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In Climate of US Bluff, is India Really a Party Spoiler in Paris?

By staking claim to its own space on the climate front, is India being a party spoiler, asks Darryl D’Monte.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
In Climate of US Bluff, is India Really a Party Spoiler in Paris?

Despite the bonhomie of being the two biggest democracies in the world, India and the US have always had a blow hot, blow cold relationship on the world stage. The ongoing UN climate summit in Paris is no exception.

It started off on a sour note before Paris with US Secretary of State John Kerry accusing India of being “a challenge” in diplomatic parlance and the US media raising the possibility of India being a “party spoiler” by insisting on the rights of developing countries.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the Mashable/UN Foundation “Earth to Paris” summit at Le Petit Palais in Paris, France, on the sidelines of the COP21, the UN climate change conference, December 7, 2015. (Photo: AP)

Modi and Obama have met six times in the last 14 months, but the two countries weren’t able to sign a bilateral deal on climate when Obama arrived to attend Republic Day this January. This is in sharp contrast with China, which announced its voluntary commitments to reducing emissions in conjunction with the US declaring its contributions beyond 2030.

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Snapshot

‘Blow Hot, Blow Cold’ Relationship

  • Stringent criticism of the US position comes from a CSE report where it tears apart US’ claims on emission reductions after 2005
  • By singling out coal, which India relies on, the US is hiding what it emits from natural gas, especially shale gas and oil
  • 300 million Indians do not have access to electricity and it will be some years before power from renewables becomes competitive with electricity from coal
  • There are no signs of US and other industrial countries increasing their funding for poor countries, preferring for private rather than public investment
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‘Developed vs Developing’ Debate

On climate, the sticking points, as always, remain. One is the issue of equity in climate negotiations or the fact that industrial countries need to shoulder the main responsibility for addressing global warming. Flowing from this is the historical responsibility for causing climate change and the need to differentiate between developed and developing countries.

US President Barack Obama meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, November 30, 2015. (Photo: AP)

The most stringent criticism of the US position, arguably by any country, is the recent report by the Delhi-based research group, Centre for Science and Environment, titled “Captain America”, where it tears to shreds its claims on emission reductions.

It questions the perception that after peaking in 2005, America’s greenhouse gas emissions have been going down. Compared to 1990 levels, they are up by 6 per cent.

The US has volunteered to cut its emissions by 26-28 per cent in 10 years below its 2005 levels. However, unlike the EU, which is the most proactive on taking on commitments, its use of 2005 levels instead of 1990 is misleading. If the current US contribution is calculated on 1990 levels, it amounts to a reduction of only 13-15 per cent.

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In this November 16 photo, employees work next to the gas lines of the Mississippi Power Company carbon capture power plant in DeKalb, Miss. (Photo: AP)

Is US Trying To Bluff?

By shifting the goal post, as it were, the US has avoided cutting 500 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Both in percentage as well as absolute levels, the US fares poorly against the EU, which has pledged to reduce its emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and twice as much by 2050.

In Paris, the CSE has also taken on the US for constantly citing India’s coal which, it alleged, was to divert attention from the key issues of equity. By singling out coal, which India relies on, the US is hiding what it emits from natural gas – especially shale gas – and oil. Its emissions from all fossil fuels are the highest ever in its history.

The Clean Power Plan, with which Obama wants to reduce emissions from power plants, has been described as the biggest single step any president has made to curb carbon pollution. However, this is a projection rather than a target. And the bill still has to run the gauntlet of Republicans; only eight of the 278 in Congress have ever acknowledged climate change.

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Cars move on a road engulfed in smog in Kolkata, December 2, 2015. (Photo: AP)

Figures Speak For Themselves

In the months after Paris, India and other developing countries will have to face constant carping from politicians like Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for president, who is an aggressive climate change-denier. Although Obama returned from Paris asserting that nothing can prevent him from going ahead on his climate policies, skepticism runs through the ranks of conservative US politicians who put the economy above all else.

India may become the second biggest emitter after China, replacing the US, by 2040. It is opening a coal mine every month and is set to double its output in five years. But it has to be remembered that 300 million Indians do not have access to electricity and it will be some years before power from renewables becomes competitive with electricity from coal. The development imperative for India is incontestable.

An Indian vendor weighs coal for a customer in Lucknow, December 3, 2015. (Photo: AP)

And if one looks at equity, the figures speak for themselves. An Indian emitted 1.7 tonnes per capita in 2011, according to World Bank data, which approximates minuscule countries such as Belize or Armenia. It is far below China’s 6.7 tonnes and just one-tenth of those of the United States.

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Business As Usual

There are no signs of US and other industrial countries ratcheting up their funding for poor countries. Even the $10 billion a year now leading up to $100 billion by 2020 is nowhere in sight. The US would prefer to provide most of this through private rather than public investment.

A man burns garbage in an open ground as he looks for recyclable material at Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums, in Mumbai, November 30, 2015. (Photo: AP)

SunEdison, the US multinational, which is the world’s largest renewable energy producer, is active in India and has bid as low as Rs 4.63 a unit of electricity in an Andhra Pradesh project. For the US, it is such business as usual that wins hands down over overseas development assistance.

(The writer is a Mumbai-based senior journalist)

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