India, US headed for tough negotiations at Paris climate summit

  • Chetan Chauhan and Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Paris/Washington
  • Updated: Nov 30, 2015 13:39 IST
Policemen clash with activists during a protest ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference that opens on Monday. (AP Photo)

India and the US appeared headed for a face-off at the Paris climate summit starting Monday with the world’s biggest democracies divided over who should share the larger blame for greenhouse gas emission and, therefore, do more towards mitigating it.

Ahead of the high-stakes talks to be attended by negotiators from 196 countries, New Delhi and Washington have already engaged in a verbal war with US secretary of state John Kerry describing India as the “biggest challenge” for the Paris summit. India hit back by terming his remarks as “unfortunate” and “ill-timed”.

Officials of both countries as well as China – the world’s three largest emitters of greenhouse gases – agree that a successful outcome at the Paris conference will depend in a large measure on the three big players’ willingness to resolve their differences, some of which could prove deal-breaking otherwise.

Joined by China and other developing countries, India believes developed countries have contributed more to environmental degradation with their longer history of industrialisation and, therefore, they should do more and pay to the developing world to go green, called differentiation in negotiating parlance.

“There is a difference between the developed and the developing world on historical responsibility and capabilities of each country. It cannot end,” Ajay Mathur, spokesperson for India’s climate negotiations team, told HT.

All you need to know about Paris talks

President Barack Obama has only two bilateral meetings scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the Paris conference so far — with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’ Xi Jinping.

“The purpose of these meetings,” a senior White House official said last week, “is to make sure that leaders are on the same page about our objectives and strategy going into these final two weeks of negotiation.”

A comment piece on Sunday in the Chinese official news agency Xinhua pointed to the “stubbornness” of some developed nations in accusing developing countries and “blaming them for blocking the birth of a new international treaty.”

Watch | PM Modi arrives in Paris for Climate Change Summit

The US, and other developed economies, however, want every country to share the responsibility equally for global warming and contribute equally towards its mitigation, to keep it below the annual two degree Celsius threshold.

The next big dispute is about how to ensure countries deliver on their commitments, the voluntarily fixed emission reduction targets with a stock-taking scheduled for 2025.

India is advocating self-assessment and self-reporting. Environment Secretary Ashok Lavasa told HT recently “there could be stocktaking of climate action plans by a global body but not a review”.

Read: Paris climate summit: India wants a comprehensive deal

But the US and European Union want some sort of an international mechanism to verify those claims. The two also differ on providing public climate finance to help developing nations move to cleaner fuels and technology.

A proposal for providing “predictable” financing to developing countries is being rested by the US, Indian officials said pointing to a paper circulated by the Americans in Paris on Sunday.

But there is convergence too. Both India and the US agree the Paris outcome not be binding on countries with penalties.

“We have come here to talk and move forward. I believe we will,” Mathur said when asked about the Modi-Obama meeting.

(With inputs from Sutirtho Patranobis in Beijing)

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