India must unveil climate targets after US-China pact – Ramesh

US-China emissions deal puts pressure on Indian government to reveal 2025 target, says India’s former environment minister

Jairam Ramesh with World Bank president Jim Yong Kim (Pic: U.S. Embassy New Delhi/Flickr)

Jairam Ramesh with World Bank president Jim Yong Kim (Pic: U.S. Embassy New Delhi/Flickr)

By Sophie Yeo

India should unveil its 2025 climate target after the US and China announced new emissions reductions this week, says former environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

The international community will expect India, the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to make firm commitments for 2025 and 2030, wrote Ramesh in a column.

“It has already committed itself to a 20-25% reduction in emissions intensity (tonnes of carbon dioxide divided by dollars of GDP) below 2005 levels by 2020 and there should really be no problem to unveil plans for 2025 and 2030 as well,” he said.

China and the US, the world’s first and second largest emitters, revealed their new emission reduction targets when president Barack Obama met with president Xi Jinping in Beijing this week.

The US announced that it would cut carbon dioxide by 26-28% by 2025 on 2005 levels, while China promised to peak its emissions by 2030 or earlier – the first time it has talked about taking on absolute reductions.

Politicians and analysts have welcomed the move as helpful in unlocking a more positive approach to the UN climate negotiations, which will take place in two weeks’ time in Peru.

But it is also clear that such reductions do not match up to the level of action required to keep global temperatures below 2C. Scientists warn that climate impacts will get more dangerous beyond that threshold.

Sunita Narain, director of the New Delhi think-tank Centre for Science and Environment lambasted the deal as “neither historic nor ambitious, but just a self-serving agreement between the world’s two biggest polluters”.

Divisions

The Indian government has long stuck by its stance that it should be allowed to take on less stringent commitments under the UN’s climate agreement because of its development needs and its relatively small historic emissions.

This was the approach of the UN’s previous climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, where only the richest countries, based on 1992 economies, had to reduce their emissions.

Developed countries have warned that this approach will not wash in the UN’s new deal: many nations, including India and China, have undergone an economic boom since then, and their emissions have risen accordingly.

India’s stubborn adherence to this division therefore needs to be reconsidered, says Ramesh.

“Differentiation is essential but is this distinction made in a completely different era over two decades back still meaningful? Simply put, it is not.”

The refusal of India and some other countries to negotiate on this point has created an impasse at the UN climate talks.

India is responsible for around 6% of global greenhouse gases – significantly less than the 45% for which the US and China are together responsible – but this is set to grow.

Each person in India emits less than two tonnes of CO2 a year, compared to around 16 in the US and 7 in China.

But to say that India is different because of this would be “extremely unwise”, says Ramesh.

He said that the country needs a clear strategy – including a new international climate target and domestic legislation – which would prove they are serious about limiting their emissions.

“In India, as elsewhere, this announcement will neuter the argument that the US doesn’t act and China won’t act so what’s the point of us doing anything?” said Malini Mehra, founder of the Centre for Social Markets, an Indian climate NGO.

“It will raise expectation of countries such as India also shedding ideological baggage and moving to embrace the low-carbon, climate-resilient economic future as China has.”

Blocking

Following the US-China announcement, India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar signalled that there would now be a change in the country’s approach to the talks.

“Now it will not be rhetoric as usual at Lima. We are going to talk about not only per-capita emission, but also per-capita consumption,” he said, reported by India Climate Dialogue.

This means that countries would have to take responsibility not only for the global warming gases that they emit within their own borders, but also those outsourced to other nations through imported products.

This would dramatically increase the carbon footprint of the US and EU countries, while shrinking that of China and India – a major shift in approach that is unlikely to receive a warm welcome from those countries whose emissions would rocket as a result.

A senior Indian negotiator at the UN talks told India Climate Dialogue: “We cannot make the same commitment, or even a similar one. India and China are not in the same stage of economic development.”

Despite highlighting differences now, India and China have often been allies at the UN talks.

As China strengthens its ties with the US, India will have to evaluate its position or risk being seen as blocking the crucial negotiations.

John Holdren, White House director of science, is travelling to India next week to meet with officials on climate change.

“I think it’s time for the government to move forward and be seen as a country which is progressive on this matter, not as a country which is blocking,” said Samit Aich, director of Greenpeace India.

“I think this announcement will put pressure on the Indian government to come up with some pledges.”

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