Reeling and Dealing
India Decries the West’s “Carbon Imperialism”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry labeled India the biggest “challenge” in the way of negotiators trying to hammer out a Global Climate Treaty (GCT) in Paris, and predictably his comments didn’t go over well in the south Asian nation. The Telegraph reports:

…Mr Kerry’s “challenge” comment was received with fury in New Delhi. Officials here are quick to point out that it still burns less coal than the US or China – and besides, the West has been profiting from pumping out carbon for decades.

“Kerry’s comment is unwarranted and unfair. The attitude of some of the developed countries is the challenge for the Paris conclusion,” said Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister. India is “not in the habit of taking any pressure from anybody”, he added.

“This smacks of a ‘carbon imperialism’,” wrote Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s chief economic advisor. “And such imperialism on the part of advanced nations could spell disaster for India and other developing countries.”

Both sides have a point here, and that fact alone illustrates why this quest for a GCT borders on the quixotic. India is the world’s most populous country, and its 1.3 billion people won’t be keen on seeing development delayed for less tangible progress on mitigating climate change. For a country which has already struggled with massive blackouts, cheap and available energy is the name of the game, and that presents a problem for Paris delegates, because coal is as dirty and high-emitting as it inexpensive.

But from New Delhi’s perspective, there’s a deep undercurrent of hypocrisy beneath the lofty rhetoric coming out of the conference in France. After all, the developed world is responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions to date, a product of 20th century industrialization. For the world’s poorer countries, it’s hard to countenance the fact that they’re being told that that similar development path is no longer available.

India hasn’t shied away from insisting on its right to grow this year, staking out a clear position ahead of the ongoing Paris summit. The West hoped to buy off the developing world with the creation of a Global Climate Fund at the failed 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, but so far hasn’t followed up on its commitments to actually put up the agreed upon annual $100 billion.

Without monetary assurances, there’s no hope in convincing developing countries to curtail growth for the greater good, and going by the American example the money doesn’t seem to be in the offing. That’s what negotiators are tackling right now in Paris, and that’s why they won’t produce a robust deal.

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