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India's Climate Negotiators Regain Unified Stance After Internal Rift

A reported 'revolt' among members of its climate change talks' negotiating team has put the Indian government on the political defensive at home

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A reported 'revolt' among members of its climate change talks' negotiating team has put the Indian government on the political defensive at home. The turmoil comes with some members of India's delegation already in Denmark for the critical United Nations-sponsored summit.

The Environment Minister has told Parliament there has been no change in India's negotiating stance for the Copenhagen climate talks and that the country's 35-member team is again representing a unified position.

In the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, Jairam Ramesh faced hostile opposition party lawmakers who accused him of yielding to international pressures, undercutting the national interest. 

"We are going to Copenhagen with the objective of not accepting any agreement that would put a constraint on expanding electricity supply to rural households, for livelihood security and for all the other economic objectives," Ramesh said. 

Domestic media reports say two Indian negotiators threatened to quit the team, jittery about possible un-reciprocated concessions at the talks.

Officials say the two team members discussed their concerns with the Environment Minister Sunday and will soon join other Indian negotiators who have already arrived in Denmark. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also to attend.

There is strong concern in India the country's economic growth would be severely hampered if agreement is reached removing distinctions between developed and developing nations in terms of carbon emissions cuts.

India is strongly resisting any binding agreement on deadlines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It points out that India's current carbon output per person is 1/20th that of the United States and India thus should not be unfairly penalized for problems primarily caused by rich countries since the dawn of the industrial era.

But China and India have the highest growth rates for such emissions as they fuel their booming economies and try to provide basic necessities for their billion-plus human populations.

Both countries are expected to have to rely on affordable means of energy production for the foreseeable future. And that development model means an increasing number of coal-fired power plants and a soaring number of conventional automobiles on the roads.

Beijing and New Delhi have pledged a mutual stance at the talks getting underway in the Danish capital, known as the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or COP 15).

In recent weeks, the United States, China and India have pledged to make varying carbon intensity reductions. But those pronouncements are non-binding.

India's consensus is seen as crucial for any credible agreement to emerge from the 12-day summit.

The international pact now in force, known as the Kyoto Protocol, contains legally binding targets for several dozen industrialized countries, but none for poorer nations. 


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
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