India's Copenhagen Envoy Unyielding on Costs

For Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, United Nations climate-change talks in Copenhagen are as much about easing poverty in his country as preventing the world from overheating.

India, home to 1.2 billion people, is the fourth-biggest polluter from burning carbon-based fuels as the nation promotes industrial growth to lift more of its people out of impoverishment. Because India has contributed little in the past to emissions blamed for global warming, Ramesh remains an unyielding figure at talks among 193 nations struggling to agree on ways to fight climate change.

"Since the first and overriding priority is for poverty alleviation and sustainable development, we cannot accept under any circumstances the concept of a peaking year" for developing countries, Ramesh said yesterday in an interview. "So we must limit the global goal to a temperature increase."

India endorses a proposal to limit the increase in global temperatures to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial times. The burden of meeting the target should fall on the U.S. and Europe, countries that have contributed most to historical carbon-dioxide emissions.

India has offered to voluntarily reduce carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of the country's gross domestic product provided developed nations such as the U.S. reduce pollution 40 percent by 2020. When President Barack Obama arrives for the last day of the Copenhagen talks on Friday, envoys say he will offer a cut in the range of 17 percent.

"It is a unilateral, domestic, non-legally binding offer and it strengthens our negotiating position to demand greater cuts from the West," Ramesh, who leads the Indian delegation of about 30 at the climate talks, told Parliament on Dec. 7.

'Not in Position'"We are not in a position to better what we have done unless there are substantial emission cuts made by the developed countries, unless there is a substantial financial package offered by the developed countries and unless there is a substantial liberalization of technology flows to the developing countries," Ramesh, 55, said.

India and China are seeking at least $200 billion a year to help developing states grow without growing their emissions. So far, the U.S. has not offered contributions near that level and no amounts for funding climate aid beyond 2012 were included in the latest draft of the accord.

The former trade and power minister said India's voluntary offer to reduce emissions intensity won't slow economic growth or hamper its plans to provide electricity connections to the poor. India's economy expanded 7.9 percent in the three months that ended September, highest in 1½ years and beating analyst estimates.

'Economic Realities'"Jairam has a good understanding of business and economic realities," Rajendra K. Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize- winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said. "He won't take a rigid view without looking at the problem."

Ramesh has been building regional deals ahead of the United Nations-led climate summit, including an agreement that India and China signed in October to collaborate on renewable power and energy-efficiency projects. Both countries reject limits on their emissions proposed by richer nations, saying that hurts them right when their developing economics are growing.

"If developed countries are going to thrust things like peaking year, emission cuts, all that is not acceptable to us," Ramesh said in a Nov. 30 interview. "We want to engage the world, we want to be proactive but there is a limit to which we can go."

India and neighboring countries that make up the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation may sign a regional environment treaty next year, Ramesh said in October.

Alternative ProposalRamesh, who studied mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai where his father taught, told parliament Nov. 24 that India is most vulnerable to climate change and has to respond "creatively and aggressively" on mitigation and adaptation.

Ramesh is a member of the Congress Party, which leads the ruling federal coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and was elected to the upper house of parliament from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

He studied public management at Carnegie Mellon University in 1975-1977 and later spent a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying technology policy, economics, engineering and management.

Leaders from 193 countries, including India, started negotiations in Copenhagen on Dec. 7 for a new global climate accord to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

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