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India Digs In Its Heels On Emissions

At the Bonn climate talks this week, according to the Financial Times, the Indian government said it would require financial aid from wealthy countries before it could start addressing its rapidly growing greenhouse-gas emissions. This topic is already threatening to derail the ongoing talks over a successor climate treaty to the Kyoto Protocol (the original goal, remember, was to finish it by December in Copenhagen):

Several developing nations demanded sums of between 1 per cent and 5 per cent of industrialised countries' gross domestic product as the price for their co-operation. South Africa asked for enormous reductions in emissions from industrialised countries, including a 75 per cent cut in the UK by 2020.

Governments will meet again in June to discuss a draft text of the climate change treaty, and three times more before Copenhagen. But the failure to break the deadlock on finance would stall progress further, warned Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace: "As things stand, this exact same meeting will be repeated in June," she said.

Jonathan Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change at the US State Department, said it was "improbable" that the US could produce figures on its financing offers by June. The European Union failed to agree on its financing offer last month.

By the way, this is one major difference between China and India. The two countries usually get lumped together when talking about global climate treaties, but that obscures too much. China doesn't really need foreign aid to pay for clean-energy programs. The government is already taking serious steps to restrain emissions growth, because it's worried about pollution riots and a carbon trade war with the United States. Indeed, one likely outcome of Copenhagen is that China will pledge to continue reducing its energy intensity by 2025, and then set a hard cap, reducing absolute emissions 30 percent by 2050. (One China expert recently told me that the country's National Development and Reform Commission has been studying this approach, so it's not entirely far-fetched.)

But India's in a different position—some 300 million people in the country lack electricity, compared with about five million in China. It's going to be hard to convince any Indian government to steer away from cheap coal power without some sort of aid from wealthier countries. (Although as a decent first step, the World Bank could stop bankrolling unnecessary coal projects in the country and direct attention toward clean energy.) It's not an unfair argument. But in the current recession, few countries are in the mood to increase foreign aid. I don't have any brilliant ideas for resolving this problem, but that's the basic dilemma at play.

(Flickr photo credit: zorro)

--Bradford Plumer