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India, China Want West to Take Lead on Global Warming

  • Anjana Pasricha

Asian giants want Western countries to take lead in reversing global warming, but are reluctant to accept legally binding cap on their emissions of greenhouse gases

Among the countries most closely watched at December's United Nations climate-change summit in Copenhagen will be India and China - two populous and fast growing nations that are among the world's top polluters. The Asian giants want Western countries to take the lead in reversing global warming, but are reluctant to accept a legally binding cap on their emissions of greenhouse gases.

In a sprawling slum in the Indian capital, 25-year-old Rakesh Kumar has only the most basic amenities in his one room tenement - a single electric bulb, and a fan.

But Kumar is determined to give a good education to his three-year-old son, so that when he grows up, he can live in a bigger house, and afford a car.

India points to the aspirations of millions of poor people like Rakesh in sprawling urban slums and villages when it refuses to commit to any caps on its carbon emissions.

More than half its billion plus people still have no electricity. Others are just small consumers. But as they are lifted out of poverty, they will want to live like the more prosperous half of India and own cars, washing machines and air conditioners.

The director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, Sunita Narain says India has to supply energy to all its people.

"Be very clear, the issue of climate change is connected to development, it is connected to growth, and no country in the world can accept a freeze on its development," said Narain.

But climate change negotiators worry that without quick action, the carbon footprint of countries like India and China will rise dramatically as their fast-growing economies propel millions into the middle class. China is the world's largest polluter, India is the fourth largest.

They also warn that these countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change. Studies say rising temperatures will melt glaciers on the high Himalayas, cause devastating floods, heatwaves, and make monsoon rains more erratic, resulting in smaller farm yields.

New Delhi and Beijing say they are aware of the magnitude of the problem, and are taking steps to slow the growth of emissions.

In China, Fuqiang Yang, the director of climate issues at the Beijing office of the World Wide Fund for Nature, says his country has already what he calls an ambitious target to cut carbon gasses.

"My understanding is that, from 2005 to 2020, China can cut four giga-tons to four-point-five giga-tons of CO2 emissions - that is huge," he said.

India is preparing to harness solar energy, and has promised to set domestic goals to reduce carbon emissions.

But Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly told foreign delegates that his country cannot yet say how far it can go.

"Now the question arises whether we can quantify it into a precise emission reduction targets number. We have not reached that stage yet," he said.

New Delhi and Beijing signed an agreement in October to jointly work on climate change and stand united at the Copenhagen conference. Both countries have joined with other developing countries to demand money and technology from rich countries to make the transition to a greener energy mix.

India and China have been vocal in demanding that rich, developed countries, such as the United States, take the lead in cutting carbon emissions, which exceed theirs on a per capita basis.

Environmentalists here call these industrialized countries the "historic polluters" of the planet. Sunita Narain says the carbon dioxide emissions of people in USA are 17 times that of India.

"So we are really talking about drastic reductions, and they must come from countries which have overused their share of the global atmospheric space, which have a natural debt that must be paid, and I think if countries like India are asking for that, it is not wrong. It is the first step toward an effective agreement on climate change," said Narain.

Whether such an agreement is negotiated will only be known when the world's leaders convene in Copenhagen for the United Nations climate change summit early next month.

But observers say India and China remain wary of accepting legally binding emission cuts at a time when they are making their presence felt on the global economic scene.

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