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India skeptical of US pledge to combat climate change

Carbon-emissions targets set at Copenhagen seem unlikely to be reached, given America's political realities. That makes developing nations less eager to meet their own goals.

By Staff writer / February 11, 2010

River of (melting) ice: The Siachen Glacier, in the Himalayas between India and Pakistan, provides much of the water that flows into the Indus River.

Channi Anand/AP/File


New Delhi

India and China have released more details about how they intend to combat global climate change. From India's perspective, the ball is now in the United States' court.

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For years, international climate talks have been caught in a stalemate. The US claims that India and China are not being asked to sacrifice; the two emerging powers say the US, as a major polluter, must cut back so others can be lifted from poverty.

India and China's recent commitments to action put pressure on the US to join a legally binding climate treaty. But Indian environmentalists – eyeing the election of a GOP senator in Massachusetts and President Obama's State of the Union address and his efforts in Copenhagen, Denmark – are skeptical the move will prompt serious US measures.

"The general feeling within the government is that [the accord] will break the stalemate and we will have a real outcome," says Chandra Bhushan, associate director of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi think tank that advises the Indian government on climate policy. "I'm not that optimistic ... the numbers don't add up."

Those numbers refer to pledges made by the nations involved in the Copenhagen Accord recently hammered out in Denmark. Countries were urged to submit plans by Jan. 31 to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, though the deadline was flexible and the pledges nonbinding.

At press time, China and India were expected to release plans shortly. If those put forth specific targets, they were expected to fall along the lines publicly stated prior to the Copenhagen summit. For India, that means a reduction of 20 to 25 percent in emissions intensity per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. China has spoken of a 40 to 45 percent reduction.

The trouble, says Mr. Bhushan, lies with the numbers from developed countries, which fall far below the longer-range goals of the Kyoto Protocol. The US has offered a cut in overall emissions of 4 percent below 1990 levels (or 17 percent from 2005 levels, which the US announced Jan. 29).

"You are talking about [global] emission reductions of 5 to 5.5 percent in 2020 [from] 1990 levels – maybe 7 percent maximum. What you need is at least 30 percent," says Bhushan. Under Kyoto, cuts have to reach 80 percent by 2050.

Without America's vigorous participation in reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions, India's environmentalists say, it is unlikely that other nations will feel compelled to cut their carbon output, either.