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US wants to link power pacts with climate change agreement

The trade dispute between the two countries about restrictions India imposes on imported solar power equipment was also part of the discussions

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

A visiting US team has told Indian negotiators it would link pacts on the power sector to the agreement the two countries draw on climate change and one would not happen without the other.

This message was conveyed by the US team to India in a meeting held with the power ministry on Wednesday. Power Minister Piyush Goyal and other ministry officials attended the meeting.

The US team, headed by Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, also called on Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar in its bid to stitch an agreement on various climate change issues.

Sources said the meeting with the environment ministry focused on areas where the two countries could sign pacts for cooperation; these included air pollution abatement and developing baseline data on carbon emissions from forestry sector and smart grids.

With the power ministry, the US asked for a better investment environment in India. The Indian side in return asked the US to suggest specific projects and areas where it would like to bring in technology. Energy efficiency and investing in smart cities are two areas of convergence that the delegations are expected to firm up deliverable projects on under Indo-US agreements. While India has conveyed that it was not ready to accept a binding target on energy efficiency in the building sector - a demand the US has made often at various forums - it is keen to work with the US on a programmes in the sector that do not force greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments.

The trade dispute between the two countries about restrictions India imposes on imported solar power equipment was also part of the discussions. The US has taken India to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism on it. It was decided to also engage on the issue bilaterally even as the WTO mechanism takes its time to play out.

The US delegation also put forth its views on the negotiations of the 2015 UN global agreement on climate change with Javadekar. The basic negotiating draft for this agreement is to be prepared by the end of 2014 with a series of high profile meetings scheduled across the world before that. The meeting with the minister was followed by the meeting of the Joint Working Group of the two countries on climate change, which had officials from various Indian ministries on board too.

The US delegation, sources said, expected a 'dynamic' interpretation of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities under the new climate agreement. It implies India and other emerging economies take on greater burden of emission reduction under the new agreement than is required under the UN climate convention.

Javadekar and his team expressed their reservations on the issue, pointing to the fact that developed countries were required to show leadership under the convention and India was against breaking the existing embedded differentiation between rich and developing countries. Javadekar also insisted that the principle of equity needed to be adhered to while distributing the burden of reducing emissions globally.

Sources said India did convey that an implicit differentiation of commitments would naturally be visible when the countries submit their "contributions" to reducing emissions in March 2015 - the deadline set at the UN conference. At the last UN talks, all countries have agreed to table the menu of "actions" that they are willing to take under the new climate agreement, though, strong disagreements remain about the nature of "actions" that must be submitted.

A decision was also taken by the US and Indian teams to have structured bilateral discussions on the contentious issue of refrigerant gases that cause global warming and their replacement. The US has been pushing India hard to agree to make the transition to alternatives, some of which are proprietary technologies of US-based chemical companies. The move ranks high on US President Barack Obama's agenda but it remains a non-negotiable issue for India, which insists such a deal must come along with the global comprehensive climate agreement in 2015 or after. A source said the US delegation surprisingly did not spend time too much time on the issue in the hour-long meeting. In the past, US climate delegations have put tremendous diplomatic pressure on India to accept its terms.

A senior official present at the meeting said, "While the details of the agreements are being fleshed out between the two sides and these make all the difference on the climate change front, there are areas of technical cooperation that we are happy to work on bilaterally. Naturally, both sides will be mindful of each other's red-lines."

Another official, who was party to the discussion, said, "It was a relatively short meeting with each side only touching upon their positions on climate change. There was no detailed dialogue at the moment on the contentious bits but both sides also saw some common grounds progressing towards the 2015 agreement."

One of the common grounds India has found with some developed countries, including the US, concerns how the voluntary pledges of the countries under the new climate agreement would be reviewed or revised. But wide disagreements remain between the two countries on whether the main 2015 agreement should be only about emission reduction or be a balanced package containing commitments on finance, adaptation and technology as well.

The backroom negotiations between the two sides continued on these possible agreements on Thursday, even as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in India.

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First Published: Fri, August 01 2014. 00:44 IST