U.S.-Indian differences about dealing with global warming were on display Sunday as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began talks with Indian officials in New Delhi. India's environment minister said his country cannot accept binding limits on carbon emissions under a proposed global climate change treaty.
The two governments say they want to see an agreement come out of the global climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.
But comments by senior U.S. and Indian officials, after an informal meeting on the subject Sunday in a New Delhi suburb, make clear a wide gap remains between industrialized powers and major developing countries like India on how to deal with the problem.
The Obama administration supports absolute reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions by the industrialized nations, and wants emerging economies like India and China to slow the growth in their atmospheric carbon output by what are termed "meaningful" amounts. Emission targets for both groups would be binding.
But after taking Secretary of State Clinton and U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern on a tour of an environmentally-friendly office tower built with U.S. support, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said his government, though committed to cleaner energy, will not accept specific emission curbs.
"I would like to make it clear and categorical. India's position is that we simply not in a position to take on legally-binding emission reduction targets," said Ramesh. "Now, this does not mean that we are oblivious of our responsibilities for ensuring that the incremental addition to greenhouse gases that both special envoy Stern, and Madame Secretary of State spoke about. We are fully conscious of that. Energy efficiency is a very fundamental driver of our economic strategy."
U.S. climate envoy Stern said 80 percent of world growth in carbon emissions is coming from fast-growing developing economies like India's and China's and that a way must be found to put their growth on a "low-carbon path."
But the Indian minister, in a written statement to reporters after an hour-long meeting with the U.S. team, said even if India's economy continues to grow at current levels for the next decade or two, its per-capita emissions would still be well below those of developed countries. He said there is "simply no case" for the emission-cutting pressure India finds itself under.
Secretary Clinton sought to downplay differences and called the meeting fruitful. She said there are more areas of agreement than dispute with India, and she is confident a strategy can be reached before the Copenhagen conference that tackles climate change, but does not jeopardize Indian efforts at poverty-alleviation.
"We believe that economic progress in India is in everyone's interest, not just India's, to lift people out of poverty and to give every child born in India a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential is a goal that we share with you," she said. "But we also believe that there is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainably that will lower, significantly, the carbon footprint of the energy that is produced and consumed to fuel that growth."
Clinton said the established economic powers have been the biggest historical emitters of greenhouse gases and should shoulder the biggest burden for cleaning up the environment. She said President Barack Obama has put the United States on a path to do that.
U.S. climate envoy Stern will continue talks with environment minister Ramesh this week, while Clinton has broader discussions Monday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top officials on bilateral and regional issues.