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India unveils target to slow carbon dioxide emissions

Friday, December 4, 2009

A ragpicker looks for recyclable material as a crane levels a garbage dump Thursday in Gauhati, India.
(Anupam Nath ~ Associated Press)
NEW DELHI -- India will significantly slow the growth of its climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions over the next decade as its economy keeps expanding, an official said Thursday ahead of world climate change talks.

However, the developing country will not accept a binding emissions reduction target, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.

Ramesh told Parliament the country plans to reduce by 20 percent to 25 percent the ratio of pollution to production compared with 2005 levels. The announcement comes just days before world leaders are set gather in Denmark to discuss a new climate pact.

As one of the world's largest populations with a fast-growing economy, India has been under pressure to bring its own emissions-reduction plan to the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen following pledges by the U.S. and China -- the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming -- to reduce their own pollution.

India ranks fifth in world carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 4.7 percent of the world's emissions, according to Ramesh.

To reach its objective, the government will introduce mandatory fuel efficiency standards in 2011, enforce building codes for greater energy efficiency, and deploy cleaner technology in coal-fired power plants, Ramesh said.

India had previously announced a plan to build a massive 20,000 megawatt solar energy facility by 2022.

Scientists warn of potentially catastrophic climate change if average global temperatures rise more than 3.6 degrees from preindustrial levels. To prevent that, greenhouse gas emissions should peak within the next few years then rapidly decline by midcentury, according to the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Negotiators in Copenhagen will seek a new agreement to curb emissions of greenhouse gases. The key question is how to divide the responsibility for reducing emissions globally, with developing countries saying they should not be forced to commit to binding targets.

China's pledge last week to cut its own "carbon intensity" by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020. President Barack Obama also announced a provisional commitment last week for the United States, pledging to reduce absolute emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020.

The Chinese target means emissions will continue to grow as its economy expands, but at nearly half the rate they would have otherwise.

India's own targeted reductions would only be a domestic commitment and would not be legally binding, Jairam Ramesh told Parliament at the end of nearly four hours of discussions.

India's carbon intensity -- a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product -- dropped by 17.6 percent in the 15-year period 1990 to 2005, Ramesh told Parliament, adding experts within the government agreed further reduction was possible.

The debate over India's climate change policy and its position ahead of the Copenhagen summit was prolonged.

But across party lines almost every speaker supported the position that as an emerging economy, India cannot agree to be bound internationally to any targets.

"India will never accept a legally binding emissions reduction target," Ramesh said, describing it as one of the "nonnegotiable" positions of the Indian government.

Neither would it accept a "peak year," in which India's absolute emissions must stop growing and start declining, he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the country's per capita emissions will never exceed those of developed nations.

While per capita emissions are low in India -- the government says the average Indian produces one ton of carbon dioxide a year -- its 1.2 billion-strong population makes it one of the world's leading emitters of greenhouse gases.

"We must be flexible without compromising basic national interests," Ramesh said, adding emissions will continue to grow as India moves toward a more energy-efficient economy.

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