It’s not easy going green: World climate talks come full circle

A year ago during world climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, India was a bit of an international pariah, an emerging world power that didn’t want to compromise its 8 percent economic growth rate by promising to cut its carbon emissions by any significant amount. China was also thrown into that “uncooperative” sandbox since it is the world’s largest carbon emitter.

The tug of war was simple. Developed countries didn’t want emerging economies getting away with polluting the world without consequences. The emerging economies didn’t want to pay for damage done already by industrialized nations.

 One year later though, the Mexican sunlight has illuminated reality during the world climate talks this week in Cancun. Countries are actually trying to hammer out new language to advance the arguably ineffective three-page Copenhagen Accord.

 But the reality is that no country is likely to sign any binding any treaty to stabilize climate change, including the United States or countries in the European Union. Besides the global economic recession putting climate investment behind a long list of priorities, many experts have said President Obama doesn’t have the political clout or congressional support to make any real promises.

 Further, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change didn’t even adopt the three-page Copenhagen Accord Obama brokered at the last minute in Denmark among fewer than a dozen countries.

 As my friend and colleague, Shaun Tandon at Agence France Press aptly notes, “The US helped draft the landmark Kyoto Protocol but did not join the treaty, whose obligations expire at the end of 2012.”

 Even Rajendra Pauchari, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told AFP that the climate change discussion has lost political support and lost momentum after Copenhagen.

 While the developed countries had tried to bully India last December, the tables have turned.

Perhaps Al Gore’s comments at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit last month were the harbinger of India’s role in the Cancun talks. He said, “India has a tremendous opportunity to lead the world in energy-efficient solutions and in effecting a rapid shift to use of alternative energy like wind and solar.”

Actions on climate change speak lounder than rhetoric

Last year, while the developed world was throwing stones at emerging economies, India had quietly launched its Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission. This would put 20,000 megawatts of solar power onto the Indian electric grid by 2022, among other clean-energy initiatives through its Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

India already has 17 nuclear reactors. And, in 2008, after much wrangling, the US and India sealed the US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative to expand civilian nuclear trade between the two countries.

Tuesday in Cancun, before the breakfast chilaquiles, India had already signed a deal with France’s Areva to build two 1,600 megawatt pressurized water reactors south of Mumbai for clean nuclear power.

In Cancun, India is now a bit of a mediator, making sure its Asian neighbors are doing their part.

But, the subcontinent has still vowed not to give away too much. It has made clear that its national economic growth comes first, but it will be conscious of the environment during its own industrial development.

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