Climate Change Puts a Damper on Hillary Clinton's Trip to India

clinton india climate photo

Photo via NY TImes

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first top level US official sent to India from the Obama administration. On the agenda? Among other things, looking for common ground between the US and India on forging a global climate treaty. She opened the trip by saying the US made a mistake by contributing to climate change during the nation's development, and that India should try to avoid such mistakes. India has been adamantly opposed to making mandatory cuts to its carbon emissions (and perhaps rightfully so). So how'd it go when Clinton toured a new green building in Dehli to broach the topic? Not so well. From the New York Times:

It was supposed to be a showcase for how the United States and India can find common cause in fighting climate change: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton toured an innovative, energy-efficient office building on Sunday in this city on the outskirts of New Delhi.
So far so good--Clinton tours a green building, praises Indian climate-fighting efforts, and delivers a statement or two on cooperation. Easy, right? Well . . .
But simmering grievances about how countries should share the burden of cutting greenhouse gases abruptly changed the mood. No sooner had Mrs. Clinton marveled at the building's environmentally friendly features -- like windows that flood rooms with light but keep out heat -- than her hosts vented frustration at American pressure on India to cut its emissions.
So much for friendly banter.
India's environment and forests minister, Jairam Ramesh, said there was "no case" for the West to push India to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when it already had among the lowest levels of emissions on a per capita basis. "If this pressure is not enough," he said, "we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours." Rather than projecting solidarity, the visit ended up laying bare the deep divide between developed and developing countries on climate policy -- a gulf the Obama administration will have to bridge as it tries to forge a new global agreement on climate change later this year.
The exchange serves to highlight the persisting gulf between the US and India on climate change ideology: the US claimed for years (under Bill Clinton and George W) that it wouldn't sign a global climate agreement unless big developing economies like India and China made a similar agreement. Both India and China, meanwhile, have consistently argued that such carbon cuts would be unfair--rich nations like the US were allowed to industrialize with liberal use of coal power, vehicle emissions, and so on, so why shouldn't they? It's actually a legitimate argument, and India still emits far less per capital than the US--and if we really want India to make binding cuts, we should be prepared to make some of our own. Lofty (ratyher, flimsy) goals for 2050, as agreed upon at the last G8 summit, simply won't suffice.

To Clinton's credit, she handled the snag with finesse, telling India that the US had no intention of doing anything that would stifle the country's burgeoning economy. But it goes to show that we have a long way to go before any serious accord is reached on greenhouse gas emission targets--and Copenhagen is coming fast.

More on US, India Climate Talks
Indian Environmentalist Calls US on Climate Change Blame Game
Renewable Energy, Solar Power are Keys to India's New Climate Plan

Related Content on