India, U.S. talk climate, but little progress seen

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Talks between India and the United States this week, seen as an opportunity to narrow differences on climate change, made little headway on carbon emission cuts, but saw some movement on technology innovation.

Indian officials and experts with knowledge of the talks told Reuters there was little progress on issues such as emission cuts, transfer of green technology and finance, but the two sides could agree on cooperating on technology innovation.

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern held a series of meetings with Indian officials as part of the bilateral Global Climate Change Dialogue announced during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to New Delhi this week.

Officially, India says the bilateral talks are to intensify collaboration on fighting climate change. Two top Indian negotiators said the dialogue this week was “not positive.”

“They stuck to their position, we told them about ours,” one of them told Reuters on condition of anonymity after two days of talks with the U.S. team.

A successful dialogue between the two countries, which are on opposite sides of the climate debate, could eventually feed into ongoing negotiations for a new climate pact, experts said.

Nearly 200 countries meet in Copenhagen in December to try to agree on a broader climate pact to replace the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase ends in 2012.

“The talks don’t have any effect on the U.N. negotiations per se, but bilateral trust building could result in trust building within the U.N. multi-lateral negotiations in Copenhagen,” said Siddharth Pathak, chief climate campaigner of Greenpeace India. A Greenpeace member also met Stern’s team this week in New Delhi.

“I personally think the only area where the cooperation (India-U.S.) could be happening is in technology innovation.”


Negotiations for a Copenhagen deal remain logjammed because of differences between rich nations and developing countries, such as China and India, the world’s top and fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitters respectively.

Both nations say rich countries should cut emissions by “at least 40 percent” below 1990 levels by 2020 -- a target developed nations say is out of reach when they are trying to stimulate recession-hit economies.

Developing countries also want to see rich nations work out plans to provide financing to help them cope with ever more floods, heatwaves, storms and rising sea levels that scientists say is caused by climate change. Stern was quoted as saying by the Times of India newspaper on Wednesday that accepting 1990 as the base year for emission cuts was “not doable from an economic point of view and certainly not from a political point of view.” The newspaper said the U.S. team had also raised the issue of India’s dependence on dirty coal, which forms about 70 percent of India’s energy basket.

Such a stand, analysts said, was a clear indication of the hurdles in the bilateral dialogue.

“The U.S. strategy is more and more clear, they are not prepared to put on table what reductions they are willing to take by 2020,” said Sunita Narain, head of New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment.

“What they are talking now is no different from before. So unless President Obama walks his talk on climate change a global deal will be very difficult.”

But some experts are hopeful that bilateral engagements between different countries will lead to a breakthrough in Copenhagen.

“What I think is we will see more of this bilateral process while we push for a multi-lateral agreement in Copenhagen,” said Shirish Sinha, head of WWF India’s Climate Change and Energy Program.

Editing by David Fogarty