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WASHINGTON/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - After this week's carbon deal between the United States and China, No. 3 emitter India faces growing pressure to devise a clear strategy and step out of China's shadow during pivotal global climate talks.
India has given no sign what kind of commitment it will make to address climate change in a global agreement. Officials previously stressed that India would likely opt to slow emissions growth rather than set a peak year on the grounds it is entitled to economic growth.
That position might no longer be tenable after China - often India's ally in resisting specific pledges at talks to reach a global accord - said this week its carbon emissions would peak by no later than 2030.
President Barack Obama deepened U.S. cuts to 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, a goal it should be on track to meet with proposed new rules on power plant emissions.
India's new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has already set renewable energy targets for the country, including using solar energy to ensure full energy access by 2019, but analysts and experts are expecting more definitive commitments.
The U.S.-China deal "frees up India to say what it believes is an equitable stance ... now that China is saying what it plans to do," said Alden Meyer, director of international policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
While Modi's pledge to boost renewable energy is welcomed by activists, New Delhi has stressed it will mine more thermal coal to get power flowing to the third of its 1.2 billion people still without electricity.
With the U.S.-China agreement widely viewed as a modest, symbolic measure, India might take the opportunity to step out of China's shadow during United Nations climate talks next month in Lima, Peru.
Indian officials declined to comment on the U.S.-China deal. Privately, they say Modi's new government is finalizing the position it will take to Lima in December.
Earlier this month, Modi recast the almost defunct Prime Minister's council on climate change, seeking to reinvigorate the body ahead of a pivotal year for global talks.
Indian delegates have long been ardent defenders of the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility" - the concept that the burden of emissions reductions and financial assistance on climate change for poor countries belongs to developed countries, who have a historical responsibility.
The concept has often hampered global climate negotiations, especially as some developing countries became emerging economies.
Jairam Ramesh, India's former environment minister and chief negotiator, believes it is time to rethink that approach.
"Differentiation is essential but is this distinction made in a completely different era over two decades back still meaningful? Simply put, it is not," he wrote in an op-ed on Thursday.
Some experts think India can now play a more prominent role as a bridge between the United States and China and developing countries.
“India will be doing a balancing act,” said Krishnan Pallassana, India director of NGO The Climate Group.
India will likely argue that its per capita emissions are around 1.9 tonnes per person - dwarfed by China with around 7.2 tonnes per person and less than half the 5 tonnes world average.
This gives Delhi plenty of room to argue that its own commitment should differ from China's as it continues to grow its economy and justify its continued use of fossil fuels.
Local environmental groups say India's new climate strategy needs to address its reliance on coal.
"Energy poverty is no longer a justification for coal expansion," said Ashish Fernandes of Greenpeace India.
U.S. officials are now turning their attention to India to ensure it helps secure a final UN climate treaty, which is to be negotiated in Lima and then sealed in Paris in 2015.
John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will travel to India next week to meet officials working on climate change, while former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner was in Delhi this week chairing the U.S. India Track II Dialogue on Climate Change and Energy.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington and Tommy Wilkes in New Delhi; editing by Jonathan Leff