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No deal on climate

India, US cooperate on climate, but no agreement

Business Standard Editorial Comment  |  New Delhi 

India and the United States have taken some major strides forward during President Barack Obama's visit here in furthering cooperation to combat climate change but without entering into any bilateral agreement on the lines of the recently concluded United States-China climate deal. India's reluctance to delineate a specific time frame for its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to peak, as has been done in the United States-China deal, seems one of the reasons for not inking a formal agreement on this issue. In his final speech, President Obama, in fact, underlined this reluctance by calling on New Delhi to abandon it. India seems to be wary of making any bilateral commitment on emission cuts until it outlines its "intended nationally determined contributions" (INDCs) at the United Nations, which has set June as the deadline for all countries to do so. Speculation that the United States would exert pressure on New Delhi for a bilateral climate pact were heightened, thanks to United States Secretary of State John Kerry emphasising earlier this month that such a deal would be a top priority during President Obama's visit to India. The United States viewed it as a facilitator for a global climate accord at Paris later this year, which is to serve as a successor to the Kyoto protocol that expired in 2012. The new accord is targeted to take effect from 2020.

However, the talks between President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have not been devoid of positive outcomes on the climate front. They have managed to put together a long list of initiatives, including broad-based financial and technical cooperation to promote renewable energy and enhance efficiency of conventional energy. For this, United States federal agencies have committed investments totalling to $4 billion for projects and equipment sourcing. This can help India achieve its upwardly revised goal of stepping up solar power generation capacity to 100,000 Mw by 2019 and add 10,000 Mw wind power capacity annually - the targets otherwise looked over-ambitious. Moreover, the two leaders also consented to work together to improve India's urban air quality, reduce vehicular discharges and promote alternatives for hydro-fluorocarbons, which damage the earth's protective ozone layer. All these steps address India's domestic environment-related concerns and need-based priorities. More importantly, these are aimed at decelerating the rise in the carbon footprint of India's economic development.

Meanwhile, questions remain about the modifications the government intends to make in its approach towards tackling climate change. Some of the suggested changes were outlined by Mr Modi in the first meeting of the reconstituted Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change, which was held ahead of Mr Obama's visit. He had stated that the efforts should focus more on adaptation than mitigation (read emission cuts) and on green credits rather than carbon credits. The consequences of such a paradigm shift are yet to be carefully examined.

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First Published: Wed, January 28 2015. 21:38 IST