energy technologies. But Mr Saran dismissed these objections.

"You cannot take the position, 'this is so important that we need extraordinary measures', but then the first extraordinary measure that is suggested, you say, 'hey, that is not possible'," he said. The end of President George W Bush's second term next year, Mr Saran argued, would make progress towards the Copenhagen deal easier to achieve. "The candidates for the presidential election both have expressed strong interest in doing something much more proactive," said Mr Saran. "And if that's the case, I think by early next year we should see a somewhat different approach from the US with regard to climate change."

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