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Can Paris climate summit bridge rich-poor divide?

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02 December 2015

The photo splash and friendly speeches at the big-bang inauguration of the Paris Climate Summit could not mask the continuing deep divide between the rich and developing nations in shaping the future of earth's climate.

President Barak Obama insisted on ''serious and ambitious action by all countries'' whereas Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored the importance of ''lifestyle change'' and fair share of the carbon space and developing nations to grow.

There is no doubt that over the next 10 days, Indian negotiators will face immense pressure and adverse propaganda, but they have to hold on to their nerves to ensure that national concerns are adequately addressed in the outcome document.

The fact that climate change is happening, it is largely man-made and has dangerous and irreversible consequences are all hard to deny. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrated availability of limited carbon space. Carbon dioxide, released by the western world since the industrial revolution in the 18th century, occupied the two-thirds of the space causing global warming, which triggers erratic rainfall in India along with several other developing countries.

India flags ''historical responsibility'' and ''equity'' issues in the climate talks, but the US and its allies refused to vacate even a fraction of the carbon space by changing their lifestyle. The industrialised world did virtually nothing in realising the $100 billion kitty in 2020 as promised in the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 and quietly shifted baseline year for all calculation to 2005 from 1991, as maintained in the Kyoto Protocol. Very few nations achieve their Kyoto targets on emission reduction and the US the world's largest polluter did not ratify it at all.

Washington insists it would not accept any legally binding emission cut agreement though the aim of the Paris conference is to come out with one, paving the way for greenhouse gas reduction by every nation. It will be a big challenge for negotiators to come out with a consensus document after reconciling contradictory positions of different nations.

The US has delivered little so far on climate action. There is barely any flow of clean coal technologies and fund transfer remained a non-starter. Years after the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement, there is still no commercial agreement with US companies for nuclear power.

The Indo-US programme for zero emission thermal power plants has been forgotten. But suddenly, there are talks in Paris on an accord to limit coal use. India must sternly oppose such efforts. The negotiators must not balk under pressure tactics but remain alert in Paris to protect the Indian growth story, while securing a higher-level of commitments from rich nations.





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